“If I die, it will be in the most glorious place nobody has ever seen.” That’s how world-renowned cave diver Jill Heinerth begins her new book, Into the Planet, which she launched at a uniquely-appropriate event hosted by the NYC Sea Gypsies, one of the largest and most active dive clubs in the U.S. I was lucky enough to hear Heinerth speak at the book launch and then sit down with her during the book launch at the after-party, as well as conducting a private interview after I read the book.
An intrepid adventurer, Heinerth writes in her book that “cave diving, at the intersection of earthbound science, exploration, and discovery, tests the extremes of human capability. For an explorer, the rush we experience from exploration is like a drug.” But during her talk, she wowed the large audience with her humanity, noting that she’s “scared all the time, but fear is important to embrace and expand our horizons.” She spoke of “standing on the threshold of discovery” in caves that were “museums of true beauty and natural history, documenting these places inside the earth that other people may not be able to see.”
I sat down with Heinerth, who has “descended farther into the inner depths of our planet than any other woman” for an exclusive interview.
Into the Planet narrates your early life through highs and lows. How did you include such rich detail?
JH: A lot of what I’ve written in the book is so visceral because I’ve gone back to the journals I wrote, getting the details of what I felt as a 20-year-old. I think it helped with the authenticity.
You speak about a variety of adventures in the book, but which caves are your favorites?
JH: Dan’s Cave on Abaco Island in the Bahamas, and the Crystal and Fantasy Caves of Bermuda, but unfortunately, you can only dive them with a scientific permit. Out of the caves open to the public, I really love Ginnie Springs. I lived beside Ginnie Springs for many years and that was for a reason. I especially love when the tannic water goes over the top of the spring and you get that mixing zone.
What was the most difficult part to write in the book?
JH: The first draft was mostly technical, so I think finding the balance between the technical [part] and personal story was difficult. My editors were always encouraging me to reveal more about myself. That was the hardest part for me because it feels very vulnerable.
What did you edit out, aside from making it more relatable and less technical?
JH: Some things that would be unnecessarily painful for others to face again. [Pause] The magnitude and details of the some of the bullying.
I experienced some bullying early in my technology career as well as some sexism while diving, so I really connected with that in your book.
JH: It’s always hard though, isn’t it? We don’t want to complain or act like victims. We just want to forge forward. But at the same time, I wanted to honor some of those stories because someone like you reading the book can think: Holy mackerel, it happened to her too.
Did you send out advanced copies of the book to family, friends, and others in the dive industry?
JH: I was terrified to give my family the first copy, wondering ‘do they really know who I am?’ I also wanted to be sure that the divers and people I wrote about were represented fairly and honestly, and of course, I wanted them to like the book. I wanted validation that I got it right. The guy I wrote about in the book that was on the R/V Braveheart’s deck in Antarctica when the iceberg exploded called me yesterday. He heard me on NPR [talking about the book] when he was driving and pulled off the highway to listen to the whole interview. He said he bawled — just cried and cried because he never really processed the whole thing. I hadn’t spoken to him in almost 20 years, so it was amazing to hear from him and to know I got it right.
How much of your diving is for fun versus for work?
JH: Well, that would require me being able to tell you which of the dives are fun and which are work. Because of what I do, I’m constantly jumping in the water, taking photographs, and shooting video. So, are those fun dives or work dives? I would say yes. [Laughs] I’ll go on a National Geographic project or be working with the BBC for five days straight cave diving and then I’ll have a day off and we’ll all get together…and go cave diving. [More laughter]
You mention some great publications in Into the Planet, but what are some of your favorite dive books and resources?
JH: Kevin Gurr’s Technical Diving from the Bottom Up is exceptional. Martyn Farr’s Darkness Beckons is great and of course, Sheck Exley’s Caverns Measureless to Man is special too. [For online resources,] I definitely check out Scubaboard since it’s the most comprehensive as well as the Cave Diver’s Forum.
In the book, you note that you’re witnessing scary changes occurring in the Earth’s water systems. What can divers do to help?
As listed in Jill’s We are Water Project along with additional tips:
- Drink tap water: Be an example for others. Disposable water bottles waste water and money. It takes five quarts to make one bottle of water and a quarter of a bottle of oil to make, transport, and dispose of the water. Refill a water bottle and drink safe, clean tap water. You’ll save money.
- Reduce your water footprint: Check out the Water Footprint Calculator to learn about how much water you need to support your lifestyle. The average American needs 1,800 gallons of water per day, twice as much as the rest of the planet. This will help you reduce your use.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle: Basic conservation helps save water. Turn off running taps. Shop at a thrift store. Stream movies. Shop at bulk stores with less packaging. Carry re-useable shopping bags.
- Eat low on the food chain: Plant-based nutrition requires less water than meat to bring to market. Consider being at least a part-time vegetarian. A simple hamburger takes over 600 gallons of water to produce. Support your local farmer’s market.
- Think about the world beneath your feet: Everything you do on the surface of the land will be returned to you in drinking water. Dispose of things such as household chemicals and prescription drugs properly or you will be drinking them later.
The bestseller, the book tour, and what’s next
From Publisher’s Weekly to NPR, Into the Planet has been lauded around the globe and is currently trending as a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you can hear Jill speak and get a signed copy during her book tour, which will continue till at least spring of next year. Check out the list of events here.