This is Part II of the series. To read Part I, click here.

I lost my virginity in Acapulco, Mexico on my 16th birthday. It’s a funny story but one that I mostly left out in my first book, The Red Circle. So much ended up on the cutting room floor. I’ll tell that story soon enough but more about my scuba diving now.

I learned how to scuba dive without any pool sessions; it was all open-water Pacific Ocean dives from the start. Pretty soon I found I preferred diving without a buoyancy compensator, a kind of inflatable vest with an air hose plugged into it that most divers wear. I thought it was a crutch. To me, it was like the difference between swimming in a full suit of clothes and swimming in a Speedo. So I never used one. I also found I liked going down with two tanks, instead of the single tank most sport divers prefer. A second tank adds significant weight, so you have to be fit enough to handle it, but you get more bottom time and can swim serious distances. Sport divers typically just drop straight down and goof around for a while. Serious hunters mean business and wear two tanks.

By my second summer on the Peace, I had logged over 200 dives and was equipped with twin steel 72s (72-cubic-foot-capacity scuba tanks), no buoyancy compensator — just a single- and second-stage scuba regulator and a large speargun.

It was Captain Mike and James Hrabak, the alternate second captain, who taught me how to stalk and hunt in the reefs and open waters. These skills would prove enormously useful later on. Soon I was an accomplished hunter both with tanks and free diving (breath-hold only). It didn’t matter if it was yellowtail, calico bass, halibut, abalone, or lobster — I was all over it, and nothing was safe.

Usually, when we took paying customers out on a dive it would be a pretty mellow thing. There was one group of hardcore divers, though, guys I thought of as the Animals, who would come out with us a few times a year. With the usual passengers, we might dive three times a day. With the Animals, we would do six serious dives every day, hunting for lobster in the winter, halibut, or some other fish in the summer. These guys got the biggest kick out of seeing me surface with no buoyancy compensator, two steel tanks, and a 40-pound halibut in my bag.

Eventually, I became a rescue diver and an accomplished deckhand. I was often trusted at the helm of the boat from midnight to 2:00 a.m. on a night transit to the islands. I knew it was a huge responsibility for a teenager to man the helm of a 70-foot dive boat transiting through one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with 32 sleeping passengers. I took it very seriously and never had an incident. By the time I approached my 16th birthday, I had made more than 1,000 dives and had enough hours and knowledge to take the Coast Guard 100-ton Master Captain license.

As wild a lifestyle as Bill Magee lived, with his hot tub and girlfriends and poker parties, I believe it was Bill and Captain Mike who set my ethical rudder toward true north. The phrase “they ran a tight ship” was never more apt: Bill and Captain Mike set a standard of excellence that I would often be reminded of during my time with the Navy SEALs. The guys I worked with on that boat were really good at what they did and took their jobs seriously.