Gardner was born in Port Clinton, Ohio in 1929. His
family was from Gloucester, Massachusetts and moved to Ohio when
his father was stationed at Port Clinton, Ohio as a member of
the U.S. Coast Guard. His
Famous stars such as
Gary Cooper dove with
Gardner in 1958
father was lost on Lake Erie in 1930 while on duty.
Gardner joined the Marine Corps at a young age and met John
Cronin (PADI) at Paris Island. The two became good friends and
later in life that relationship would become fruitful.
Gardner loved the water and gravitated to Ft. Lauderdale
and Miami in the early 1950's, working as a lifeguard. In the
early 50's Gardner crossed paths with Lou Maxwell, an ex-Navy
Frogman, who worked with the Florida Frogman dive shops.
Maxwell's claim to fame was as a recovery diver for the first
down range space capsules that landed at sea. Young obtained
dive gear from Maxwell, as well as from Maxwell's competitor,
Jordon Klein, and quickly gained diving skill through personal
Gardner served as mate on a charter schooner in the
Bahamas for a time before working as a lifeguard and dive
instructor at the Ft. Lauderdale Hotel. Business was slow during
the summer months, so in 1957 the hotel asked him if he would
accept a transfer to work at the British Colonial Hotel in
Nassau. As a sideline, Gardner also worked as a dive instructor
for Bruce Parker Enterprises, a water skiing operation. After a
months, Bruce was having trouble getting a work permit
and was deported from the Island. Along with Parker's
ex-partner Charlie Badeau, Gardner formed Underwater Tours
Ltd., the first company in Nassau with the sole purpose of
teaching diving. He started out by renting a couple of boats and
gear and was in business. For a mere $25.00 a student got
a pool check out in which you were told: "don't take your
mouthpiece out, don't
with a Stark re-breather MK-6 in the 1970's, on the
cover of Skin Diver Magazine.
take your mask off, and don't hold your breath." The next day you were diving on the reef.
This price also included pick up and drop off. The
enterprise took off and they found themselves operating
concessions in seven major hotels. The partners later
formed a commercial diving company called Underwater
Engineering Ltd in 1961, working as civilian divers for the
US Navy, four major oil companies, Lloyds of London, and
various film studios.
He was contacted in 1958 to help a film crew that was
making a series called Sea Hunt. He was a pick-up diver and
would fill in wherever divers were needed. He worked with Lamar
Boren and Ricou Browning.
Lamar was a no-nonsense type of person. Gardner
remembers Lamar's famous line, "This is where friendship ends
and shit begins--now hit the water!" Lamar would keep them in the
water for hours, but he himself never wore a wet suit. He knew
when he had the shot.
During this time he became good friends with a dentist
who just came to the Island, Dr. Norman Cove. Gardner would
bring fish and lobster to Norman in exchange for dental work. At
this time, in the 1950's, Young recalls that you could find
hundreds of conch in no time. If you wanted grouper you just
tapped on a rock and they came out. Nassau had so many lobsters
at the time that it was thought the supply would never stop. You
could see the coral and sea fans 60 feet down. Gardner exposed
Dr Cove and his son, Stuart, to the joys of diving and
eventually Stuart took over as Nassau's leading dive operation
with the world renowned Stuarts Cove's.
Gardner attributes the fact that he never got bent in
all his years of diving to the fact that he always stressed
safety in diving. He points out that when he began diving there
were no dive computers and to this day he
has no desire to use them. His formula for safe diving
included adding 10% to the dive tables. For instance, he
explains, if he was diving 200 ft, he would figure it as 220ft.
If he was supposed to stop for 10 minutes, he would stop for 12
minutes. He never pushed the tables, but added a margin of
safety which served him well.
One of Gardner's favorite memories took place at Diver's
Haven, Fran Doyle's dive shop. The property also served as their
residence and Young found himself sitting at their poolside bar
in the company of Mel Fisher, Ted Tucker, and Robert Marx.
Gardner's good friend, author Peter Benchley, was conducting an
interview with the famous treasure divers for an article he was
writing. Young recalls that his friend was desperately trying to
write the stories down as fast as the men could come up with
them. As soon
Frances Young Doyle, his wife
at the time, and Gardner Young
as one would finish, the next diver would come up with
an even better one. That was a moment Gardner says he wished he
had on tape. Benchley's stories were later published in Argosy
He was contacted again in the 1960's by Ricou Browning
to work on the Bond movies, as well as the TV show Flipper. He
worked on Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes
Only, to name a few. He was also contacted by Sam Davison Jr. to
be the official Test Diver of Dacor gear in the Bahamas. He
worked with Sam and Dacor for years, helping the company to
become the top seller of scuba gear in the world.
For a period of seven years, during the 1970's, Gardner
raced offshore power boats. He raced magnum style boats and
particularly enjoyed the ocean races. Young received many awards
for his racing and in 1974 ran an outboard over the open ocean
faster than anyone in the world at the time.
At this time the hotels were squeezing as much money as
they could out of the dive operators and the business had become
cut-throat. In Gardner's words, "the head boats had become
cattle boats" and it
Bobby (center) and Ethel (lower) Kennedy with
Gardner on a dive.
become a contest as to who could carry the most
divers the cheapest. The fun was gone for Young and it was
Christmas Day of 1984 that he closed his dive operation.
However, he kept his Underwater Engineering business open and
signed a contract with Tenneco Oil to do the diving on their
jack-up rig drilling in the southern Bahamas. It wasn't until
1989 that he sold that business. He doesn't dive anymore and is
quick to say with a smile, "When you reach 60 years of age, the
tanks get heavier, the water gets colder, and the deeper you go
the darker it gets."
Looking back to his early days of diving in the Islands,
Gardner says he cannot believe that man has had such a negative
impact on the oceans in the short time since
the early 1950's. He recalls that in his early days of diving around Nassau there was
a blue hole that was 240 feet deep and 80 feet across. At the
time he dove it regularly, no one else could find it and the
hole was teeming with fish. That is, he noted, until he told a
friend about it and more and more people started to dive it. In
no time the schools of fish disappeared. Despite these sad
changes, Gardner says that Nassau and Exuma still provide some
of the most beautiful diving in the world today.
Gardner Young had an incredible impact on the early dive
community in Nassau and is highly respected for his
contributions to diving in that area of the world.
Ed McMahon with Gardner of Underwater Tours in Nassau,