I was enthralled as I watched the man moving slowly through the water, streaming bubbles from the left side of a triangular full face mask. His air hose trailed behind him, leading back to the compressor on the pool deck, as he cleaned the Seahorse Hotel pool in Galveston. It was 1957, and I was already hopelessly hooked on the idea of breathing underwater from seeing movies and magazine articles about diving. (this was still a year before “Sea Hunt”)
When he finished, and was coiling his hose on the pool deck, I knew that I had to act fast or the chance would be lost. I summoned all the courage and cool that I could muster at age 11, and asked the man if I could try it. I was genuinely surprised when he said “Sure, go ahead... just don't get under the diving boards”, then walked away leaving me with this fantastic contraption. That big mask leaked like crazy on me, but what I remember most from that day is the euphoria I felt breathing and swimming underwater. I knew without a doubt that this was an important day in my life, and that I would be doing more of this. I won't even try to further describe my feelings, because others have already done it better, and if you are reading this you probably know what I mean anyway.
Back home from our family vacation, I wasted no time in finding a used paint spray compressor, and coupled that with an old lawn mower engine. (Luckily, it was a diaphragm compressor so oil in my air was not a problem.) I added a green plastic garden hose and a plastic pipe T, fitting the T with my snorkel mouthpiece and a cut off balloon for an exhaust valve. Two or three foot visibility in Lake Grapevine was no deterrent to my enjoyment of exploring while pulling my little compressor around on its Styrofoam float. The smell of a plastic garden hose still takes me back to those carefree summer days.
Three or four years passed before I acquired my first Scuba rig, a second-hand Voit with two green hoses, and a steel 72. My diving buddy and I finally got certified in 1965, and headed to Possum Kingdom Lake every chance we had. Two months after getting certified we heard about Jacobs Well, now a famous Texas spring and cave. We were amazed at the perfectly clear water and explored that simple cave with our double hose regs, no pressure gauges, no BC's and only regular flashlights, internal parts greased up with Vaseline to keep them working underwater. The lights usually worked though a whole dive. The landowner let us dive for $1 each. We lived through it and returned there many times over the years. Wanting to capture the beauty of the cave, I built my first of many camera housings that year.
I was lucky to know a girl that was also interested in diving, and we were married the next year... but not entirely because of the diving. I took Francie on her on her first dives in PK lake, and the next were in the cave. At that time diving certification was still sort of optional, and it would be another 3 years before she completed that formality.
1968 was a significant year for diving. Fresh out of college, one of my diving buddies and I went to a SCIP / YMCA Scuba Instructor Course under course directors Glen Egstrom of UCLA and Jim Stewart, Diving Officer of Scripps. I was finally making progress on my goal of being in the business. That year Francie and I went to Nassau and made our first ocean dives. It was incredible, and we came back knowing this would be a lifetime interest. After that we began to put together Texas rig diving trips for our friends and students. While good dive boat operations abounded in California at that time, Texas was poorly lacking. Over the next few years we went diving from a sad variety of shrimp boats and makeshift “dive boats”. One even lacked a ladder, which we discovered much too late. Thankfully, the boats began to improve by 1972, and Gulf Diving soared in popularity.
In 1970 we opened our simple little dive shop as an Aqua Lung dealer in a corner of the family boat business. It grew quickly, and we soon had to move into another building with plenty of room to expand. We would be there a long time. We loved most everything about the business, and were blessed with thousands of terrific clients and many good friends to travel with. Our kids, Tracy and Todd, started diving at very early ages and went on many trips with us. They were able to dive Cayman and Cozumel long before they were old enough for certification (and too small to walk with an 80 on). At various times they both worked in the business, and now their children love diving too.
Regional certification agencies such as SCIP (Southwest Council Instructor Program) were beginning to be overshadowed by national organizations, so in 1971 I sent in my $20 and a copy of my SCIP card to instantly become a PADI instructor. My NAUI card was earned the hard way in 1972 under course directors Glen Egstrom and Art Ulrich.
During the mid-eighties I enjoyed the travel adventures as director of underwater photography for 70 episodes of Scuba World, a cable TV dive travel series. Didn't make much money, but had lots of good diving in the best locations, and got to check out many dive resorts for our shop trips.
In the early 90's we got more serious about cave diving and wanted to do it safely. Francie, Todd and I all got our Full Cave certifications and began to enjoy the many caves of Mexico, Florida and even a few special places in Texas. Since 1995 we have been involved in a project at Phantom Lake Spring, surveying the cave, collecting fauna for research, and restoration/maintenance of the spring pool to protect endangered fish species found there. http://www.maverickgrotto.org/photostuf ... index.html
Francie ran our travel department and put together dive trips to all the usual Caribbean destinations, and by the mid-eighties began to expand into far Pacific destinations. I am often asked what is my favorite diving destination. That's an impossible thing to answer.
Would that be in a remote Indonesian atoll where the villagers had never seen divers? They followed us in their dugouts, peering down into the water, and were especially amazed that women were diving. Could it be our trips to Cartagena, Columbia, where we dove from a broken down old boat with a 5 gallon bucket for a head and a top speed of 5 knots... but were rewarded by being able to dive for artifacts on 1600's-1700's wreck sites? Maybe the amazing variety of life and giant schools of Hammerheads in the Galapagos, the beautiful caves of Mexico, or the wrecks of Truk. It could have been the magnificent reefs of Papua New Guinea, packed with fish in greater numbers than we had ever seen, or swimming up close with Humpbacks on the Silver Banks. A “top ten” list would be as close as I could come to picking a favorite.
Over the years, people would drop off old diving equipment they no longer wanted. I didn't realize how much interesting vintage equipment we had accumulated until we sold the shop in 2000, after over 30 years in business. Now I'm glad that we hung on to all that old stuff. I started going through it a few years ago after Seakrakken saw some of the regs and pointed out the significance of the AQUALUNG SPACO in my box of junk. I started restoring my double hose regs in 2006, added a few over time, and now have a nice collection to dive with. Plenty of vintage single hose regs too, including my favorite, a working USD Aquamatic with snorkel.
After selling the shop, I joked that I had wasted my life having fun... and now it was time to go to work. I ended up in the high pressure breathing air industry, dealing primarily with fire departments, but also other applications such as diving.
One only has to wander through our house, among the artifacts and photographs, to see that diving has been a very important aspect of our lives. Our opportunities for special exotic destinations have been greatly reduced since leaving the business, but we still stay active, enjoying cave diving, ocean diving and diving locally with my vintage contraptions.
Next summer I will celebrate 55 years of diving. The time was definitely not wasted... and the fun is not over!
Antique Diver in Jacobs Well, 1965.
Francie in full gear in Nassau, 1968.
We are holding uncleaned silver coins that we just brought up from a 1702 wreck in Cartegena. Yes, we kept them.
Francie in Sac Actun cave system, west of Tulum, MX
Paamul Mexico with Granddaughter, Ashley.
I got a little too wordy and didn't leave room for discussing my vintage equipment or putting in photos of them, but I'll try to post some before long on the equipment photo section.