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|CLASSIC DIVE BOOKS - Author Lloyd Bridges|
Mask and Flippers is actor Lloyd Bridges' account of the early days of scuba and the role he played as Mike Nelson. Part autobiography, part historical (hysterical, remarked a friend) it has its place as a classic more so for what it represented, rather than its content. This was not Mike Nelson's book however. Bridges the actor is also Bridges the diver and author, with the experienced diver/writer Bill Barada doing the literary make-up. How much of the book belongs to Barada we will never know, but Bridges certainly entered into the spirit and enthusiasm of diving and I would like to think that the words were his own.
Despite the macho image of Mike Nelson, Bridges never seemed to take his role as an expert diver too literally. An experienced diver he certainly was, and it appears that he did all his own underwater stunts, with Courtney Brown as an underwater double for the villains. How technically accurate was Sea Hunt ? There was of course always the threat of an experienced diver waiting to pounce on an error. Bridges acknowledges that the concept of him diving alone was not accepted by the sport diving fraternity as it "violates the principles of buddy diving". But he claims that the shows were not meant to be a documentary. "Our excuse for existence is in dramatic entertainment and our purpose is to present an illusion of reality in dangerous situations which the public will enjoy and want to see." And that's fair enough. Bridges acknowledges that procedures of sport diving may have been broken, but the aspect of diver safety in respect to training and equipment were never violated. Whether Hollywood could ever adopt a moral attitude to anything is doubtful, but at least Ivan Tors, the Sea Hunt producer, and the directors, did not flaunt danger at the expense of public responsibility. Sea Hunt may not have been a documentary or an educational film, but its credibility as a guide to the vagarious underwater activity extended beyond being adventure triviality.
Mask and Flippers commences with the usual introduction to the wonders of the underwater world, without too many superfluous adjectives, and then gets straight into basic equipment and a brief history of ‘the first skindivers'. The first western observation of the use of the equivalent of flippers (please Mr Bridges, are they not ‘fins'?) by ‘south sea natives' in 1930 is interesting, eventually leading to their development and manufacture in the USA. He mentions the patent taken out in 1947 by Emile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau for the ‘Aqua Lung' and discusses the limitations and extensions of the use of ‘self contained underwater breathing apparatus'. What makes the book so readable is that Bridges includes personal experiences and anecdotes throughout the ‘educational' text of the book, and does so without pretension. His comments on spear fishing are intelligent and relevant to this day. Creatures of the Sea is an interesting chapter which of course must include a cameo shark encounter essay, but there is no sign of machismo. Indeed, the whole chapter is superb, with astute observation and comment. "There is no need to be frightened at the sight of a moray, but they cannot be ignored". Underwater Salvage and Treasure consumes seventeen interesting pages, and includes, interestingly, an essay on early (USA) salvage laws.
The penultimate chapter, ‘Hollywood Underwater', lays further claim to why the book may be regarded as a classic, as it covers in brief the problems faced by early Hollywood film makes in including underwater scenes. There is little detail of the photography equipment used, but names are mentioned for posterity and the anecdotes amusing and interesting. The final chapter allows Bridges to speculate on the future, but he does so cautiously, mentioning aquaculture (I thought the term was coined much later), underwater mining, over zealous fishing, and diver mobility. "Future cylinders will be charged with liquid air or oxygen and helium at pressures in excess of 50,000 pounds." Maybe. Although not meant to be a diving instruction text, it is surprising that a section of the (US) Navy Standard Decompression Tables are reproduced in the index.
relaxed style, many anecdotes - a good read.
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