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A Spearfishing Equipment History Thread

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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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It's been a while since I completed my thread tracing the development of the monofin from the 1940s to the early 1970s and I've been pondering under the current lockdown which topic to broach next in breathhold diving equipment history. Having reviewed the literature accessible to me online and in print, I have plumped for the combined mask and snorkel popular with certain spearfishermen from the late 1940s to the end of the 1950s.

A typical modern reaction might be scepticism, or even disbelief, that mid-twentieth-century spearfishers would consider using such devices instead of a separate mask and snorkel. Even back then there were siren voices decrying their use. Journalist and British Sub-Aqua Club co-founder Peter Small, for example, wrote the following in his 1957 book Your Guide to Underwater Adventure: "You may see masks with all sorts of attachments, gadgets and novelties. Many of them, to my mind, are of dubious value, and they will send the price up. In particular, many have the breathing tube built in as an integral part of the mask. I have never seen the advantage of this, and this is an opinion shared by most experienced underwater swimmers I know."

Others chose to disagree. By way of example, Simon Codrington's 1954 book Guide to Underwater Hunting: "(One) type of mask normally covers eyes, nose and mouth, and has a breathing tube built into the side (in some cases both sides of the head), while in other types only one tube is fitted, in the centre. The advantage of this kind of mask is mainly from the comfort point of view. It fits snugly to one’s face, there is no mouthpiece to bite on, and one can breathe through either nose or mouth."

And Cornel Lumière's 1956 book Beneath the seven seas: "The latest kind of mask is the full-face type, covering eyes, nose and mouth, with a snorkel built into the mask. This breathing device consists of a small, generally plastic, tube leading from the mask to above the head. When the face is in the water, looking down from the surface, one may still comfortably breathe through the tube. A valve attachment closes the tube the moment one dives under and opens immediately upon emerging. This mask is ideal for the beginner and much liked by many experts. First of all, it gives the largest possible field of vision. Secondly, as it covers also the nose and mouth, it is a must for those who have sinus trouble. Thirdly, and this is important, it enables the wearer to keep his face in the water as long as he likes. One breathes through the snorkel and never has to look up or take one’s face out of the water for breathing. This makes it possible to keep both eyes on the target without interruption. It tends to give a feeling of security to know at all times what is going on below.... Built-in snorkel masks are the best."

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words:
1590059350544.png

Amateur lobsterman holds up lobster he caught with net, Atlantic Ocean, near Maine

1590059437756.png

Spear Fishing Snorkelers in the Water


1590059672587.jpeg

Illustration from Lumière's Beneath the seven seas.

So much for my first post on this new thread, whose purpose, I must emphasise, is to review 1940s-1950s snorkel-masks as interesting period artefacts, museum exhibits from a very different era of underwater exploration. I'm certainly not advocating their use in this new millennium where health and safety considerations are rightly paramount. And to stress this point, I will be focusing next on the type of snorkel-mask impossible to find outside museums or private collections: eleven models fitted with flexible hoses. I hope what I post will be of interest to others on this forum and I encourage any constructive comments, personal experiences and useful insights. In the meantime, stay tuned and stay safe!
 
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cdavis

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Amazed that the snorkel/mask was more than a marketing ploy. I can't see how its possible to keep water out of the snorkel under all conditions.

Very interesting history.
 
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Kodama

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Here are some excerpts from an old catalogue of La Spirotechnique, Jacques Cousteau’s brand. He doesn’t need an introduction.

f5b726e60d962232c97244b3b306b879.jpg


5947326ae7da62c6c5a23553a9f4352b.jpg


3c7a082d0f37b6bf9d6ec10be347ed96.jpg


My favorite spearfishing knife the Mares Snake is quite similar to the ‘Seadag’ and a classic by itself.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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Amazed that the snorkel/mask was more than a marketing ploy. I can't see how its possible to keep water out of the snorkel under all conditions.

Very interesting history.
Thank you for the positive feedback, cdavis. Although snorkel-masks were around States-side during the 1950s, both domestic (e.g. US Divers) and imported (e.g. Cressi), they appear to have been treated more as recreational "fun" devices there for watching sealife from the surface. By way of contrast, snorkel-masks in the European countries bordering the Mediterranean were developed by spearfishers during World War II to help them conduct the serious business of hunting for seafood to eke out their meagre rations during World War II.

As for an all-position solution to shut-off snorkel valve design, the 1950s pioneers had a reasonable stab at the issue, as we shall see. Luigi Ferraro, inventor of the Pinocchio mask and the Rondine fin, patented a "gamma" valve for Cressi designed to solve the problem during the 1950s.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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Thank you for posting the pages from your old Spiro catalogue, Kodama. I've just consulted my own incomplete run of scanned Spiro catalogues, where I see that the Seadag knife was intermittently featured between 1974 and 1979:
1974:
1590087276323.jpeg

1979:
1590087379209.jpeg


Does your catalogue have a date? 1974 or thereabouts, by the look, as the knives page is identical.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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La Spirotechnique in Europe corresponds to US Divers States-side, both Cousteau-related. I'm unaware of the former company offering snorkel-masks during the 1950s, but the latter certainly did back then. I stated at the beginning of this thread that I intended focusing on snorkel-masks fitted with flexible hoses.

By way of explanation, let's concentrate first on separate snorkels with flex-hose mouthpieces. The co-founder of Scubapro, Dick Bonin, is credited with the introduction of the flexible-hose snorkel in the mid-1950s and, as I'm sure everybody already knows, it soon became one of the four basic snorkel shapes:
1590089403377.png

The flexible-hose snorkel was particularly favoured by scuba divers because the mouthpiece dropped out of the way when self-contained breathing apparatus was used instead.

Less familiar is the use of lengths of flexible hose in masks fitted with inbuilt snorkels. US Divers, the American arm of La Spirotechnique, had a flexible-hose snorkel-mask in its catalogues from 1954 to 1959: the first and second versions of the Marino. I'll stick to the first version today, available from 1954 to 1956:
1590090207666.png

Note how this is a "half-mask" covering the eyes and the nose only. Look at the ear-cups protecting the ears but raising compensation issues when diving below the surface. And pay attention to the elaborate ball valve and head harness. But concentrate in particular on the length of corrugated hose between the snorkel socket at the top of the mask and the valved snorkel barrel proper, enabling the air to flow into the mask around a pliable 90° bend following the contour of the head. The selling points of the Marino are listed in the product description above.

The US Divers Marino must have made some impact in its time. The following image appeared in Albert VanderKogel's 1955 book Underwater sport, where the Marino is used to exemplify a "mask snorkel":
1590091036863.png

and here is an article from the December 1954 issue of the British Sub-Aqua Club journal Neptune:
1590091151734.jpeg

Sadly no explanation how a Scottish diver managed to get hold of a US Divers Marino in the first place so early in the 1950s. What I do know is that I've been unable - so far - to locate a surviving example of this first version of the US Divers Marino. Unless you know different, of course.

I propose to review the second version of the US Divers Marino next time. As we shall see, it's a radical transformation of the original version.
 
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Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
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When I started spear fishing in the Tampa Bay Area in the early 1950s we didn’t even use snorkles because the only ones we knew about were the ones used by kids in pools with ping pong balls In a cage. It’s obvious from your catalogs that other types existed but kids in Florida didn’t have access to much information about what was going on in Europe. I wonder how the hell we got along with out them. But I guess most of our diving was under bridges and we would hang onto pilings to breath up. It was a lot harder holding your head out of the water to breath up in open water but we didn’t know of an alternative. Here's a typical bridge photo. This is the oldest spearfishing photo of me that I can find. I think it was in 1953 when I was 14. That is a Champion Arbalete with a Penn Senator full of cable and attached with hose clamps.
 

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cdavis

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Ahh, a Jaguar gun in the Spirotechnique catalog. Haven't seen one in a lot of years. I had one of those in the 1960's, a very sweet and great shooting gun, but too finicky for me to keep operating.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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When I started spear fishing in the Tampa Bay Area in the early 1950s we didn’t even use snorkles because the only ones we knew about were the ones used by kids in pools with ping pong balls In a cage. It’s obvious from your catalogs that other types existed but kids in Florida didn’t have access to much information about what was going on in Europe.

I think we have to remember the difference between the instantaneous universal information systems we have nowadays and the relative state of communications back in the early 1950s. If I recall correctly, we knew quite a lot about what was happening in our own locality back then, but our knowledge of what was going on regionally, nationally and internationally was much patchier. Skin Diver Magazine's first issue, which can be accessed at http://blutimescubahistory.com/sites/default/files/copertine_libri_riviste/THE SKIN DIVER n. 1 - 1951.pdf, only appeared in December 1951.

Interesting to see your Tampa Bay photo from 1953 with the Champion-Cavalero spearguns, presumably imported from René Cavalero's company in France. Here is another image from the same year, 1953:
1590124530398.jpeg

From the 29 August 1953 edition of the Post-Crescent newspaper of Appleton, Wisconsin, to be precise, documenting a trip by a young lady and her mother all the way from the American Upper Midwest to the Florida Keys, where the daughter used a snorkel-mask (an imported Cressi Medusa by the look) to observe marine life in the sea off the southernmost point of the continental USA. Must have been quite an adventure for the time, which is why it is recorded in a Wisconsin local newspaper. Like your Cavalero gun, the Cressi Medusa was imported to the USA early in the 50s, first by an American branch of Cressi and then by the firm that became Cressi's sole agent States-side, Healthways. Here's an early New York spearfishing supplier's advertisement:
01.jpg
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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Now for the second version of the US Divers Marino snorkel-mask:
1590126156702.png

The original Marino design can still be discerned in the half-mask covering the eyes and the nose only, the heavy head harness with the ear cups, the snorkel barrel emerging from the socket at the top of the mask and terminating in the shut-off valve at the air inlet. The new design comes fitted with an additional tube branching off from the original snorkel barrel near the top valve and terminating at the bottom in a mouthpiece that could be inserted or removed without the entire mask having to be discarded first. So a snorkel-mask with a difference, enabling nose and/or mouth breathing to be achieved when floating face downwards on the surface. And we have a price for the device on 1959: $9.95, quite a tidy sum for the time. The Marino Mark 2 was available between 1957 and 1959. The two versions of the US Divers Marino were the only US-made models with a built-in flexible hose.

Further images:
1. $15.95! A king's ransom back then.
1590126852409.jpeg


2. This illustration provides a close-up of the workings of the new Marino:
1590126928955.png


I haven't - yet - found any images of the new Marino is use. We'll take a look at European snorkel-masks with flexible hoses next. A few had very unusual designs, which I'll keep until last. I'll likely begin with those made by the French spearfishing equipment manufacturer Hurrisport (Hurricane). If you want a sneak preview, I reconstructed a year or two ago what a composite Hurricane brand catalogue might have looked like. You can read it page by page on the "Blu Time History" website created by my Italian friend Luigi Fabbri, a diving gear collector and historian, where he has posted my work at http://blutimescubahistory.com/?q=i...taloghi-completi/hurricane-catalogo-1947-1961. Or you can view it as a PDF in my own online document repository:


There's plenty within these pages to please speargun fans too, seeing as nobody else seems to have taken time to compile information about Hurrisport's entire speargun output.

Stay tuned. Just as there's more to scuba diving equipment than regulators, so there is more to underwater hunting gear than spearguns alone. :)
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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Two down, nine to go. Three of those nine flexible-hose snorkel-masks were made in Paris, France, by Hurricane, also known as Hurrisport. If you've read the PDF document accessible in the previous post, you will know everything about Hurricane as “une grande marque de matériel de plongée des années 40 / 50, qui (a) disparu” (a major diving equipment brand of the 1940s and 1950s that has disappeared).

1. Hurricane Automatic
As a cartoon by graphic designer Albert Dubout:
1590238757892.jpeg

On an advertising sign:
1590238902401.png

As museum exhibits:
1590239068270.jpeg

1590239488421.png

In stockists' catalogues:
1590239199310.png

1590239368841.png


So what we have is a half-mask covering the eyes and nose only and leaving the mouth free. The mask is attached to the head with straps over the top and at the sides. A single snorkel emerges from a socket located top centre with a flexible hose at the demand end and a patented ball-valve at the supply end leading to a metal barrel secured to the upper headstrap. The French valve patent drawing showing the mechanics is reproduced below:
1590240017318.png

The full text of the French patent (FR1081944A: Dispositif de sécurité pour appareils respiratoires de natation (Safety device for swimmers' breathing equipment) can be downloaded from the espacenet site; Google is your friend.

I'll review the second and third Hurricane snorkel-masks in the next post.
 
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Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
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That’s interesting that those snorkel masks existed in 1963 when I couldn’t even find a snorkel but as you said, most knowledge was local. The only “dive shop” in St Petersburg, FL was Bill Jackson’s Army Surplus store. He started offering dive gear as a sideline and installed a compressor where I could get tanks filled when I bought my first scuba gear in 1954. Maybe Bill had not read those European catalogs or just did not choose to carry that stuff in the limited section of his shop devoted to dive gear. In any event I didn’t speak Italian or French so what Bill offered was what I could use. When I started at age 13 I didn’t have knowledge of or access to what was going on in Europe or even Key West.

I hope you don’t mind my offering of my personal experience as some one who was diving at that time as compared to your encyclopedic knowledge of European catalogs. I was lucky to ride my bicycle across town to the shop.
 

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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I hope you don’t mind my offering of my personal experience as some one who was diving at that time as compared to your encyclopedic knowledge of European catalogs. I was lucky to ride my bicycle across town to the shop.

On the contrary, Bill, I positively welcome your input, more particularly because you have such a unique insight to share on underwater activities during the early 1950s. :)

My own teen years spanned the early 1960s, when underwater swimming gear was still mainly sold through sporting goods sections of general department stores here in the UK. When I joined my university sub-aqua club in the mid-1960s, we purchased our basic gear, mask, fins and snorkel, after the first pool session from a man said to make his living during the day selling garish casual shirts and ties. In my largish home town, a motorcycle dealer used to sell diving gear as a sideline. Here is the layout of a typical Yorkshire retail outlet from 1961:
1590254089774.jpeg

Basic gear on a pegboard, double-hose air tank parked in a passage where the display of cricket gear is much more prominent. Of course, there was a much greater choice of gear back then in the capital city, where Lillywhites's London five-storey sporting-goods store offered a mail-order service.

In one of my posts I referenced a 1953 newspaper article about a Wisconsin girl and her mother travelling to the Florida Keys for a spot of fish-watching. It's a charming period cameo of American life just after the Korean War ended. I chanced upon it a while ago in a newspaper archive. Here it is in full:
1590254921492.png
A SNORKEL MASK is the unusual headgear being worn by Miss Cathy Wise. She and her mother, Mrs. Louise Wise, 108 N. Green Bay street, who is pictured on the right, spent a month recently in the Florida Keys observing marine life at close range with the help of the masks. (Post-Crescent Photo)

Mrs. Louise Wise and Her Daughter Study Ocean Life

Barracudas, a moray eel, an octopus, a shark, sea urchins, star fish, and manta rays—these are just a few of the many forms of marine life which Mrs. Louise Wise and her young daughter, Cathy, 106 N. Green Bay street, observed at close range recently in the Florida Keys.

Mrs. Wise and her 11-year old daughter travelled to Florida in July to spend a month there with only one purpose in mind — and that was to observe sea life. The two visitors went to one of the most secluded spots in the Keys where they could see how fish lived in a natural way in a place which had not been disturbed. Two snorkel masks and two pairs of rubber duck feet were the only pieces of equipment Mrs. Wise and Cathy used for their ventures near shore. Mrs. Wise reported that she and her daughter spent most of the month near the shore. With the help of the masks, which fit tightly over their faces and allow air to enter through two small tubes at the top, the two visitors could view the bottom of the ocean with ease. Two floating corks at the top of the tubes closed off the air supply when a wave came overhead. The duck feet, which are about 18 inches long, and the buoyancy of the water, made swimming two or three hours at a time a simple matter, they report.

One of Mrs. Wise’s experiences probably would not be envied by many persons. There were a lot of undersea grottos and caverns in the location the visitors chose and they were interesting places to observe. One day while Mrs. Wise swam quickly up to one of the caverns, she came to within one foot of a shark before she noticed it, she said. Luckily, the 5-foot specimen was having its afternoon snooze, so she backed away fast. But, Mrs. Wise stated, she swam away just far enough to be out of the shark’s sight, but close enough so she could watch it for about five minutes.

A large moray eel was seen by Cathy. She and the eel came to about two feet from each other, she said. The eel, which has sharp teeth, is one of the most dangerous forms of sea life if disturbed. Cathy also caught a large star fish and a stone crab with pinchers about three inches long during her underwater travels, they reported the star fish had to be left in Florida since the visitors did not have the proper equipment to preserve it.

Mrs. Wise stated that most of the fish seemed to stay within a very short distance of their homes. She and her daughter usually could be sure of finding the same fish in almost the same place each day. One of Mrs. Wise's favourites was a bright lemon yellow fish with a large spot of purple colouring over its head and back. One day she swam just close enough to the fish to drive it about a quarter of a mile from its usual resting place. When she stopped her swim, the fish quickly turned around and rushed full speed back to its home territory, Mrs. Wise said.

One of their most interesting adventures was deep sea diving. The two visitors rode on a spear fishing boat to the outer reefs near Miami on their way back to Appleton, and observed sea life down as far as about 30 to 45 feet. Aqualungs, filled with compressed air were used by the divers for their underwater travels. Larger fish, including a grouper and a large barracuda were speared on the trip by some of the other travellers.

Mrs. Wise reported she had lived in California just off the ocean when she was Cathy’s age and she had always enjoyed watching sea life when the tide was low. A book, “The Silent Sea”, by Captain J. Y. Cousteau who invented the aqualung, renewed her interest in marine life and she thus planned her trip.

Not only the large forms of sea life are interesting to observe however, she stated. One of the most exciting things she saw was a school of at least a million minnows swimming together in the sunlight, she asserted. Pink, green and silver colours were reflected off the tiny fish and made one of the most beautiful sights imaginable she stated.


The Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin). Saturday, 29 August 1953. Page 9.

I'm none the wiser where mother and daughter obtained their snorkel-masks and fins to swim with off the Florida Keys and observe sealife back in the summer of 1953. Maybe on the Florida Keys, or perhaps they were bought in advance from a Big Apple or Windy City mail-order dealer. Who knows? What is important is that this couple had such a wonderful month-long vacation to remember after travelling from the Upper Midwest to the southernmost point of the mainland USA when "skindiving" was still in its infancy as a popular recreation.
 
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Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
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Since you mentioned the Korean war, I'll digress a bit. The first local divers I was aware of as a kid were US Navy UDT veterans just home from the Korean War. I'm guessing that I was around 12 years old when one of them hired my grandfather, who ran a charter fishing boat, to take him out to the channel markers on the edge of the Tampa Bay ship channel to hunt Golaith grouper (known in those days as jewfish). They would spit the money from sale of the fish. I got to come along as deckhand. It was winter and the guy wore a Cressi dry suit with wool underwear for warmth. I'm sure you know this, but some of the younger guys may not know that in those days, try suits were just something like inner tube rubber. They kept water out, but provided no insulation. He had a Champion Arbalete and a Cressi rubber gun. I'm sure you have the proper name for that gun, but it was like a pneumatic in that you pushed the shaft down the barrel into a rubber sleeve like a giant condom. There was a big school of fish on the channel marker where we stopped, and he would take one gun down, shoot a fish, wrestle it to the surface where we could grab the gun and steel cable shooting line, hand it to us, and we would hand him the other gun. About the time we would get the fish into the boat, he would be back with another one. I don't think I ever saw another one of those Cressi guns, but as couple of year later I had a Cressi Cernia (I think that was the name) powered by a spring. I'm the good looking kid on the right holding that gun a the shaft bent on one of the fish. Based on the identity oil my girlfriend, who is holding my Champion Arbalete, I'd stay that this was around 1956/57.

I had already been interested diving after reading Under the Red Sea by Hans Hass and The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau, but that trip with the UDT veteran really convinced me that this was something I should do. As an indication of how strongly this impacted me, I can still recall that guy's name after all these years. And since my father and grandfather ran charter boats, I was fortunate to have a way to get started.

And as long as I'm naming influences, I have to include the Science Fiction worker Arthur C. Clark. Decades before 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wrote a fiction article for the pulp men's magazine, Argosy. The hero was an American diver living in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Every day he would swim an hour out to a reef and shoot fish all day, then swim back to sell them. This caused friction with the local fishermen who did such things as throw poisonous snakes into his hut at night, through gutted dogs into the water near him to attract sharks, etc. It was silly stuff but I must have read that article dozens of times. I can still see myself in bed reading that article before turning out the light. I wanted to be "real man" like that guy. :)

OK, enough of what got me started.I know return you to the regular program.
 

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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
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I'm delighted this little trip down Memory Lane resonates with others as well as myself. Thank you for the positive feedback, Foxfish. And I'm grateful to Bill for posting his recollections of the 1950s including the picture. Before returning to the "regular programme", I'd like to develop several of the points raised by Bill in his last post.

I had already been interested diving after reading Under the Red Sea by Hans Hass and The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau, but that trip with the UDT veteran really convinced me that this was something I should do. As an indication of how strongly this impacted me, I can still recall that guy's name after all these years. And since my father and grandfather ran charter boats, I was fortunate to have a way to get started. And as long as I'm naming influences, I have to include the Science Fiction worker Arthur C. Clark. Decades before 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wrote a fiction article for the pulp men's magazine, Argosy. The hero was an American diver living in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Every day he would swim an hour out to a reef and shoot fish all day, then swim back to sell them. This caused friction with the local fishermen who did such things as throw poisonous snakes into his hut at night, through gutted dogs into the water near him to attract sharks, etc. It was silly stuff but I must have read that article dozens of times. I can still see myself in bed reading that article before turning out the light. I wanted to be "real man" like that guy. :)
My first interest in underwater swimming, as we Brits called the activity back in the 1950s and 1960s, was kindled by the fact that I was a persistent non-swimmer before I entered my teens. My school had a swimming pool, but the school's methods of teaching swimming were very rigid and traditional. We were supposed to learn how to swim by holding a polystyrene float with our outstretched hands while kicking forward from the pool walls. This always resulted in me sinking to the bottom of the pool.

Then my parents gave me an "Eagle" comic-book annual for Christmas. One of the articles was entitled "Teach yourself to swim underwater" and I devoured its contents. I figured out that a diving mask could at least stop water from going up my nose, while a snorkel could help me when I was gasping for breath. In the event, my parents encouraged my interest and bought me a pair of fins for my birthday.

I couldn't wait to try them on at the next Saturday morning recreational pool session at my school. When I donned my fins and began kicking, my body rose and I found myself afloat on the surface of the water as long as I kept kicking. I realised I needed an active aid to complement the passive support of the polystyrene float and that my fins would provide that active aid. Having enjoyed the experience of swimming with fins, I very quickly graduated to swimming without them.

My current swimming skills are neither strong nor elegant, but they do the job of "drownproofing" me well enough. I've had regular arguments with very proficient swimmers who claim that fins should only be used by experienced athletes preparing for competitions. I know from my own experience that I would never have learnt to swim at all if I hadn't experimented first with those fins on my feet. I still have the "Eagle" annual in my diving literature bookcase and I've scanned and posted the "Teach yourself" article online for all to see:


I think I responded so positively to this article because it was written for a young male readership. I wanted to devour more "grown-up" reading matter, however, and I soon picked up a copy of George Bronson-Howard's 1956 "Handbook for Skin Divers" for a song at my home town used book store, which whetted my appetite further and introduced me to underwater swimming States-side:
41t3osZ6dyL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

I have since collected a well-stocked library of diving books and journals to complement these titles.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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He had a Champion Arbalete and a Cressi rubber gun. I'm sure you have the proper name for that gun, but it was like a pneumatic in that you pushed the shaft down the barrel into a rubber sleeve like a giant condom. There was a big school of fish on the channel marker where we stopped, and he would take one gun down, shoot a fish, wrestle it to the surface where we could grab the gun and steel cable shooting line, hand it to us, and we would hand him the other gun. About the time we would get the fish into the boat, he would be back with another one. I don't think I ever saw another one of those Cressi guns, but as couple of year later I had a Cressi Cernia (I think that was the name) powered by a spring. I'm the good looking kid on the right holding that gun a the shaft bent on one of the fish. Based on the identity oil my girlfriend, who is holding my Champion Arbalete, I'd stay that this was around 1956/57.
Can't let the opportunity slip to showcase some of the gear you mentioned in its context. First the guns. The Cressi Cernia may have first appeared fleetingly in Cressi's 1953 catalogue, but the 1955 version provides a clearer impression of the article:
1590311911591.png

A VERY rough translation from the Italian, mainly courtesy of Google:
CERNIA SPORT (By the way, "cernia" is Italian for "grouper/jewfish"). Can be disassembled. Among the spring rifles, it is the best known in the world's underwater environments. Exceptional properties when it comes to power, robustness, simplicity. Double spring. Particularly suitable for big-game fishing and long and precise shots. Adopted by the majority of skilled fishermen and competitors in fishing competitions. Winner of the National Championships 1949 - 1950 - 1953 - 1954. Winner of the first European Championship 1954. World record holder with a 400 kg manta caught by Silverio Zecca in the Red Sea. In 1.80m and 2m sizes. Polished or anodised aluminum (non-corroding). Accessories: Springs, Dart, Rubber barrel, Rubber retainer. N.B. On request, we can send you a description of this gun with printed instructions.

As for the other gun you mentioned, I'm wondering whether it might be the Cressi Mignon below:
1590313058408.png

I'm on much less firm ground when I try and locate information about spearguns. I normally leave all that to the experts!
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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Since you mentioned the Korean war, I'll digress a bit. The first local divers I was aware of as a kid were US Navy UDT veterans just home from the Korean War. I'm guessing that I was around 12 years old when one of them hired my grandfather, who ran a charter fishing boat, to take him out to the channel markers on the edge of the Tampa Bay ship channel to hunt Golaith grouper (known in those days as jewfish). They would spit the money from sale of the fish. I got to come along as deckhand. It was winter and the guy wore a Cressi dry suit with wool underwear for warmth. I'm sure you know this, but some of the younger guys may not know that in those days, try suits were just something like inner tube rubber. They kept water out, but provided no insulation.
My third and final reponse to Bill's message, and here I really feel I am at last on terra firma! I didn't know that Cressi made or even carried dry suits during the 1950s, although the company did introduce a neoprene wet suit line later in that decade. I thought the unlined full-length Pirelli Procida was the only Italian-made dry suit imported to the USA. Cousteau's firm, US Divers, offered the suit in its 1953 diving equipment catalogue.
1590314956442.jpeg

Indeed yes, an excellent description of the state of the art in 1950s dry suit design: "dry suit with wool underwear for warmth. I'm sure you know this, but some of the younger guys may not know that in those days, try suits were just something like inner tube rubber. They kept water out, but provided no insulation." That describes the Pirelli Procida exactly. After all, it was based on a Second World War Italian military "frogman" prototype that left little or no room for comfort.

I'm more familiar with an end-of-the-1950s dry suit based on the same principles. Here is a newspaper report about an underwater hunter who used the suit when harvesting abalone in California in 1961:
For warmer clamming, abalone picking I tried out a new outfit the other day that I think will be a great hit locally, especially with the clammers and abalone hunters. It was a dry skin diving suit made by Perfect World Products called Totes that you can wear over your clothes. I spent considerable time in the ocean wearing the outfit and didn’t feel cold at all. And believe me, the water is cold. The only exposed parts of my body were hands and face, which did get kind of cold, but the rest of my body was quite comfortable. And my clothes remained completely dry. With a pair of tennis shoes over the stocking feet to protect the gum rubber outfit from abrasions, this outfit would be the cat’s whiskers for abalone gathering or clamming. It is coloured safety yellow (an excellent feature), very well made, comfortable to wear and carries a good guarantee. The shirt and pants sell for $19.95 plus tax. A hood is available for another $3.50, which will give you a complete skin diving suit. A further use for the pants of the outfit would be as waders for fishing. They fit tight enough to eliminate the pocket that would fill up with water if you ever slipped, and are flexible and comfortable to wear. There are many other potential uses one could find, but these are the ones I bought my outfit for. Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California), 23 February 23 1961.

Note how the abalone picker suggests multiple uses for the suit, while nowadays we tend to deploy any article for a single specific purpose. The very same suit had been showcased a year earlier, complete with a colour picture, on the front cover of the "All Florida Weekly Magazine" in the 2 January 1960 issue of "The Palm Beach Post-Times".
1590316525963.png

The caption read: "Our Cover: Although most skin-diving is done in Florida in the summer, winter diving, too, can be fun in the sunny climes. Skin-divers are such ardent fans of their favourite spears that a little chill in the water seldom deters them when someone says “Let’s go out to the reefs.” Divers in North and Central Florida use rubber suits for winter diving – either wet suits that let water in but hold the body heat for warmth or dry suits that keep out the water entirely. Free divers in South Florida, and especially the Keys, find winter diving in the waters warmed by the Gulf Stream comfortable on all but the coldest winter days. So don’t put away that speargun just because the calendar says JANUARY.

The diver on the right is wearing the same yellow dry suit that the abalone harvester would have worn. It's the lighter, recreational version of the Skooba-"totes" dry diving suit made by So-Lo Works Incorporated of Loveland, Ohio. The suit material is unlined with the thickness of an elastic band. The garment fits tightly at the wrists and around the face opening to exclude water when submerged. Wearers must expel the air inside their suits before entering the water, otherwise they will be too buoyant to descend. The rubber exterior is only there to keep the wearer dry, which is why warm woollens must be worn underneath to preserve body heat. How do I know this? I have a yellow Skooba-"totes" in my diving gear collection:
1590317805667.jpeg

And yes, I did try my "Golden Tiger" "totes" dry suit out a few years ago, just the once considering its age, in the North Sea off the North East coast of England. It kept me warm and dry while I spent a pleasant half-hour floating face down on the surface, observing the seabed, early one summer morning. From what I've read in the contemporary literature, the suit's qualities were appreciated during its heyday (late-1950s to mid-1960s), not only by divers and spearfishermen but also by water-skiers and cavers.

A final point about these dry suits. Underwater hunters in the Soviet Union had to contend with freezing temperatures when they harvested fish for the table in their local lakes and rivers. The USSR did make sponge-rubber wet suits for their divers and spearfishermen (they had no access to neoprene), but they were in short supply and not well-cut. Many Soviet watersports enthusiasts resorted instead to "Tegur" dry suits made from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s in Estonia, which was then a USSR republic. Here is the suit modellled by a Soviet underwater hunter:
1590319593388.jpeg

Note the air-vent tube on his chest. I've read discussions about the Tegur suit on Russian spearfishing forums, where some members praised the garment highly for its warmth, dryness and repairability, a few moaned about its fragility and others explained how they had modified the design by replacing the tight hood and the wrist seals with parts from ex-military Soviet dry suits. Needs must, sometimes, especially when a country's sporting-goods stores had no western alternatives in stock and no prospect of such for the foreseeable future.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
262
103
133
Now to continue the regular programme...
1590327085740.png

We were looking at Hurricane snorkel masks fitted with flexible hoses. The Hurricane Automatic or Automatique above was a half mask covering the eyes and nose only. By way of contrast, the Hurricane Cadematique below was a full-face mask enclosing the mouth as well:
1590327226645.png

To the best of my knowledge, this model only exists in the 1956 British E. T. Skinner (Typhoon) catalogue. Perhaps the Cadematique was specially made by Hurricane for its English importers. The name "Cadematique" combines "cadet" and "automatique", suggesting that the mask was designed for younger people (cadets) with smaller or narrower faces.
 

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
262
103
133
1590327765430.png

If the Hurricane Cadematique above was a full-face mask intended for younger folk, the Hurricane Supermatique below was a full-face mask designed for adults with broader heads. Here is how it appears in the 1956 catalogue of Lillywhites, London's premier sporting-goods store.
1590328239403.png

Note once again the heavy straps around and over the head, the latter securing the snorkel with its elaborate all-position ball-valve at the top, light metal barrel and corrugated hose at the bottom leading to the socket top centre on the mask. Note too the ear protectors and the tall, wide skirt covering the entire face from the forehead to the chin.

All three models, the Automatique, the Cadematique and the Supermatique, were eventually replaced by a single snorkel-mask, the Valvomatic:
1590328901246.jpeg

1590328936266.png

Simplicity tends to trump complexity when it comes to snorkel-mask design. We'll be looking next at a de-luxe snorkel mask fitted with a flexible hose and manufactured by the long-gone Danish diving equipment manufacturer Nauti Scope.
 
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