William Adams arrived on campus in late summer of 1990, unpacked his bags in Dalrymple, and slid into a routine little different from that of others on campus. Except for this: His years at Episcopal would be his first living on dry land.
The son of a British Royal Navy veteran of World War II, 16-year-old William had spent his entire life on a boat. His parents had fancied sea life and the cost-savings of raising their four children on a boat, so he was accustomed to drifting to sleep on the water near Miami, gentle waves lapping the hull of their 85-foot, 130-ton trawler.
Nearly 30 years later, William, 44, is introducing others to the sea that’s been his lifetime love. A few years ago, he started a charity, Deep Blue Sea Project, to take military veterans on ocean excursions for fishing and scuba diving. It’s a nascent effort, backed so far with donations largely from veterans and active-duty military. But William dreams of building an enterprise that also teaches veterans how to build and repair boats – high-demand skills that could lead to careers outside a traditional 9-to-5 office, which many former soldiers and sailors crave, he says.
For William, the charity is a chance to refocus part of his life on the ocean after a landlocked career. Born in England, he yearned as a teenager to become a Royal Navy pilot, but poor eyesight nixed those plans. Instead, not long after graduating from Episcopal, he joined the U.S. Army, serving first as a mortarman and later as a finance officer after a fractured vertebra ended his days as a frontline soldier. Along the way, he got his U.S. citizenship.
Now a captain, he has been posted for the past four years at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, S.C., where he watches over the billions spent by the U.S. Army Central Command in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East.
He and a friend, Bud Martin, a retired master Air Force sergeant, came up with the idea for the Deep Blue Sea Project. Charities to help veterans, they concluded, tend to serve men and women who suffered combat injuries. Yet few organizations, they say, aim to help troops whose injuries aren’t visible.
“A number of my friends had pretty severe experiences that they don’t like to acknowledge,” he says. “With some guys, they say, ‘When I walk past the bathroom in the middle of the night, I see an explosion.’ But because they weren’t wounded, they might not even qualify for services.”
Fishing or scuba diving trips can help veterans like these, William believes. He once did an 11-day solo trip from Lake Charles in Louisiana to Patrick Air Force Base on the eastern coast of Florida. “To be on the water first thing in the morning is very calming, very satisfying,” he notes.
William also points to research suggesting that scuba diving is a palliative for post-traumatic stress disorder. “Being underwater is like being in in the womb,” he says. “The sound is different; the light is different. And I think It triggers something in the base of the brain. It’s just very peaceful.”
The Deep Blue Sea Project, which is scaling up, aims to place 40 or so veterans on trips this year. William works the phones from his South Carolina home, identifying charter captains in Florida who will take out veterans as groups or individuals.
One day, perhaps when he retires, William says he may buy a boat and devote himself full time to the work. “This is a very, very young charity,” he says. “But I’d like to see even more happen before I retire.”