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The islands, beaches and the clear, warm seas lie there to the south, scant time by jet from anyplace in North America, and this winter more Americans than ever will be traveling the route. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's aim, in the 17 pages of words and pictures on the subject in this issue, is to provide a good guide for those who care to do more than collapse in a heap when they get there.

In charge of much of this assignment—he wrote and photographed everything from page 22 through page 29—was Senior Editor Coles Phinizy, a charter staff member who made his way to us from the red-clay hills around Phinizy, Ga. via Harvard ('42) and LIFE with typewriter in one hand and camera in the other. In his time Phinizy has been a football player, half-miler, pole-vaulter, gymnast, balloonist and spelunker, but now he considers the day only partly lived that doesn't allow some exploratory time underwater. Reporting with both camera and typewriter, he has been a pioneer of the amphibious world that has opened up to mankind with scuba diving.

Phinizy acknowledges that he has "dived a little on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, off Fiji, off Canton Island and Hawaii, off Baja California and California, under ice in Minnesota and New York (got arrested for diving in New York City drinking water), in Alaska once; also in Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahamas, in the Gloucester area, the Florida Keys, the south Jersey shore (where you can't see your hand in front of your face) and many hours in the world's greatest natural sewer, Long Island Sound." But the British Virgin Islands, the area of his story this week, were new to Phin, so before his trip there last October he spent 10 days exploring the islands in print—and rehearsing in a Connecticut swimming pool a new two-step lighting system that he eventually used for his color photography in the islands.

"There are three things," says Phinizy, "that interest and attract me most about the underwater world:

"It is such a grand place for people to find new challenges in a world that seems always now too crowded for challenges. It is not the domain of supermen, but a proper place for ordinary men willing to shuck off 20th-century inhibitions.

"I am drawn to the sea and the undersea because it literally puts me in contact with the whole world. The land is a disconnected thing; the sea is not.

"The undersea is our present proving ground. We may set foot on the moon tomorrow; we have already touched its face and peeked at its backside. But it will be a long time before we use it or any other foothold in space as real Lebensraum; it will be a long time before we have a going putty factory in any crater or dry lunar sea. Meanwhile, we are using the world's sea.... We have begun to live down there by the hour and the day and the week."