First published in 1934 and widely regarded as the first book to popularise recreational snorkelling and scuba diving, Guy Gilpatric’s, “The Compleat Goggler”, concludes with, “Man, we reflected, has polluted the rivers, destroyed the forests, pitted the fields with high explosives, obscured the sun with the fumes of industry, filled the heavens with the tumult of planes and reared hundred-story buildings as monuments to his folly. But nothing he has ever done has spoiled the bottom of the sea, nor will anything he can ever do leave a lasting trace upon it. – At least, we hoped not.
“(But just the same, if I were you, I’d get a pair of goggles and see it while the seeing’s good!)”
Written well before the advent of underwater film and television documentaries – and combining DIY advice for the would-be skin-diving enthusiast with stories of spear-fishing exploits along the French Mediterranean coastline – Gilpatric’s folksy humour and keen eye for fact rather than fiction helped stimulate interest in the new sport of ‘goggling’.
Inspired by his underwater escapades and that basic urge to discover and explore, people from around the world rushed out to their tool-shed’s and began cobbling together their own snorkelling equipment from whatever materials came to hand. Armed with old aviator goggles lined with lumps of putty to keep the water out; a length of tube cut from their dad’s garden hose, and a home-made hand-spear to hunt down dinner, these early diving pioneers took themselves off to the ocean in search of adventure.
Not content with the idea of merely observing the undersea world from the shallows, and valuing the freedom granted to the spear fishing snorkeller, folks like Hass and Cousteau – who, it is said, kept a copy of ‘The Compleat Goggler’ in the on-board library of his legendary vessel, ‘Calypso’ – hastened the introduction of self-contained breathing apparatus.
Recording their own undersea exploits in books, magazine articles and documentary films, these two were driven by that same thirst for excitement and knowledge that prompted Columbus to hop in a leaky old boat and become the first cruise operator to tour the Caribbean.
More than eighty years have passed since Gilpatric’s first tentative plunge into the ocean. During that period of time we have developed recreational diving technology that will safely take us to depths undreamed of in 1934. Sadly, however, times have now changed and adventure activities like diving are in danger of falling victim to their own popularity.
Despite – or because of – the fact that tens of millions of people world-wide have been seduced by the idea of seeing for themselves what lies beneath the ocean’s surface, diving is increasingly coming under the spotlight as an activity that governments believe they must control and regulate in order to protect people from themselves.
Nobody doubts that safety is – or should be – of paramount concern when taking part in any activity. But attempting to cocoon people from taking self-imposed risks is – providing that nobody else is put in harm’s way in the process – to deny that basic urge to ‘boldly go where no person has gone before’.
Nevertheless, if I were you, I’d follow Gilpatric’s advice and get myself off diving while the getting’s good … and there’s really no better time than now.