Legends of Diving Articles


Barbara Allen
Woman Instructor Two, Photographer

Barbara Allen grew up in Los Angeles with active outgoing parents who had her involved in camping, fishing, swimming and body surfing. She lifeguarded for LAPD Camp Valcrest and City of LA in the summers during high school (Washington) and college (LACC).

She was lifeguarding, teaching swimming and performing paddleboard ballet when her boss, Jack Cheany, asked if she would like to teach skin and

scuba diving. Barbara had never been scuba diving, just snorkeling local beaches and Catalina. She said yes, and he taught her the basics to pass the LA County underwater instructor's course entrance test " this started a well loved and traveled way of life.

Barbara graduated from LA County's 6UICC in the spring of 1957, the second woman after Dottie Frazier. She then got a part-time job with

the Meistrell brothers at Dive N' Surf, helping Roger Hess with their pool sessions and open water checkout dives off the Rio Rita at Catalina.

Recertification seminars at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla introduced Barbara to southern legends such as Connie Limbaugh, Jimmy Stewart, Wheeler North, Andy Rechnitzer, Chuck Nicklin, Ron Church and many others associated with Scripps, Scientific Diving Consultants and the Diving Locker.

In May1960, Barbara and a roommate came to La Jolla for the annual weekend recertification at Scripps. Big surf canceled a canyon dive, so Ron and roommates Verne Fleet and Sets Fukuno (all members of the Addicts freedive spearfishing team) took them body surfing at Boomer Beach, diving at the Coronados and introduced them to some more special locals who've remained lifelong friends. They still meet Wednesday nights and weekends at the beach in La Jolla, hold an annual start of summer beach party and end of summer campout. That weekend turned into a week long of surfing and diving from La Jolla to Pt. Loma where you had your pick of abalone and lobster and the yellowtail and White Sea bass cruising the kelp beds.

On the drive home to Los Angeles, they decided to send out resumes to employment agencies in San Diego, received positive responses, and in two months were moving to Pacific Beach. After a couple months of "settling in" they both got temp jobs in La Jolla, and could jump in at Boomer or the Cove for a dive or surf. Barbara eventually got a full time position at General Atomic and started teaching Scuba part-time for the Diving Locker and General Atomic's recreation club.

In 1961 she was "railroaded" into being secretary (lasted 8 years) of the fledgling San Diego Underwater Photographic Society and put together a monthly newsletter for the Diving Locker. After a couple years, Barbara started getting brave enough with the UPS club camera (a Nikonos 1) to try underwater photography (not too hard with the likes of Ron Church, Chuck Nicklin, Bill DeCourt, Elwyn Gates, Emil Habecker and the early SDUPS members giving generous encouragement) and even won a couple club contests. San Diego's annual underwater film festivals rivaled then filled the gap after Santa Monica's demise.

One memorable trip was to Cabo San Lucas in 1964 with Ron and Shirley Church and Lynn Chase when Cabo was virgin and you buzzed town so someone would come pick you up after landing on the hardpan behind the Hacienda Hotel. Ron's friend from high school had a dive operation there and they were treated to the best Cabo had to offer (clear water with fish, turtles, sand falls and black coral). Most impressive were the layers of fish off the pier with cormorants diving amongst them when the cannery was operating.

In the mid-60's Westinghouse decided to establish an ocean research laboratory (WORL) in San Diego and through Ron Church (who was pilot/photographer of their new Cousteau designed minisub Deepstar 4000), Barbara was recommended as a "technician." There were four PhD's in various disciplines of oceanography, a secretary/bookkeeper and Barbara, who was lucky enough to work with Dr. William D. Clarke, a Scripps graduate in biological oceanography. She was usually in the office three days a week and underwater two.

In 1967, not too long after starting at WORL, Barbara was asked to the Offshore Exploration Conference in Long Beach to demonstrate Westinghouse's Mark VI semi-closed circuit mixed-gas rebreather, along with June Davis, another LA County UICC graduate. They did well, attracted the crowds and were asked to demonstrate the following year at the show in Washington D.C.

Westinghouse kept a 16' Boston Whaler at Scripps Pier and Barbara assisted in surveys counting and photographing plants and critters in kelp beds off Del Mar, La Jolla and Pt. Loma, set and photographed instrumentation off Del Mar and the Naval Electronics Tower out from Mission Beach. She also participated in an interesting abalone study off the Ithmus at Catalina where they set up meter square transects then embedded pinlights and attached numbered tags to the abs, photographing them at night from a 16mm camera on a tripod shooting B/W reversal film at a frame a second, and next morning diving and plotting their locations. Another fun effort was being sent to help survey and photograph the effects of a warm water outfall on the local flora and fauna off a power plant in Key West.

Barbara had many memorable vacations with Dottie Frazier in the 60's at the Ithmus where Dottie lived aboard the Fickle Miss. She recalls an impressive incident with Dottie when they were heading to the Ithmus via Avalon one weekend. Dottie's boat just stopped dead outside the mooring buoys. Harbor Patrol comes right out to offer a tow and Dottie says "Heck no, if I can't fix it I don't belong here." She grabs her tool box, takes up a floorboard, finds and fixes the problem and they're off again! At the Ithmus they had a fun night dive with Ron Church and Bob Bradley, co-pilots of Westinghouse's Deepstar Submersibles where they (mostly Dottie) out dove them for bugs.

In the early 70's Barbara moved to the San Francisco Bay area and worked for FMC's oceanographic and waste treatment divisions who utilized her diving and photographic ability to document circulation studies utilizing dye and ping-pong balls in a recirculating test tank!

In the late 70's, Barbara took a 6-month leave of absence from buying construction equipment at Bechtel, San Francisco, to "backpack" through the South Pacific. Thanks to her contacts in oceanography and underwater photography, she was able to connect with associates and acquaintances in diving, surfing and photography in Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti. In PNG she dove in Milne Bay with early pioneer Bob Halstead, and thanks to intros from Dr. Chesher (met when at WORL), got to meet and house sit for the Director of Fisheries, then spend a week with Dr. Chesher and wife Frederique aboard their research vessel Moira while they were assessing coral reef resources off the Trobriand Islands.

In the early 80's Barbara returned to Bechtel for a two-year field buyer assignment in Pennsylvania. She helped teach and document (photograph) a scuba class from the Bechtel jobsite in a local pool, quarry and off the Jersey Shore, then was treated to a wonderful week of diving in Bon Aire.
In 1986, Barbara took off for a 6-month drive around Australia which lasted over a year! After shipping over camping, diving and photo gear, she bought a '76 Toyota van, added a bull bar and mesh windshield cover then took off from Bateau Bay, 60 miles north of Sydney where her ex-roommate Mickey and wife Nan live. Heading north, she adopted a traveling companion (Crickett, the cat), made her way north around the top, down to Perth where she decided to stay for the start of the America's Cup. Barbara had to renew her 6-month visa, so she went from Perth up through the middle of Western Australia to Port Hedland and flew to Bali for a week then back down the coast to Perth for a few weeks then around the bottom, over to and around Tasmania and back up to Sydney, getting in some local dives wherever she could.

Returning to San Diego in mid-1987, she took a part time job with the City of Carlsbad issuing and monitoring lagoon boating permits, and is now working in the Engineering Department on their document management system.

In April of 2009 Barbara was honored by the San Diego Underwater Photo Society as one of their Pioneers when they celebrated their 40th Annual Underwater Film Festival.

(credit excerpts from Barbara's bio from Ron
Church's website by Tani Church)

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