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Early skin and scuba diving pioneers

Tue Apr 14, 2015 5:38 pm

I recently posted about some books by early diving pioneers but I realized that they were from the U.S. only. Most of us are familiar with the exploits of the French legends and even Australian's like Ted Eldred, but can anyone recommend any books or articles about early diving pioneers in the UK or Europe (obviously we know about Dr Hass)?

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Re: Early skin and scuba diving pioneers

Sat May 23, 2015 5:55 am

Here are some British pioneers and pioneering efforts from the BSAC website.

Pioneering co-founders Oscar Gugen and Peter Small establish the BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) on the 15th of October 1953.Who was at that first meeting?
Much of this information has been lost, and it is not currently clear whether there are any surviving members from that historic evening. But we do know that Colin McLeod, a director of the sports store Lilliwhites was there, as was Jack Atkinson, a no-nonsense ex-RAF Flight Sergeant, who became the club’s first Diving Officer. In total, 50 enthusiasts turned up, of whom 20 signed up for membership on the spot.
Right from the beginning they were convinced that the most important rule would be a ban on solo diving. Colin McLeod and Jack Atkinson agreed that the training system should mirror the RAF’s pattern of incremental advances: ‘elementary’ to ‘service’ to ‘operational’, which translated to Third, Second and First Class Divers. Jack began planning his instructor training programme and provided diving bulletins, which were eventually replaced by the first edition of The Diving Manual, in 1959. Much of the club’s early success seems to be down to the complimentary talents of its co-founders. Oscar was determined and resolute in his vision of British club culture, while Peter was brimming with enthusiasm and brought many ideas to the table. When the popularity of diving started to spread, it was his idea to form the first branch (the London Branch number one) and that the existing committee should change into a general committee, which lives on today as BSAC Council.

1960 - Underwater Channel attempt

London branch divers accompany adventuress Jane Baldasare on the first attempt to swim the Channel underwater. The bid looks as if it is going to be successful, but Baldasare gives up about three-quarters of the way into her journey after surfacing during a changeover.

1965 - Home, deep home

Bournemouth SAC sets up an underwater house, Glaucus, in Plymouth Sound, the brainchild of the branch's science officer, Colin Irwin. In September, two members live there for seven days, showing that Cousteau's experiments in underwater living can be done on a smaller budget. Today, the 'house' is still at the bottom somewhere, though probably broken up.

1966 - Mary Rose discovered

Southsea member John Towse and Alexander McKee discover the wreck of the Mary Rose after finding an obscure mark on a hydrographic chart. Towse and McKee, of the Scientific Group, do their historic first dive on the Tudor warship on 14 May 1966, in zero visibility. It's another four years before the wreck is formally identified, but the sheer significance of this dive still resounds today.

1967 - Operation Kelp

It's the year of Operation Kelp, a massive environmental science project organised by David Bellamy. It involves the help of 25 BSAC clubs and 262 members from all over the UK, who take kelp samples from the North Sea as a method of checking pollution levels. Bellamy and the divers win the Duke of Edinburgh prize for their hard work, and BSAC asks the botanist to become its science officer

1969 - Galleon discovery

Archaeologist Dr Colin Martin oversees a major expedition in July, which locates the Spanish galleon Santa Maria de la Rosa off Ireland. Dr Martin's team finds the wreck after carrying out painstaking swim-line searches covering an estimated 300 acres.

1969 - Wreck respect

Alex Flinder is elected BSAC Chairman in June. An architect by profession, his major passion is for marine archaeology. He serves on the Runciman Committee, which results in the Wreck Protection Act. His lasting influence is in encouraging the use of amateur divers in this field, despite the skepticism of some professional archaeologists.

1970 - Centre of excellence

In April, retired Naval Commander Alan Bax and former Royal Engineer Jim Gill obtain a lease from the Ministry of Defence to use Fort Bovisand as a diver training centre. It goes on to become a centre of excellence for BSAC training, producing some of the club's leading divers in the 1970s and 80s
"Where'd ya get that ol' thang, don't cha' know them thare things ill kill ya!"

Live From the Red Sea,


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Lung Diver
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Re: Early skin and scuba diving pioneers

Sat May 23, 2015 10:47 am

Great resource on early diving pioneers in the UK. As the sport grows and eviolves I hope all these early international diving leaders will not be forgotten. It would be great to have a history of diving course taught as a specialty.

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Re: Early skin and scuba diving pioneers

Sun May 24, 2015 2:49 pm

There's a downloadable illustrated article about the early days of British diving on the BSAC website at ... p?id=23494
with images of BSAC pioneers Oscar Gugen
and Peter Small.

Oscar Gugen wasn't just the co-founder of the BSAC. He also converted E. T. Skinner Ltd, a British toy and puzzle company, into what eventually became Typhoon International. See:

And I totally agree about the difficulty of accessing historical information concerning the pioneers of UK diving. It's sad too that we can access the first issue of the American magazine "Skin Diver" online, here: ... rstsdm.pdf
while the first edition of its UK equivalent, "Neptune", appears to be conspicuous by its absence from the Web.

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