Legends of Diving Past Events

 

August 8-10, 2008
International Legends of Diving Festival


A Gathering of Four: Jeff Rice (from Left) poses for a picture with honored guests Nick Icorn, Robert Croft, and Keith Cooper.

I don't usually write about these events because they have been represented in the past well through the use of photos. After all, each photo represents a thousand words each. The Third Annual Legends of Diving at the Portage Quarry was different.

In pictures I could not capture the friendships that were established and the incredible amount of knowledge that was available through the legends present that lived through the history of diving. I could not represent the amount of work that was needed to bring these legends to one location and honor them through those who attended.

Friday night my wife Linda and I arrived at the meet-and-greet. The clouds in the sky painted a beautiful red sunset over the quarry providing the perfect back drop for meeting the legends and we took advantage of it. We were immediately drawn to Robert Croft, legendary breath holding diver. While he was pulled in every direction by others who had every right to his attention Linda and I had the opportunity to get to know Edna, Robert's wife. She was very good at sitting in the shadows of her famous husband and we found that her conversations were just as lively as any Robert was telling. After all, she lived through these experiences. It was chance that we ran into her, but we were certainly glad we did.

Soon after our arrival we were reacquainted with Sherry Lantz. We shared some wine together to reminisce about our meeting two years ago at the Legends Festival, then again in our meeting last year. If we only meet once a year we knew that we had developed a friendship based on good conversation and plenty of laughs. Her story with the festival was fascinating. She had been friends in the early 60s with some of the divers being honored at Portage Quarry. It wasn't until a Google search three years ago that she was able to locate her friends and trace them to the first festival in 2006. In the early days she was also there with the legends, sharing their experiences and their accomplishments. Now she returns to visit with old and new friends.

We made our rounds to Nick Icorn, "The Keeper of the Flame." We would find out throughout the weekend why he has such a distinguished title in the sport of diving.

We wanted so much to meet Keith Cooper of UNEXSO but he was so lively telling stories that there always seemed to be a crowd hanging


Keith Cooper of UNEXSO (right)

around him. When I did get a chance to offer my hand, he went five steps further. The big burly Bahamian threw a bear hug around me like we had been good friends from long ago. We had shared phone calls through our Vonage service and I was also ready to admit that it was great to finally meet him in person.

Our night ended with a presentation of the film, "The Deep". We relaxed to a movie where the underwater director was Al Giddings, one of two films by the legendary underwater filmmaker we would watch that weekend on the big screen. Jeff Rice and crew should be given the credit for the makeshift outdoor

movie experience. The free popcorn, the atmosphere and sound system drew quite an attentive crowd for the movie.

Saturday the attention was focused on the stars, each huddled under tents near the shelter house. They were signing autographs, telling stories, and Nick Icorn was enthusiastically showing off some vintage dive gear including the 1937 Commeinhes unit that predated the more modern equipment engineered by Gagnon and Cousteau. He and his daughter Tina proudly displayed their collection. Robert and Edna Croft were there and a crowd formed for each autograph opportunity. He was excited to bring this event to Grand Bahama Island, and it showed.

Alec Peirce of Scuba 2000 drew a crowd with his presentation on Sea Hunt, the TV series with Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson. He had me pegged with a few others in the crowd when he said there isn't a gray-haired balding scuba diver that doesn't owe his passion for the sport to Mike Nelson. I could relate to it all. The 50th birthday celebration of the show at Portage Quarry was admittedly the only one in North America according to Peirce, the most knowledgeable expert on the subject. No doubt he was also including Canada since his company is the largest dive operation there.

Scuba 2000 was also one of many sponsors that contributed to the prize lineup that was launched on Saturday. If you were envious of anyone you had to bear your grin toward Peggy Sterling of Toledo, OH who made a big haul with prizes. She had won the White's Fusion Dry Suit, a regulator, BC, and dive knife in separate drawings throughout the weekend. The dive trips were won by Michael Courvoisier and Lori Roome of Ypsilanti, MI who are off to the Bahamas for their winning ticket from UNEXSO. Rick and Laura Hamman of Curtice, OH won a trip to Belize in a separate drawing on Sunday. Karl Gehring of Indianapolis, IN won the drawing for the Gold Phoenix Royal Aqua-Master donated by Bryan Pennington of VintageDoubleHose.com. The two of them made quiet arrangements for the security of this one-of-a-kind regulator. In all over $18,000 in prizes were given away over the weekend.


Peggy Sterling (right) of Toledo, OH made a big haul with prizes. She won the White's Fusion Dry Suit, a regulator, BC, and dive knife. Award hostess Brooke is on the left.


We avoided a short downpour late Saturday when we snuck off to Sam B's in downtown Bowling Green to celebrate Linda's birthday with family and friends. Sherry provided comic relief and even broke into a Christian hymn with my sister's boyfriend providing the other half of a duet under Sherry's full direction. It might have been a bit unnerving for the other diners at the fine establishment but we were ready to party.

It was back to the quarry where we seemed to be living for the weekend. We arrived just in time for the presentation of the 1968 CBS special from Charles Kuralt on the record dive of Robert Croft. It was the second film presentation that weekend shot by Al Giddings. Aged that it was, the 28 minute show was a fascinating documentary on the 240 foot record dive made by Croft. Croft returned to the microphone for a question and answer period which turned out to be filled with delightful snippets of his dive, his life, and the sport of free diving, or breath holding as it was called back then. He was very candid with questions from the audience. "How did you prepare?" one asked, "By smoking four packs of cigarettes a day," he responded. He told us later that he also ran eight miles a day as a Navy Seal. "Where did you get your celebration drink after the dive?" another asked. "A boat had pulled up alongside and offered me a beer. I wasn't aware they were filming me as I drank that Budweiser," he responded.

He left the microphone to an ovation and turned the focus over to Nick Icorn. I will admit that as passionate as I am for the sport of scuba diving

I was skeptical that I could be attentive through a two-hour presentation on its history. I was mesmerized from the start and captivated for the next hours. The time went quickly. That man vocalized his knowledge of the history covering subjects as the war years, underwater demolitions by the Italians, the development of dive gear, the failings of some and the accomplishments of others. We left knowing that we have to urge him to document his perspective on the history as many were willing to buy the book, then and there. Linda even urged me to get a copy not knowing that none was available.

The second rain shower of the evening chased away the crowd and forced the cancellation of the movie Revenge of the Creature. By then half of the Feature Creatures, our little band of


Jeff Rice shows the abundance of
fish life at the silo to Nick Icorn and his daughter Tina Icorn.

impromptu thespians, were showing signs of fatigue. We were thankful our show was postponed for another year, we will be fresh in 2009.

Sunday we made an effort to explore the quarry area beyond the canopies around the shelter house. Linda and I spent some time with Gy. Sgt. Don Preston of Detroit, MI and Tom Price of Bowling Green. Tom Price offered his Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) for inspection. Tom's Joy was filmed in the movie Flags of our Father's, directed by Clint Eastwood. In the film, look closely, you can see Tom Price at the helm as they recreated the landing on Iwo Jimo in WWII. He travelled with his prize LVT to Philadelphia, then to Iceland where they filmed a portion of the movie. Tom Price was there with only a portion of his military collection. He admitted there was no crime in his neighborhood as he was captain of the Block Watch program. We understood him completely and would pity the fool that would attempt a crime spurt in the area.

We offered our gratitude to the legends as each prepared to leave on Sunday. We will always remember the Crofts, Nick and Tina Icorn, Alec Peirce, Keith Cooper, and everyone else that had touched our lives this eventful weekend. We made plans to attend the next event and we are certain the time in April at UNEXSO will be well worth the trip. I can be grateful to Jeff Rice for planning the festival and to all the workers that dedicated their time to putting on such a great show of respect to the legends. I have to thank Tom Wyble and his wife Gwen as they worked tirelessly preplanning, working the event, and I suspect laboring in post show follow-up. The technical ability of Sam kept the shows going with his knowledge of the sound system, fine tuning it for an outdoor crowd. I feel a great respect to the local dive shop operators who donated their time and money in hopes that the legends will be honored by the dive community. The manufacturers looked upon the quarry with respect as well as here in the northwest corner of Ohio the dream of recreational diving is kept alive through the legends that created the sport, engineered it, and then wrote about it for all of us to follow.


Michael Courvoisier and Lori Roome (from left) of Ypsilanti, MI are congratulated by Keith Cooper of UNEXSO after winning the trip on Saturday. Rick and Laura Hamman of Curtice, OH won a trip to Belize in a separate drawing on Sunday.


David Crooks of Brian, OH, just exiting the water and donned in dive gear, accepted his Mares regulator prize on Sunday.

Let the drum roll please: Brooke with Bryan Pennington of VintageDoubleHose.com draw for the Gold Phoenix Royal Aqua-Master.

Karl Gehring of Indianapolis, IN gladly accepts his prize. The raffle was conducted on-line and at the quarry by VintageDoubleHose.com

Owner Jeff Rice and Alec Peirce of Scuba 2000 celebrate the 50th birthday of Mike Nelson and the Sea Hunt show.

Peirce, the renowned expert on Sea Hunt, has the honor of cutting and serving the cake in the birthday celebration.

Sherry Lantz, a Legends guest since the first festival, finds a
good location for her full-service campsite.

Keith Cooper of UNEXSO jokes with guests on Saturday.

The "Keeper of the Flame" Nick Icorn brought along a sampling of vintage dive gear. The 1937 Commeinhes can be seen in the far left of the photo. This unit was developed six years before Jacques Cousteau developed his first line of dive regulators.

Robert Croft (right) spoke about his breath-holding record dives in 1967 and 1968. He brought along a television special by Charles Kuralt, filmed by Al Giddings, and showed it on Saturday night.


Charles Fellows of Toledo, OH ascends to the surface on Sunday.

Gy. Sgt. Don Preston of Detroit, MI (left) shows some of his memorabilia to Tom Price (right) who once again had on display his Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) shown in the background. Tom's Joy was filmed in the movie Flags of our Father's, directed by Clint Eastwood. In the film, look closely, you can see Tom Price at the helm. The LVT was transported to Philadelphia, PA, then freighter to Iceland for the filming that represented the Marine Corps landing on Iwo Jimo in WWII.

Thanks to all, from atop the LVT with Linda.

Portage Quarry Recreation Club, Inc.
12701 South Dixie
Bowling Green OH, 43402
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