Now I tell you, mate, we all tempt fate
when we dive beneath the sea,
For a man is a fool to break the rule
that nature meant to be....
I am reclining uneasily on the sandy bottom off Athol Island, 18 feet down, in what Gardner Young calls "the shallow depths," unduly aware of my loud, exalted inspirations and expirations. By my elbows little transparent fish hop about like grasshoppers, unaccompanied by Disney musicians. Before me is the reef and its numerous, brilliant population; behind me the great, empty, shrouded hall of the sea. Its floor, thinly planted with turtle grass, slopes predictably into the dark. There I behold the head of a large fish, perhaps a jack, magnified by refraction, protruding, like Punch between the curtains, from the gloom, regarding me, withdrawing. If I were to turn and swim forward, girdled with 10 pounds of lead to keep me from rising, a tank of compressed air on my back, a regulator enabling me to breathe, a mask allowing me to see, wearing rubber fins to facilitate my progress, the darkness would recede by exactly as much as I advanced, so that I would be continually illuminated, but I would not know where I was going or, looking futilely back, where I had come from; and, because the bottom of the sea is largely barren and uniform, without points of reference, I would undoubtedly lose my way. I feel the above (the below!) fairly approximates life, how we make our way, necessarily encumbered and groping, and this is why, perhaps perversely, I prefer the monotonous plain, where a solitary tulip shell slowly marches on its single foot, to the reef, from which I derive no fear or comfort. The diversions of the reef, its beauty, have been sufficiently described, but they are, in a way, illusory; a piece of coral chipped from a head is literally stinking when brought to the surface. Likewise, the fish are diminished and grow pale before they die, but beyond the reef the bitter interior of the sea prevails, extending, relevant and reminiscent, even in my dreams.
Would Gardner Young class me with psychiatrists who, he contends, make the world's worst diving pupils? "They are not out for a good time," he says. "They want an experience."
Gardner, his wife Doris, and their partner, Charley Badeau, own and operate Underwater Tours, Ltd. of Nassau in the Bahamas, whose business it is to teach tourists how to scuba dive in hotel pools—where they may come across such sunken treasures as a rusty bow from a pair of sunglasses—and then to take them out in "the big water" to poke about reefs. Among UT's six soft-sell instructors is a young chap named Caius St. George, whom it is my ambition to introduce to Cassius Clay, so I can say, "Caius meet Cassius." Another is Rodney Brears, a hairdresser and pilot from Nottingham. "Where they shot the arrows," says Rodney, who feels that flying and diving are related, in that they both allow one to be alone. Gardner once shot a crossbow underwater. In a film called Warlords of the Deep, which has not yet been released, he played, alternately, a member of Captain Nemo's crew and a Gill Man. "The problem with the Captain Nemo suit was that I couldn't see out of it," Gardner says. "The problem with the Gill Man suit was that I couldn't breathe. The Nemos are supposed to shoot the Gill Men with crossbows, but some jackass made the arrows out of wood, so they flew straight to the surface."
Scuba lessons √† la Young take around an hour, and are called check-outs. "Most people are opposed to taking anything called lessons," Doris explains. Obviously, in an hour, one is not going to learn Henry's Law, or Ditching the Equipment, but you do find out how to clear your mask and regulator and how best to pop your ears. Says Gardner: "We do not approve of taking you out on the reef, as others do, and saying, 'This is a regulator, this is a pair of fins, down you go, lots of luck.' You're not apt to enjoy the trip that way."
Underwater Tours picks you up at your hotel in a Volkswagen bus, after having first called your room to make sure you've gotten up, and drives you over to the boat for the 20-minute trip to the reef, where it assigns buddies, straps you in self-inflating life vests and diving gear, helps you onto the diving platform and then, as each pair of divers, accompanied by an instructor, descends, says, "Lots of luck."
There are usually two reef trips daily, and the boat can accommodate as many as 10 divers. There is also room for 10 snorkelers and glass-bottomed-barrel lookers. Rates are $25 for the pool check-out and the first reef trip, including gear, air and coffee, and $20 for each subsequent trip, with the fourth being free. Snorkelers and lookers pay $10 a trip. UT also rents outboards, cylinders, regulators, etc. to experienced divers, but no spear guns.
Learning how to scuba dive under the Youngs' exceedingly soothing direction is somewhat easier than learning how to ride a bicycle, and even little old ladies from Dubuque can do it. In fact, a little old (and mighty plump) biology teacher from Texas did do it. "I put 10 pounds of lead in that woman's hand," says Gardner, "and the top of her head was dry. It took 22 pounds to sink her, but she was as happy as a clam. She had a net bag and a hammer and she collected coral samples. I'm sure that after she checked out the Royal Victoria had to fumigate her room, because of the lingering aroma of her samples, and I'd hate to have had to pay the overweight on her baggage."
You barely have to know how to swim in order to dive, but it is helpful if you do not have too lurid an imagination, and, of course, you cannot be afraid to put your head underwater. Actually, it's a big help not to have too many fears, atavistic or otherwise. Take me. I'm a strong swimmer, but I'm a coward. Every shred of seaweed I collide with feels like the hide of a hammerhead shark. When I was swimming off the Nassau Beach Hotel, where my room overlooked a beautiful parking lot, I encountered an enormous blue jellyfish, gently writhing. It had some curious markings on it: "Warning—to Avoid Danger of Suffocation Keep Away from Babies and Children. Do Not Use in Cribs, Beds, Carriages or Playpens. This Bag Is Not a Toy." On the other hand, while the Youngs were in New York for an appearance by Doris on To Tell The Truth, Gardner happened to be standing on a subway grating when, with a terrible roar, a train passed below. "He jumped eight feet in the air," says Doris.
Underwater Tours hasn't lost anyone yet. Indeed, it claims it is the first in its field to fully insure its clientele. Each lunger (UT's word, not mine, thank God) is covered by Lloyd's of London with a ¬£25,000 accident policy. The closest call was with one customer who surfaced, palpably choking. Gardner took the man's regulator out, pushed up his mask and, as a matter of course, pounded him on the back. His false teeth came flying out; they had slipped and lodged in his throat. "We had 100 divers down from the Atlantis Divers Club of Chicago," Gardner says. "There were two accidents. One diver fell off a scooter and one was bitten by a dog in front of a police station."
Although authenticated shark attacks in the Bahamas are extremely rare, Gardner avoids those reefs that are occasionally sharky. The UT brochure reads, rather coyly, "The abundance of fish...is one of the reasons the Bahamas are so safe for skin diving.... The few predatory fish that do wander in are so well fed, they merely glance at people and swim on for more succulent fare." As a further safeguard, an instructor, whom the Youngs call a guardian angel, hovers over every two divers, watching their bubbles, and descending from time to time to indicate a point of interest, such as Old Bad Eye, the world's only trained moray eel. Bad Eye is a four-foot spotted moray that lives on Cannon Reef. (Cannon Reef is so named because Charley Badeau dragged a cannon off a nearby wreck and hauled it to the reef to romanticize it, much the way aquarists put toy deep-sea divers in their tanks. Charley figures this is legitimate because he never took the cannon above the surface. A chef at the Balmoral Club, who dives in his spare time, once discovered one of Charley's transitory cannons where he had left it overnight. The following day there was a piece in The Nassau Guardian describing the sensational new find.)
Gardner taught Bad Eye to swim through a hoop and take a sardine from the hand. Alas, one day, four of Bad Eye's relations joined him for lunch. Gardner got rid of the sardines. "It was a rolling ball of morays," he recalls. "My hand had no business in there. The next day, Bad Eye came up from the bottom and hit my fin. He was irritated because I was late with the chow." The trained moray eel act closed.
Once the novice diver has overcome his entirely reasonable fears, he has to get accustomed, after all those years of grown-ups telling him not to breathe through his mouth, to breathing through his mouth. This is not as hard as it sounds, because if you do not breathe through your mouth you cannot breathe. The whole trick, they keep telling me, is to relax but, I keep telling them, who can relax topside, even? "Just relax," Gardner says. "Don't become so involved with the equipment that you don't enjoy yourself." But he has to add, ominously, "You're in an alien element. Physically, you have no right to be there. You are dependent on your equipment and your knowledge. You imagine these things, you know these things; both ways you arrive at the same point—apprehension. You never relax completely underwater unless you're in a control situation, which is what you're in when you dive with us on the reef. Whatever trouble we have with our tourists occurs on top. Usually, the mask starts to fill, they forget how to clear it, they surface, begin treading water, take their mask off, their regulator out and become spastic. The worst thing you can do is take your mouthpiece out when you're learning. We catch them under the arm and talk to them until they get organized.
"But when you're not in a control situation, you must never relax your vigil, your innate sense of caution. Those who relax are not the pros or the beginners, but those in between. This sport is as safe or as dangerous as you want to make it. Don't crowd it. You have the chance to make very few errors. I don't believe the average sport diver should go any deeper with gear than he can free-dive—certainly no more than 40 feet. If I have nothing to do I go diving, but over 100 feet I dive for money. Going down isn't what counts. It's coming up that counts."
Gardner Dutton Young III, that vast, kindly, taciturn and wholly competent man, has been described, by someone whose life he saved, as a tanned, fat Commander Whitehead. Gardner is 36, goes about 240 and is 6 feet 1 in his bare feet, which is what he is usually in, partly because that is his mood and partly because most of his toes were broken in an automobile accident and were never set—he had not been expected to live. There is a skein of truly Websterian horror that runs through the lives of both Gardner and Doris, some of which I will omit for, beyond stating that it exists, it would serve no good purpose to detail it. Gardner wears a beard for much the same reason he does not wear shoes; there is a scar on his chin from the accident, and his doctor told him that if he insisted on working outdoors he would have to shield it from the sun. He does not wear a mustache because if he did his mask wouldn't seal. He is dark from the sun and from half of his blood, his mother being of Portuguese descent. As a consequence, he frequently spouts "old Portuguese expressions," e.g., "He who cooks on hibachi on dock, get hose ready." Gardner's father was lost on Lake Erie in 1930 while in command of a Coast Guard cutter chasing rumrunners; male Youngs have not died in bed for four generations. From Port Clinton, Ohio, where Gardner was born, his family moved to Maine, eventually settling in Gloucester, Mass., where he worked on the docks and on fishing boats. Gardner went to Boston University, class of '53, threw the hammer, wrestled, was a guard on the football team and graduated cum laude with a B.S. in public relations. Having learned how to dive with surplus rebreathers while a marine at Parris Island, he then became a commercial diver, working for marine railways and insurance adjusters and diving for lost propellers and lobsters (he has free-dived 100 feet and gone down 279 with gear); sailed to the Bahamas as a mate on a charter schooner; was a hand on a snapper boat on the Campeche Bank; and taught scuba and ran the pool at the Lauderdale Beach Hotel in Florida. Later he got a similar job at the British Colonial in Nassau, where one day a "dizzy broad," as Gardner puts it, came to give a swimming lesson and he tried to throw her out. "I'm big and easy," says Gardner Young, "but I'm not very couth."
"What's his claim to fame?" asked the ejected Doris Olson, soon to become Young, a good-looking and unalterably cheerful blonde. Says Gardner, years later, "How can she go to bed smiling, wake up smiling?" Says Doris, "I'm a grinner. Ole [her 5-year-old son] is a grinner, too. It irritates the hell out of him." Doris, who is 32, was born in Miami, raised in Asbury Park, N.J., and has welded gas lines 65 feet below the surface. "I was always in or on water," she says, "even if it was frozen. My first letter home was, 'A crab bit me toe.' I need water. I don't believe I could live away from it. I like the feeling of it. I like the sound of it. I like living on a boat, where I can hear it trickling by my ear at night. It gives you an awareness of life, of the shift in weather. It's a great big tranquilizer." Doris' father, who was a cabinetmaker, built her an aquaplane and her first pair of water skis. As a teen-ager Doris iceboated, sailed and buzzed around in speedboats; she was a semiprofessional roller skater until she got water on both knees; she clammed, crabbed, fished for eels through the ice and was a synchronized swimmer; fishermen flipped her quarters for recovering lures snagged on jetties; she was good with tools, engines and at finishing wood; and she slalom-skied from Atlantic City to New York in 11 hours. "I wasn't much on setting my hair," says Doris.
She subsequently went to Fairleigh Dickinson and Columbia and became a dental hygienist, was a Powers model, was in the line at the Copa, reached the final 12 in the Miss Rheingold contest of 1953 and was Miss Seafood, Miss Elks, Miss Sports Car, Miss Creampuff, Miss Home-arama and Miss Reese Peanut Buttercup.
"I was Mr. Sonofabitch at Maggie Wallace's tavern in Gloucester a few years running," says Gardner. "That's a great gin mill."
Doris, who taught skin diving in Miami before moving to Nassau, can free-dive 40 feet. She could do 80 until her left lung was removed in 1963. Doris has also had peritonitis, polio and a double hernia operation. "Take her clothes off, and she looks like the road map of New Jersey," says Gardner, who, according to Doris, has acquired 18 new scars since they have been married. When she had peritonitis, Doris was down to 62 pounds, had a 107° temperature and was buried in ice. "I felt like I was a cocktail," she says. "For a long time after that I couldn't listen to ice tinkling in a glass. Like Gardner, I've had a second chance in life. How many people do you meet that make their money the way they want, live the way they want to live? Very few."
The Youngs were married in the garden of a friend's house, while said friend was in Fox Hill, the Nassau jail. The magistrate who had sent the friend up performed the service. Gardner found their wedding rings in a lump of coral—once, evidently, a jewel box—20 feet down. It had attracted his attention because of its squarish edges; nature is generally a rounder. The rings are miniature gold belts with buckles, made in England, circa 1820.
Says Doris: "Gardner knew I was trouble when he saw me walking through the palm trees at the British Colonial. He goes for skinny, green-eyed blondes."
Says Gardner: "A lean horse for a long race."
Says Doris: "After our first date, he said, 'Will you come home and help me pump out my bilge?' A little later he said, 'You're a bad-headed broad.' I said, 'Tha's me.' "
Home, Youngdom, as they say, is what Gardner calls a' 'yawl-rigged houseboat." She is the Merry Hell, a 48-foot Herreshoff yawl, built in 1902. The Merry Hell is tied up at the Nassau Yacht Haven bow to stern with their diving boat, the Queen Anne's Revenge, named after Blackbeard's ship. She is a 38-foot Chesapeake dead rise which, except for the diving platform, looks like a Down East lobsterer. Over the companionway on the Queen Anne's Revenge is a bronze plaque, reading, "Oh, God, Thy sea is so big and my boat is so small." Gardner salvaged it from the wreck of the Blue Smoke, a big yawl that sank in 50 feet of water off the Nassau lighthouse.
In addition to Underwater Tours, Ltd., the Youngs and Charley Badeau have a company called Underwater Engineering, Ltd., which is the only commercial diving outfit in the Bahamas. Among UE's more recent jobs were repairing the cistern at the Coral Harbour Club and blowing up the O.K. Service #4, a cargo ship that ran aground on Mayaguana Island with 120 tons of dynamite, much of which had turned to jelly in the sun. Gardner has a color photograph of himself and Ray Moore (who does the deep diving for UE and played some flanker back for the Baltimore Colts before breaking his collarbone) standing on the tilted deck, which is coated with gray slime. Charley, who can free-dive as many feet as his age—56—and who more or less heads up UE, is a graduate of Rutgers and an optical engineer. He says, without a blush, that he came to the Bahamas because he couldn't stand the rat race in New York. Charley has been seen in an ascot, and vacationing schoolmarms frequently ask him to repair their cameras.
The other members of Youngdom are Ole, who sleeps in his bathing suit in the fo'c'sle, can free-dive 12 feet and drags a bedraggled toy octopus around as a Linus blanket; Krov, Ursula, Don and Waldo, the turtles, Krov named for Yehudi Menuhin's son, a friend and fellow diver, and Ursula after Ole's first girl friend; Gunner, a green Hispaniola parrot named for Blackbeard's cannoneer, whose vocabulary consists of "go to hell," "rum and beer," and, when he falls overboard, "Gardner, help!" "He doesn't fly extremely well," says Doris. Gunner has been known to climb the mainmast, however, Doris going up after him in the bosun's chair, pleading "Sweet Gunner, come to Mommy," and down the main halyard he comes, squawking, in a paper bag.
The Merry Hell's cabin was finished by Doris, who also did most of the Formicaing and built the narrow bookcase that holds a potted philodendron and works ranging from the Blaster's Handbook to Film Form and The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein. The main feminine touch below is Doris' collection of antique pots and pans, which remind Gardner of his threat to sell the boat to the Mystic Museum.
The Youngs usually dine beneath an awning in the cockpit, Gardner listening to the stirring score from Victory at Sea on a tape recorder that is secured in the bottom drawer of the drawer locker, and regarding Ole with surpassing love. "Ole Olson," Gardner said the other night, "couple more years, you and I'll go over the Hill [the native section of Nassau] and storm a few saloons."
The Merry Hell got its name from one of the 375 ballads Gardner has written, mostly on cocktail napkins, often with a spoon, few of which exist in fair copy. Sometimes, when he is hoisting a martini with a double olive (he has been informed he once drank 28 of same at a single sitting, which I tell him is not that impressive because the second olives displaced, over 28 glasses, significant amounts of martini) or working on a bottle of Thompson Bros. Pineapple Rum, Grown and Bottled in Gregory Town, Eleuthera, Gardner will be moved to recite the 34 verses of Reckless Red O'Shay, which begins:
Cold sober broke, and that's no joke,
we sailed from Tarpon Bay,
Me and a bum who loved his rum
named Reckless Red O'Shay.
We sailed her out and came about
to run Exuma Sound,
Just me and Red and both half dead
halfway to Duncan Town....
George Thompson, of Thompson Bros., is, among other things, the mayor of Gregory Town and a friend of the Youngs, and it is a true compliment when Gardner refills his glass with George's rum and says, "No one else would dare make it."
The Merry Hell is a phrase in a ballad entitled The Great Mahogany Shoal. This one gets under way:
Uncork the rum and pour me some
for I drink to a wasted soul,
A man gone down, a sailor drowned
on the Great Mahogany Shoal....
It goes on to describe the plight of a sailor "born to be hung and made just to raise merry hell," who floundered on the Great Mahogany Shoal.
"And this is it, the reef I hit,"
swore the alcoholic tar.
"Goddamn it, lad, but I was had
by this long, mahogany bar."
In addition to this great body of moral balladry, Gardner has composed a book of swimming instructions entirely in rhymed couplets ("Don't kick so stiff, loosen up some. /Relax your legs and it will come./Put a little bend in your knee./Not too much, now listen to me") and has written a treatment for a movie, Under Pressure, which will be filmed in Nassau. "It's about a mad-type scientist who gets this guy so he can breathe water supersaturated with oxygen," says Gardner. "In time, he can breathe under water, period. But, in the process, he turns into a monster. I play the monster, all covered with slime and weeds, my face contorted, wearing special contact lenses so I can see under water. I don't play the hero who starts out and gets monstrified—he's a young, pretty guy. At any rate, the monster is misunderstood. He tries to contact his girl friend. He is chased because he is a monster. The mad-type scientist attempts to kill my girl friend. I kill him and expire, because I can't breathe out of water. Next year, Son of Under Pressure."
Gardner is already plotting still another movie. This one takes place in the future, when there are only two labor unions left in the world—the round union and the square union. The round union consists of workers involved with round or rounded objects, the square union consists of workers involved with square or squarish objects. The round union goes on strike, see....
The Youngs' film activities come under another of their companies, Nassau Producers, Ltd. Usually, Gardner and his divers work as grips for movies being shot in Nassau, but they are often obliged to take considerably more intimate roles. For instance, in Thunderball, the new James Bond film, Gardner and Charley portray Spectre road guards. "The producer was stuck for a couple of villains," Gardner says. "Being villains all the time is going to ruin our image. Anyway, I'd rather work on the bottom, where all the director can say is, 'Glub, glub.' "
Indeed, last year, Gardner, Doris and David Gonin, another UT instructor, did a Timex commercial 15 feet down off Rose Island, which was filmed in 10-second takes so the actors could get air from their safety men. The commercial opens with Doris standing on the ocean floor before a mirror, putting on lipstick and checking her wristwatch. She is wearing a fiber-glass wig since it is the only kind of hair that will stay in place under water and huge lead heels so Doris will stay in place. Lead weights were sewn into her dress to keep it from floating over her head. Next, David comes by, piloting a two-man sub. Doris takes a turtle by a gold leash and joins David in the sub. "The turtle kept wanting to go up for air at the wrong times," Doris says, "and David kept crashing the sub into coral heads. You can't see down there." Doris and David then drive to Le Club, where they sit at a table and Gardner, a waiter dressed in wing collar, vest and Bermuda shorts, fills their glasses with champagne, or tinted carbon tetrachloride, which can inflame one's skin, as the entire cast shortly discovered. Doris and David next toast one another. "We were supposed to click glasses," Doris says, "but we kept zooming by each other." At the close, Doris checks her watch once more, while many little fish look on—the watch band had been smeared with sardine oil.
Gardner has also herded big groupers for a Camel commercial, repeatedly tackling them and hauling them back when they swam out of camera range, but his most exacting roles were in Help!, the second Beatles movie. For one, he had to save Ringo's life repeatedly. Ringo, who doesn't swim, was required to jump off a boat into 20 feet of water, where David and Neville Cartwright, the captain of the Queen Anne's Revenge, lurked, disguised as sharks. Each time the director shouted "Cut," Gardner would swim over and rescue Ringo. "He's a game little guy," says Gardner.
Gardner's major contribution to Help!, however, was raising an 18-foot, 1,200-pound fiber-glass idol from the bottom of the sea, while Ringo is staked out on the beach surrounded by the Italian army, or something like that. Gardner first heard of the idol, which he came to call, with some affection, Big Mother, when the producer approached him and said, "We have a prop. It is a large idol that must rise majestically from the sea."
The producer told Gardner its weight and height, and described it as a Buddha. When Big Mother arrived, Gardner discovered she was a Hindu goddess with 10 arms. "Her weight was all in her head," he says, "and she had all those arms waving around in the breeze. My calculations had been for a folded-arm Buddha." She was sunk, a raft built under her and 55-gallon drums located at each corner were simultaneously flooded with compressed air. "Big Mother starts to rise," Gardner recalls. "She breaks the surface. She falls flat on her back. She sinks ignominiously to the bottom."
A crane raised Big Mother by her head, but while she was dangling in midair, all save the head fell back into the ocean, her arms snapping off as they hit the surface. "Big Mother was spread all over the bottom," says Gardner. Ultimately, using block and tackle and three drums at each corner of the raft, Big Mother rose with the requisite majesty.
The night before I composed my dubious metaphors off Athol Island, Gardner, Doris and I had supper at the Green Shutters on Parliament Street. Gardner had spent the day in the UT office. Doris asked him how business was. "One hundred and three people came in," he said. "Twenty-five wanted to know the whereabouts of the dock-master, 25 the whereabouts of the ladies' room, 25 wanted me to call them a cab, 25 wanted to know how's fishing and three inquired about skin diving. I'm seriously considering closing the skin-diving business and opening a bar. Old Portuguese expression—never put all your sardines in one net."
In 1961, when the Youngs and Charley founded UT, things were even tougher. Once, when they had scraped up enough money to buy a compass, Charley and Gardner, in Doris' absence, drained the alcohol out. "When I came home," said Doris, "they were out of their foolish little minds." And many a time Gardner resorted to plaiting palm hats, a trade he learned from a Polynesian dancer in Fort Lauderdale, to make ends meet. "They sold for $5; with a bird on top, $6," he said. "One day I earned $100." "I was thinking of buying me a raft," said Doris, "packing a lunch of peas and rice, sailing to the beach, selling Father's hats, and the hell with the diving business."
After dinner we drove over to the Nassau Beach Hotel, where Gardner and Doris had to take part in the weekly water show. "Don't talk me into any comedy dives, Mother," Gardner said. "I'm not going to be able to find the pool." Doris' act consisted of riding on the shoulders of the water-skiing instructor as he skied across the 20-yard pool while holding a hawser that was being towed by Gardner and some mutinous Nassau Beach help. My notes for the rest of the night are in very large handwriting, and seem to consist of the many passions of Father Young. He is against wanton spearfishing, for instance, saying, "I have personally smacked every large grouper from Sandy Cay to Green Cay on the behind with a spear gun in the hope that they'll be a little smarter next time." He is for more government spending on underwater research, saying, "A man can step out into space, but he can't go down 600 feet! By God, they could increase the usable portion of the earth by over a third." He is against certain New York seafood restaurants, saying, "Doris and I ate in one that had a sign on the wall that read, IF IT COMES FROM THE SEA, WE HAVE IT. If they had had conch, I'd have ordered sponge."
Later, en route from one saloon, where I learned that it was "Love, love alone, that forced King Edward to leave the throne," to another, which was closed, I recall Gardner growling in the dark, "I don't come this way often, but I leave big tracks."
The next morning, while Doris was giving a swimming lesson to the infant son of Kevin McClory, one of the producers of Thunderball—McClory standing on his balcony overlooking the Nassau Beach pool, roaring, "I want my son to swim!"—I was on the Queen Anne's Revenge, in the company of lungers and snorkelers, bound for Athol. A ground swell had closed down most of the reefs, but Gardner knows of hundreds of diving spots, and unless the weather is stinking, he can always put his tourists over the stern on one reef or another.
So, here I am, having a staring contest with a squirrel fish, 18 feet down, growing cold and old. This fish is exactly where it was yesterday, and, no doubt, the day before that, suspended, motionless, just off the bottom, sheltered by a coral overhang. Its enormous eye keeps changing color. One of Gardner's verses goes through my mind:
It seemed to say in its own dumb way,
just what are you doing here.
Something is wrong, you don't belong,
and your fins and bubbles seem queer.
Gardner descends and, since I am low on air and fresh out of philosophy, we rise together. In the boat I ask him what he had been looking for. "I was just looking," he says. "What for?" I ask. "Once in a while I see something new," he says. "Like what?" I say. "The other day I saw a yellow tube worm," he says. "It was pure yellow, like a pansy. I had never seen a yellow tube worm before." He looks around at the still surface, upon which several snorkelers are floating. "Where are all my little chickens?" he asks and, taking up a horse conch, blows several mournful notes. "What else have you seen?" I ask him. He tells me that once, in the deep moors off Andros Island, he saw a tremendous gray shape sliding through the sea 100 feet below. I ask him how big it was. He says the boat he stood on was 86 feet overall, and it was bigger than that. "What did it look like?" I say. "It was just a shape," he says. "What was it?" I ask. Gardner says he doesn't know.
Nassau skin-diving guides Gardner and Doris Young tread water beneath the stern of their "houseboat," Merry Hell.
On his way home from school, Doris Young's son Ole leaps from the dock to the deck of the Merry Hell.
From the shade of the Underwater Tours booth at the Nassau Beach, Doris (center) drums up some skin-diving trade.
Fifteen feel below the surface off At hoi Island, Gardner and Doris feed the reef fish from a can of sardines.