Florida State Skindiving Schools issued Cave Diver certification cards starting in 1970. The Cave Diver text was a section in the FSSS Expert Diver Program Manual. Below is a note to Hal Watts from Ed Hall, sent in 1969, with a proposed outline for the FSSS Cave Diving Course.
PSAI’S PLACE IN DEEP DIVING & AMONG WORLD RECORD HOLDERS
The best way to start this section would be to let Hal write it:
“My fourth dive was in a cave/sink known as Hornsby Sink was to 155’. I was really getting into deep air diving. Of course, back in those days, civilian divers were only using compressed air in the cylinders. In December of 1962, I made my first real deep dive to 250’. During the next several years our dive club, The Forty Fathom Scubapros were making many dives to depths of 250 plus. In September 1965 several club members, including myself made a dive to 310 feet off a wall in Cozumel, Mexico. We brought up a piece of black coral the size of a 6 foot tree.
After that dive I just happened to be reading an article on deep air SCUBA diving and found that the current record was set by Jean Clarke-Samazen in 1954 to a depth of 350 feet. Wow, that set off my desire to attempt to break the record since I had already been to 350 feet. Several of our club members started diving to 250+ feet as often as time allowed, training for the new record attempt. We felt we were ready and set out to break the 350 foot record. On September 4, 1966 Herb Johnson and I were to attempt the dive, assisted by several club members as safety divers. The boat captain took our team off shore of Loo Key, Florida. The exact depth was not known for sure, but the captain estimated it to be almost 400 feet. After our safety team descended, Herb and I started our descent to go deeper than the 350 foot record. However, we could only reach a depth of 355 feet and landed on sand bottom. Oh well, it was a new record, not by much however, it did break the depth record.
Not being satisfied with just barely breaking the record, our club continued to dive deep on a weekly basis. Then in 1966 we felt ready for another record attempt. John Gaffney, founder of The National Association of Scuba Diving Schools (NASDS) made arrangements for a boat off the coast of Miami for our dive. On this dive, the same club members were to be our safety divers. However, A. J. Muns was to be my dive buddy this time. Herb was happy to be “just a 300 foot safety diver”. That sounds funny doesn’t it, “just 300 feet”? We had really set up an elaborate training program that would make the dive as safe as possible. In my opinion, SCUBA diving is not a safe sport. However, the program our club had designed through the years was the “safest way” to participate in an inherently dangerous sport. Being from Georgia, I had to look up the meaning of “inherent”, which means, “Built in risk”. NASDS accepted our Deep Air Diving program and issued Deep Diver Certification cards to divers who EARNED the rating.
Okay, it was time to attempt the dive. Of course, I wasn’t nervous at all. (If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you). Of course we were all nervous. In fact, after I jumped into the water I realized that I did not have my fins. Alright, we got organized and the safety team divers were staged at various depths, down to 300 feet. (Just for a note, as of 2008 I had trained and dived to 300 feet with 50 divers, with ZERO MISHAPS.)
To prove the depths we reached, A. A. and I each had “clip on flags” to attach to the line at our maximum depth. Diving to these depths requires each diver to take care of themselves, knowing that neither could help the other in an emergency without putting themselves in danger.
I won’t elaborate on our training except to say that the program is listed as, PSAI NARCOSIS MANAGEMENT.
During our planned, very rapid, non-exerting descent, the water seemed to be screaming by us, each breath was getting colder and colder due to the volume of air required to be delivered at an increased density. It was though I was breathing through ice water. During descent we exchanged the OK signal. We had a descent ate of about 300 feet per minute. As I reached a depth of 390 feet, I attached my flag to the line and turned to see if AJ had attached his. He was nowhere to be seen. I looked down, then around and then up. I did not see him but did see that he had attached flag to the line. I ascended and eventually met up with AJ during decompression. He told me after the dive that his mask had flooded and he could not see so he ascended.”
The new record was set and later listed in Guinness Book of World Records. However, Guinness no longer list SCUBA records.
Time passed and I and other Professional Scuba Association International (PSAI) instructors continued to teach and participate in extreme deep air dives on air. In 1970 I made a World Record Deep Air Dive in a cave to a depth of 414 feet. This is still the deep air record in cave diving.
I’ll answer the question that I have been asked by my fellow PSAI instructors, which is: What other world record divers have I trained or been affiliated with, either using SCUBA or during Breath Holding (APNEA) dives.
First I’ll list the SCUBA air record holders that I have trained:
1) Herb Johnson record to 355 feet in 1966
2) A. J. Muns record to 380 feet in 1967
3) John Gruener record to 437 feet in 1968 (he made the dive with Neal Watson)
4) Marty Dunwoody women’s record to 345 feet in 1987
5) Scarlett Watts, my daughter and PSAI instructor, new women’s record to 425 feet in 1999
6) Mark Andrews, PSAI instructor men’s ocean record to 519 feet in 1999
APNEA record holders that I have dived with during their record dives:
1) Alejandro Ravelo in Florida 1997
2) Tanya Streeter in Florida and Sardinia, Italy 1998
3) Yasemin Dalkilic in Florida and Bodrum Turkey 2000
Other world record divers that I have dived with, non-training dives:
Sheck Exley, Mary Ellen Eckhoff, Jim Bowden, Ann Kristovich and Neal Watson
Record divers who I have consulted with after they contacted me:
Bret Gilliam and Dan Manion. Both of these divers asked me if I had any advice for them since they were planning to make a deep air record attempt. My main suggestions were for them to plan the dive in water no deeper than 20 feet more than the planned dive and to have a line connected to the surface.Mr. Scuba