Legends of Diving Articles

 

Gardner Young
First Nassau Diving Company

Gardner was born in Port Clinton, Ohio in 1929. His family was from Gloucester, Massachusetts and moved to Ohio when his father was stationed at Port Clinton, Ohio as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. His
Famous stars such as
Gary Cooper dove with
Gardner in 1958
father was lost on Lake Erie in 1930 while on duty. Gardner joined the Marine Corps at a young age and met John Cronin (PADI) at Paris Island. The two became good friends and later in life that relationship would become fruitful.


Gardner loved the water and gravitated to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami in the early 1950's, working as a lifeguard. In the early 50's Gardner crossed paths with Lou Maxwell, an ex-Navy Frogman, who worked with the Florida Frogman dive shops. Maxwell's claim to fame was as a recovery diver for the first down range space capsules that landed at sea. Young obtained dive gear from Maxwell, as well as from Maxwell's competitor, Jordon Klein, and quickly gained diving skill through personal experience.


Gardner served as mate on a charter schooner in the Bahamas for a time before working as a lifeguard and dive instructor at the Ft. Lauderdale Hotel. Business was slow during the summer months, so in 1957 the hotel asked him if he would accept a transfer to work at the British Colonial Hotel in Nassau. As a sideline, Gardner also worked as a dive instructor for Bruce Parker Enterprises, a water skiing operation. After a couple of months, Bruce was having trouble getting a work permit and was deported from the Island. Along with Parker's ex-partner Charlie Badeau, Gardner formed Underwater Tours Ltd., the first company in Nassau with the sole purpose of teaching diving. He started out by renting a couple of boats and gear and was in business. For a mere $25.00 a  student got a pool check out in which you were told: "don't take your mouthpiece out, don't


Gardner with a Stark re-breather MK-6 in the 1970's, on the cover of Skin Diver Magazine.

take your mask off, and don't hold your breath." The next day you were diving on the reef. This price also included pick up and drop off. The enterprise took off and they found themselves operating concessions in seven major hotels. The partners later formed a commercial diving company called Underwater Engineering Ltd in 1961, working as civilian divers for the US Navy, four major oil companies, Lloyds of London, and various film studios.

He was contacted in 1958 to help a film crew that was making a series called Sea Hunt. He was a pick-up diver and would fill in wherever divers were needed. He worked with Lamar Boren and Ricou Browning.

Lamar was a no-nonsense type of person. Gardner remembers Lamar's famous line, "This is where friendship ends and shit begins--now hit the water!" Lamar would keep them in the water for hours, but he himself never wore a wet suit. He knew when he had the shot.

During this time he became good friends with a dentist who just came to the Island, Dr. Norman Cove. Gardner would bring fish and lobster to Norman in exchange for dental work. At this time, in the 1950's, Young recalls that you could find hundreds of conch in no time. If you wanted grouper you just tapped on a rock and they came out. Nassau had so many lobsters at the time that it was thought the supply would never stop. You could see the coral and sea fans 60 feet down. Gardner exposed Dr Cove and his son, Stuart, to the joys of diving and eventually Stuart took over as Nassau's leading dive operation with the world renowned Stuarts Cove's.

Gardner attributes the fact that he never got bent in all his years of diving to the fact that he always stressed safety in diving. He points out that when he began diving there were no dive computers and to this day he

has no desire to use them. His formula for safe diving included adding 10% to the dive tables. For instance, he explains, if he was diving 200 ft, he would figure it as 220ft. If he was supposed to stop for 10 minutes, he would stop for 12 minutes. He never pushed the tables, but added a margin of safety which served him well.

One of Gardner's favorite memories took place at Diver's Haven, Fran Doyle's dive shop. The property also served as their residence and Young found himself sitting at their poolside bar in the company of Mel Fisher, Ted Tucker, and Robert Marx. Gardner's good friend, author Peter Benchley, was conducting an interview with the famous treasure divers for an article he was writing. Young recalls that his friend was desperately trying to write the stories down as fast as the men could come up with them. As soon

Frances Young Doyle, his wife
at the time, and Gardner Young

as one would finish, the next diver would come up with an even better one. That was a moment Gardner says he wished he had on tape. Benchley's stories were later published in Argosy Magazine.

He was contacted again in the 1960's by Ricou Browning to work on the Bond movies, as well as the TV show Flipper. He worked on Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only, to name a few. He was also contacted by Sam Davison Jr. to be the official Test Diver of Dacor gear in the Bahamas. He worked with Sam and Dacor for years, helping the company to become the top seller of scuba gear in the world.

For a period of seven years, during the 1970's, Gardner raced offshore power boats. He raced magnum style boats and particularly enjoyed the ocean races. Young received many awards for his racing and in 1974 ran an outboard over the open ocean faster than anyone in the world at the time.

At this time the hotels were squeezing as much money as they could out of the dive operators and the business had become cut-throat. In Gardner's words, "the head boats had become cattle boats" and it

Bobby (center) and Ethel (lower) Kennedy with  Gardner on a dive.

become a contest as to who could carry the most divers the cheapest. The fun was gone for Young and it was Christmas Day of 1984 that he closed his dive operation. However, he kept his Underwater Engineering business open and signed a contract with Tenneco Oil to do the diving on their jack-up rig drilling in the southern Bahamas. It wasn't until 1989 that he sold that business. He doesn't dive anymore and is quick to say with a smile, "When you reach 60 years of age, the tanks get heavier, the water gets colder, and the deeper you go the darker it gets."

Looking back to his early days of diving in the Islands, Gardner says he cannot believe that man has had such a negative impact on the oceans in the short time since

the early 1950's. He recalls that in his early days of diving around Nassau there was a blue hole that was 240 feet deep and 80 feet across. At the time he dove it regularly, no one else could find it and the hole was teeming with fish. That is, he noted, until he told a friend about it and more and more people started to dive it. In no time the schools of fish disappeared. Despite these sad changes, Gardner says that Nassau and Exuma still provide some of the most beautiful diving in the world today.

Gardner Young had an incredible impact on the early dive community in Nassau and is highly respected for his contributions to diving in that area of the world.

Ed McMahon with Gardner of Underwater Tours in Nassau, Bahamas.

Diver's Haven, Fran Doyle's dive shop, also served as their residence.

(ILD wishes to thank Gardner Young for his contributions to this
biography, as well as Frances Doyle for the photographs)

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