Legends of Diving Articles

 

Robert J. Shourot
Developer of the Nuclear Reactor Dive System

What type of man desires to have the world’s largest ships run full speed over him while being just a few feet from its huge propellers" How does it feel to be suspended in the water while a gigantic vessel, traveling at full speed, passes directly overhead" A diver taking photographs of a ship’s underbelly, particularly when the behemoth is speeding directly overhead,

is not most people’s idea of a tranquil occupation. What type of man dives into lethal nuclear reactors where death is only a millisecond away" To be able to develop a technique for looking death in the face … to sit there and know that you are a millisecond away from death, and you are unafraid! This man specialized in such underwater encounters. This man is Robert Shourot.

Have you ever met someone who has been so involved with diving as an integral part of his life that he is known worldwide for his unique accomplishments" Someone who is known for their development of a NRDS (nuclear

Robert J. Shourot - Engineer of the Nuclear Reactor Dive System

Robert J. Shourot

reactor dive system) and having been the very first diver to dive inside nuclear reactors to save his clients lots of downtime and money. Someone who developed the first underwater camera system used by the United Stated Navy to detect noise signatures underwater from the Destroyer class of vessels. Someone who filmed from underwater the breaking of ice by a United States Coast Guard icebreaker vessel while wearing only a wetsuit and just inches from huge pieces of crumbling ice. Someone who still found time to form the first commercial diver training school on the East Coast and also remain active teaching in the recreational diving industry, which he continued to do for over fifty years.

Bob Shourot would promise his divers, “You will travel to all the continents, always have a bronze body, and be a part of adventures to stagger the imagination.” This promise was made to many a young individual by a man who grew up in the poverty stricken area of Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Because of his environment, he grew up tough and always had to assert himself as a leader, which only got him in more trouble. In fact, he once told me, “Trouble sat on my shoulder all day long and only got off when I went to sleep. Then trouble sat on the bedpost all night and hopped back on my shoulder as soon as I awoke.”

Bob Shourot was quite an innovator. His very first business was hauling groceries for people from the local A & P supermarket. Growing up in a poor family, he found an old baby carriage in the junkyard, which he made into a wagon using the under carriage. He would also borrow the milkman’s horse and wagon to sell watermelons in the afternoon.

Later, he made his own shoe shine box and claimed a spot at the busy “L” train station and charged a penny to shine shoes. Fighting was the norm for him while growing up in Brooklyn. If he wasn’t fighting for himself, he was fighting for his shy brother Jimmie or his three beautiful sisters. He even had to fight other kids who wanted his spot on that shoeshine corner.

Bob’s hero was the comic book crime fighter, “Sub Mariner.” This character was the very first influence for Bob towards his lifelong quest to be a part of the much undiscovered underwater world. In 1950, Bob Shourot made his own snorkeling gear and spear fishing gear. He told me stories about how he used to climb to the top of the water tower in Brooklyn and swim in the water and also dove off the Belt Parkway bridges to swim in Mill Basin. He would sleep on the Coney Island beach at night just to be near the ocean. Swimming and snorkeling were his first interests, then spear fishing, clamming, scalloping, and lobster hunting.

He then taught himself how to scuba dive using an inner tube, with a hose to the surface. The very first wetsuit design was crafted by Bob Shourot for his 4-year old daughter. Riding the outgoing tide in the Shinnecock Inlet and Moriches Inlet on Long Island, he would head out to sea a mile or more and spearfish, using an inner tube to carry the fish back to shore.

Salvage was the next step in his career towards diving. Daily he searched for fishing rods, lures, sinkers, and anchors. Fishing rods and tackle boxes were found around the piers at Sheepshead Bay. Many anchors were collected, as well as 100 pound mooring buoys. Then he began to earn what divers refer to as "treasure" money, as he started to salvage lost equipment, sunken boats, and outboard motors. He became an expert at search and salvage and had an incredible knack for finding the smallest item. Bob became known as the “Red Adair of the Dive Industry.”

If the task could not be done, call Bob Shourot because he will get it done! His largest and most spectacular "treasure" salvage was one of the 37,000 pound bronze propellers (18' in diameter) from the USS San Diego, which lies upside down (at 110 feet) about thirteen miles southeast of Fire Island Inlet, Long Island, New York. Bob had been working on the salvage of this propeller for years, and the true and accurate details behind this incredible salvage must be revealed to prove the inaccuracies behind the tale of this incredible salvage effort.

Robert Shourot is a legend in the dive industry. A survivor. Bob experienced many firsts in his career of diving. He opened the very first retail dive center on Long Island, began the first mail order dive business, became one of the first dive instructors in the nation, started the first commercial diving school on the East Coast, owned and captained the very first live aboard dive boat. His many years of experience in the marine field have earned him the reputation of “underwater detective.”

A man who began in the old days, with the filming of the first submarine escape hood, and survived to the days of the sophisticated, highly trained technicians, while not being afforded the same capsulated education. An innovator because no one had preceded him to tackle the problem first. A mind that is highly intelligent around sophisticated equipment, while maintaining a “down-to-earth” philosophy of what it is really all about. A veteran diver with over fifty years of experience, who has earned a reputation for developing equipment and techniques that make seemingly impossible diving jobs routine.

His many years of experience and expertise have earned him the reputation as one of the foremost experts in undersea technology and recognition for his innovative approaches to problems. This all from a man who was raised in a troubled and poverty stricken environment.

Robert J. Shourot represents a bridge between two eras in the dive industry. It can only be hoped that the qualities which comprise the man – integrity, daring, professionalism, and level-headedness – will not be lost in an increasingly technical and highly impersonal world. Bob Shourot has inspired many a diver. His stories will long be remembered and repeated. His teachings will carry on in many an individual. He is everyone’s favorite person and inspiration.

Bob’s experience and know-how dates back a long time. Since 1950, he has participated in the field of recreational and professional diving, from design and manufacturing to writing and instruction. His many years of experience and expertise have earned him the reputation as one of the foremost experts in undersea technology and international recognition for his innovative approaches to problems.

The list goes on, giving testimony to Bob’s dedication to diver’s education and safety. His years of experience in teaching diving guaranteed the students under his instruction excellent training. His knowledge in the many facets of recreational, technical, and professional diving is still well respected in all phases of the dive industry.

Bob’s long career of teaching diving at all phases – from recreation to commercial – has prompted me to submit his profile and nominate Robert J. Shourot, NAUI No. 358, PADI No. 1851, SSI No. 7206 Course Director and Platinum 5000 Diver and Instructor.

 

Robert J. Shourot passed away on February 2, 2005
Information for this bio was supplied by Christine Shourot

Robert J. Shourot, past owner of "The Dive Shop," "Undersea Systems," and "Coastal Diving Academy," was presented with a portrait montage highlighting events from his impressive career. The portrait was a gift from past employees, students, and friends to honor Shourot's (at the time 25th anniversary) years of dedication to the diving industry and its people.

Shourot is shown in the portrait wearing a Viking suit and gear which he designed and used for the first nuclear reactor dives ever made. To contrast this, the portrait also shows Shourot wearing the traditional Mark V dive suit while welding underwater. This dress was the standard during the early years of his long commercial career.

The portrait includes representations of the Research Vessel Black Coral and the Sea Salvor. Both of these vessels were used to train his commercial diver students. The R/V Black Coral also transported sport divers to dive sites off the Long Island Coast and the Caribbean and was used as a base for many research projects. The Sea Salvor, a 104' crane vessel with tremendous lifting capacity, salvaged many a treasure from the floor of the ocean.

Another part of the montage depicts large container ships and the Navy's Spruance class of destroyers. Shourot led a team of divers who performed a series of hydrodynamic flow studies on both of these ships. Photos taken by these teams determined erosion and sound patterns and were instrumental in correcting problems with the ship's original design. More than a dozen war ships were photographed at flank speeds, resulting in the quietest submarine hunters in the world.

Shourot is also seen in the painting taking underwater photos with one of the many underwater camera housings he designed and manufactured.

The mixed-medium portrait was created by artist Alan Reingold. Reingold is famous for his portraits of statesmen, which frequently appear on the covers of Time and Fortune magazines.

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