Legends of Diving Articles


Ray McAllister, Ph.D.
Ocean Engineer and Early Dive Instructor

Most people would not consider diving at the age of 86, but Ray McAllister is not your average 86 year old. The retired professor of Ocean Engineering, Ray began his diving career 57 years ago at Scripps

Institution of Oceanography in 1951. There he taught his first Scuba class in 1952. Ray went on to earn his doctorate in geological oceanography from Texas A&M College. Ray's scuba course is believed to be the first civilian, non-military diver's course in the United States. His instructions were, "Stay in our bubbles; that way you will not get lost. Don?t push your ears too hard or you can rupture an eardrum. And, oh yeah, don?t hold your breath coming up, "cause it might kill you.? By the mid 1990s, Ray had logged 5,000 dives and quit counting at that point.

For income, McAllister, using his diving skills, set up hydrophones to listen for Russian

Ray McAllister, Ph.D., Ocean Engineer and Early Dive Instructor

Ray McAllister, Ph.D.

Submarines while working for Columbia University's Geophysical Field Station in Bermuda.

Some may have considered scuba diving in California in the early 1950s a challenge. With no protective gear available, the divers only had shorts to wear into the 55* water.

They surfaced shaking from cold, almost hypothermic. Ray McAllister recalls divers attempting to swim in the fetal position, trying to hold regulators to lips that were numb with shaking hands.

Quoting McAllister, "One time I brought a candy bar for quick energy after a dive. One of my buddies yelled, ?Look at your chest!? I was so cold I was chewing my tongue and blood and chocolate were flowing down my chest.?

Divers who tried diver's long johns, found they did help some, however, by the end of the dive, they were still hypothermic. Ray recalls obtaining Italian Pirelli drysuits. These consisted of thin rubber with waist seals which were rings of grooved, hard rubber over which the upper and lower halves of the suit were stretched. These suits often became snagged on submerged items letting in the icy water.

Ray obtained 10 surplus U.S. Navy drysuits from the Underwater Demolitions Unit. Entering the suits from a back entry that was rolled up and clamped off, they found these suits snagged less easily than the Pirelli suits. The seals around the wrist and face still leaked, however, once the water warmed, it was better than the cold Pacific waters.

Searching for another option, Ray found an exposure suit that the U.S. Army developed for soldiers in wet foxholes. It was constructed of 3/8? foam plastic. The downside was that it took 40 pounds of weight to get it underwater because of its buoyancy. With descent, though, it became heavier and extremely dangerous.

In 1953, Dr. Hugh Bradner at the California Radiation Laboratory was experimenting with protecting humans immersed in a water tank of very low temperature. Three neoprene suits were developed, one of which he gave away to diver, Jim Moriarty.

Ray recalls diving with Moriarty that winter off the Scripps pier. After the dive, Ray asked Jim how he felt. The reply was "Great!? Pulling out the back of Jim's wetsuit, Ray placed his icy hand into the back and found it still quite warm.

In the 1950?s, Dr. Bradner formed a company called Engineering Development Co., or EDCO, with their wetsuits becoming very popular in California. Ray sold almost all that he owned, even selling poached abalone to bargirls in order to buy EDCO serial #57.

With it being slick rubber on both sides, tire talc or cornstarch was needed to lubricate it while pulling it on. Years later a rubber compound was developed that allowed easier access.

Ray found putting the wetsuit on was still a challenge. He revised it by adding an industrial 24? brass zipper from the hip to the throat. He completed this with Black Magic suit cement. Other divers seeing this innovated design began sewing zippers in their wetsuits as well.

In 1964, Ray joined the Florida Atlantic University as one of the founding professors and co-founded the university's ocean engineering department.

Ray has written numerous scientific research papers and a children's book, "Sea Stories from a Diving Dinosaur?. He also writes articles for Pompano Pelican on many subjects ranging from hurricanes to giant squid.

Information for this bio was obtained from Alert Diver magazine

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