THE WARMER SIDE OF UNDERWATER LIFE SUPPORT

HOW DICK LONG GAVE DIVERS THE ABILITY TO GET THINGS DONE IN COLD WATER

[caption id="attachment_37812" align="alignright" width="223"]Dick Long first wetsuit Dick wearing the first wetsuit he made for himself from a kit, in Monterey, California, 1960.[/caption] Originally published Journal of Diving History Author Steve M. Barsky Summer, 2013 To keep a diver alive and working underwater, it’s always been painfully obvious that there are two essential life support functions that must be met; providing an adequate supply of breathing gas and keeping the diver in thermal balance. While this is true for all divers, the challenges are much more critical for professional divers, whether they are scientific, public safety, military, or commercial divers. The closer you get to the extremes of exposure, whether it’s deeper depths or colder waters, the more critical the demands on your life support equipment. Dick Long has worked on diver thermal protection since the 1960s, perfecting more different technologies for keeping divers warm underwater than any other individual. He recognized many years ago that even if you have enough breathing gas to last a lifetime, once you become hypothermic underwater your survival time is measured in minutes. [caption id="attachment_37810" align="alignright" width="293"]Unlimiteds Dive Club 1963 Dick sponsored a dive club known as "The Unlimiteds" through his store in San Diego. In 1963 they recovered this anchor at La Jolla Shores, near San Diego. A very young Dick Long is seventh from the right, wearing a farmer john wetsuit bottom.[/caption] Aside from his support for the success of each diver’s individual underwater goals and safety, Dick’s personal legacy is one of compassion for people and always standing up for what is right and what is best for the industry. His support of what’s best for divers has often come at great personal cost to himself as well as his company. FISHING LURES AND WETSUITS In 1958, 20-year old Dick Long had just been discharged from the Army. He got off the bus in San Jose, California, with $60 in his pocket. Like so many successful people, he was in the right place, at the right time. Although he had no experience in diving, he was close to the coast at Monterey and the sport of skin and scuba diving was about to grow in ways no one had foreseen. [caption id="attachment_37802" align="alignright" width="225"]Dick Long Spear Fishing 1960s In his younger days, Dick was an avid underwater hunter. This shot was taken in San Carlos Bay, Mexico in the 60s.[/caption] His initial interest in diving was sparked by the Cousteau film, The Silent World, as well as the television show, Sea Hunt. However, he did not try diving until he lost a favorite fishing lure while casting in a manmade lake. At the local Army surplus store, he purchased a mask with two built-in snorkels for $1.95 and a pair of fins for $1.98, went back to the lake and retrieved not only his lure but several others as well. His curiosity about diving and everything underwater had been aroused. When Dick returned to work at the furniture factory where he was employed, a fellow employee asked Dick whether he had worn a wetsuit or a dry suit to recover the lures. At the time, Dick did not know such items existed, but his friend loaned him a wetsuit for him to try. Of course, he thought this was a fantastic improvement over diving with only a bathing suit, especially on his first skin dive in Monterey, where he fell in love with the ocean. Dick built his first wetsuit from a kit, on the kitchen floor of his home. He managed to spill the can of neoprene cement on the floor, creating a terrible mess, but the suit ended up working well. Most dive shops in 1958 were operated out of an enthusiastic diver's garage or basement. Stan Sheley, who started Stan's Skindiving (which was in business until 2009) also started his store in his basement. Stan made custom wetsuits and allowed Long to work for him on a part-time basis in trade for equipment. [caption id="attachment_37801" align="alignright" width="213"]Dick Long hot water suit The first production hot water suit was built by DUI in 1968. The main valve to the suit is in Dick’s hand, while the top valve at his right hip controlled the flow to the front of the torso and the lower valve controlled the flow to the back of the torso.[/caption] When Stan Sheley decided to open a full-time dive store be offered Long a 50/50 partnership if he would run the store. Sheley went into business with Dick because he had used him to do repair work around his home and had never seen anyone who worked so hard or was so tenacious. Today, Long freely admits he knew nothing about business at that time. "I learned how to run a business from my customers," says Long. Long first began to experiment with wetsuit design during the late '50s and early '60S. He remembers crawling out of the water at Monterey, so cold he was unable to move or stand up. Dick developed wetsuits with farmer john pants, attached hoods, and twist locks. He bought a sewing machine so he could stitch the first zippers in wetsuits. He developed the first thigh-mounted wetsuit knife sheath after watching a television western. While these are all standard suit features today, they were revolutionary back in 1960. BECOMING A DIVING INSTRUCTOR [caption id="attachment_37804" align="alignright" width="231"]Diving Unlimited company photo Diving Unlimited was still selling sport diving gear in 1972. Dick can be seen in the front lower left. First on the ramp on the left is Bob Cranston and third up the ramp is Bob Stinton. The company still operates at this location, but the retail operation is gone.[/caption] Neal Hess was writing a column for Skin Diver Magazine called the “Instructor’s Corner,” in which he presented course materials from diving instructors across the U.S., that Dick read avidly. When Hess helped organize the first NAUI instructor course in Houston in 1960, Dick drove non-stop across the U.S. with a friend in a VW bug to attend the certification course. During the program, Dick saw a U.S. Navy diving manual for the first time, and when his roommate left the room, Dick took the manual into the closet to read it with a flashlight, because he was certain it was classified information. But, as he puts it, “I just had to read it!” Although he left the course certified as a “provisional” instructor, he easily achieved full certification shortly thereafter. SAN DIEGO AND SKIN DIVING UNLIMITED [caption id="attachment_37805" align="alignright" width="208"]historical hot water suit photo Dick dons a hot water suit glove to go with his closed-circuit hot water suit. The design was meant to minimize the loss of hot water if the supply to the suit stopped, permitting the diver to get back to the bell. Circa 1970.[/caption] After five years with Sheley, Long saw two divers die in Monterey, and he suffered a delayed stress reaction. He lost 35 pounds, separated from his business partner, divorced his wife, and moved to San Diego. When he arrived in San Diego, he had an old truck, a used air compressor, and $2,800. With these resources and "far more guts than brains," he started Skin Diving Unlimited in La Mesa, a suburb of San Diego in 1963. The late Sam Davison, founder of Dacor, allowed him to buy equipment on terms, with 90 days to pay for the gear. For the first year, the business was so tight for cash that the primary source of protein that Dick could afford was the abalone he collected himself. Dick was originally introduced to a Chief Petty Officer for the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) by Art Stanfield, a former member of the UDT himself who was the factory representative for Voit Swimaster, a manufacturer of diving equipment. Skin Diving Unlimited sold Voit gear, and Stanfield had an ongoing relationship with Dick. One day when Dick was visiting a UDT facility in Coronado he watched three divers walk up the dock after making a dive with the Navy’s wet submarine, the SDV or  “Swimmer Delivery Vehicle.” One of the divers was so cold from the dive he was stumbling up the dock and had to be supported by his two teammates. The divers were wearing 3/16-inch thick wetsuits with pants that ended at the waist, and five zippers. Although the SDV was designed to run for up to six hours, the divers got so cold in the waters off San Diego they could only remain submerged for one and a half hours. [caption id="attachment_37807" align="alignright" width="165"]hot water heater This 1973 Econo Hot Water system for small operations included a hot water heater, hose, and hot water suit.[/caption] This Econo Hot Water system for the small commercial diving operation, included a hot water heater, hose, and hot water suit. This system was available in 1973. Dick told the Chief Petty Officer that he could build the Navy a wetsuit that would double the diver’s bottom time for $200.00. The Chief told Dick to go ahead, but build two, one for you and one for our pilot. Dick returned in a week with suits that were made from one quarter inch thick neoprene and had farmer john pants with boots attached to the pants, a hood attached to the jacket, and 3 finger mittens. Upon delivering the suit, Dick told the Chief he would be back in 3 hours to collect his money, but the Chief said no, and insisted that Dick get into the SDV with the diver for their trial of the suit. After two and a half hours underwater, the Chief terminated the dive and told Dick upon surfacing, “Obviously you know something we don’t!” From that point forward, Dick was considered their “guru” for solving problems relating to their life support. [caption id="attachment_37811" align="alignright" width="166"]DUI Vector TLS dry suit Dick models the first experimental TLS (TriLaminate) Vector dry suit built by our in 1982. This suit is still in existence and is being used today.[/caption] The divers from the SDV program were appointed as the safety divers for SeaLab II (see Ben Helwarth’s excellent book, SeaLab for details of the program) off La Jolla and this connection provided Dick with a back door to the SeaLab personnel. Although Dick could not foresee it, his involvement with SeaLab II ultimately lead to the development of the hot water suit. SEALAB II While the bulk of the SeaLab II support personnel were deployed out of Mission Bay in 1968 aboard the vessel Berkone, Dick spent time with the SDV support teams who were based off the end of Scripps Pier, much closer to the dive site. While there, Dick talked with an engineer from B.F. Goodrich who told him that the electrically heated suits the divers planned to use were not going to work. Because the UDT guys believed in Dick, they invited him to a meeting where the SeaLab crew and the UDT members met to discuss how to solve their thermal problems. The UDT crew told the SeaLab personnel that anytime they had a technical problem, they gave it to Dick and he fixed it for them. However, when they started to talk about what the divers needed to do at 205 feet of seawater off La Jolla, even Dick realized that he could not build them a wetsuit that would work under the conditions they faced. At that point, he told them that he would not build suits for them because his suits would not do the job either. [caption id="attachment_37808" align="alignright" width="166"]Howard Hall DUI dry suit Underwater photographer Howard Hall has always used DUI suits. Howard posed for this early sport diving catalog shot, circa 1984.[/caption] Walt Mazzone, who was the operations officer for SeaLab, was the first person to tell Dick about hot water suits. Mazzone had heard about the suits being used by Marine Contracting, who had taken on the job of salvaging a Shell Oil company platform in the Gulf of Mexico using the Westinghouse Cachalot saturation system. Without an active heating system, like hot water, saturation diving is virtually impossible due to the thermal conductivity of helium, which robs the body of heat very quickly. Marine Contracting asked Dick if he could build suits for them given his reputation for the development of thermal protection systems. To Dick, it was clear that the suits they were using had extremely uneven hot water distribution, after talking with a diver who had used a suit built by Westinghouse for the Smith Mountain Dam job (the first commercial application of saturation diving). The diver, Billy Meeks, told Dick they could only use the suit every third day because the design burned the diver where the hot water entered at the wrists and ankles, and it took two days for them to heal after each round of burns. Dick redesigned the suit for Marine Contracting, using a design where hot water was injected into the suit through tubes running down each arm and leg and down the front and back of the torso. Each tube had holes every 3 inches. He took the suit to the Gulf of Mexico to the Shell platform salvage job where it was used by a number of divers, including Nick Zinkowski, (author of the book, Commercial Oilfield Diving). Zinkowski told Long the suit was “okay,” but only because he did not want to share the suit with anyone else. Marine Contracting thought the suit was great and wanted to go into business with Dick, but he declined due to differences in their philosophies of business. BECOMING EVEN MORE UNLIMITED By 1972, the hot water suit business had begun to grow and Dick moved the business to its present location in San Diego and changed the name to Diving Unlimited International. Yet despite the promise of hot water suits and their efficiency, Dick met a great deal of resistance to the use of hot water in the commercial diving field. Ken Wallace, who was the president of Taylor Diving and Salvage, told Dick, “When we pay divers as much as we do, I like to know they’re miserable down there. If they are diving deep on mixed gas, they get paid more than I do.” Likewise, Tom Angel, who ran Sanford Brothers remarked, “We sell divers by the day. If we can freeze a diver out, I can sell the client a new diver.” In addition to developing the suits, Dick also began to develop hot water generating systems and mixing manifolds so that divers could be provided with precise temperatures of hot water. Diesel, electric and steam energy sources powered the hot water systems which also included pumps, relief valves, and thermostats. It wasn’t until 1974 at the Working Diver Symposium held in Columbus, Ohio, when Dan Wilson, president of SubSea International, endorsed DUI’s hot water suits and systems that sales for DUI’s products skyrocketed. The North Sea oil fields were starting to boom and DUI had a difficult time keeping up with the demand for their products. By 1976, the retail sport diving business was competing with Dick’s attention for the commercial diving side of the business and he sold the sport diving operation to the Diving Locker. This allowed Dick to focus solely on commercial diving products, although this was a short lived period that ended when the recession hit the oil industry in 1978. Once the recession was in full swing, the oil industry collapsed and the demand for hot water suits came to a sudden halt. Military orders helped DUI stay alive, although the company had to be reduced to 40 percent of its former size. The Navy bought hot-water suits and dry suits for the MK 12 diving helmet. Dick worked to build the sport and government side of DUI up at a speed to match that at which the commercial diving industry was collapsing. DRY SUIT REDUX The dry suit market had been quietly bubbling underneath the wetsuit market for many years, and it had been awhile since Dick had given it a significant amount of attention. Although all of the elements to build a modern dry suit had been around for a number of years, very few companies had devoted serious energy towards building a dry suit that would have the reliability and performance to meet the needs of today’s divers. While walking around the DEMA show in 1982, Dick saw that there was a hole in the market. He returned to San Diego determined to build one. Based upon DUI’s experience in dealing with saturation diving and military operations and the need to have reliable life support, Dick felt that his team, including people like Bob Stinton in their engineering department, qualified them as “applied thermal physiologists.” With one foot in the scientific/medical field and another foot planted on the operational side of things, Dick and his people understood the language of both the theoretical and practical aspects of designing systems for divers operating in cold water. [caption id="attachment_37800" align="alignright" width="258"]DEMA board of directors Dick was on the DEMA Board of Directors for several years. This was taken in 1995. (Back L-R) : Stuart Martin, Sam Jackson, Dick Long, Rick Lancaster, AI Hornsby, John Englander, Ken Loyst, Bob Hollis. (Front L-R) : Steve Blount, Brice Reinman, Lee Selisky, Ron Kipp, and Sally Santmeyer. © Alese & Mort Pechter [/caption] Dick was on the DEMA Board of Directors for several years. This photo of the board was shot in 1995 by Alese and Mort Pechter. Back row, left to right, Stuart Martin, Sam Jackson, Dick Long, Rick Lancaster, Al Hornsby, John Englander, Ken Loyst, Bob Hollis. Front row, left to right, Steve Blount, Brice Reinman, Lee Selisky, Ron Kipp, and Sally Santmeyer. © Alese and Mort Pechter Previously, DUI had built neoprene dry suits using waterproof zippers from space suits. Dick had actually made a trip with the Navy to dive this “Arctic Suit” in the Bering Strait. He knew that the foam neoprene used to make wetsuits was not a good long-term solution to keeping a diver dry underwater since the material was never designed to be waterproof. All you have to do is look at the knees of a well-worn wetsuit and anyone with an analytical mind would know this to be true. After looking at what other dry suit manufacturers had done, Dick went looking for the right materials to make dry suits. He knew he needed fabric that was long wearing, thin, flexible, and very reliable. Crushed neoprene was a material he had originally created by accident while experimenting but deemed a failure. Initially Dick felt that the material was too difficult to use in the construction of a suit, despite its incredible ruggedness and thin profile. Ultimately, Dick discovered a way to work with the material and the Navy selected this fabric for its “Passive Diver Thermal Protection System.” The other material Dick discovered was Tri-Laminate or “TLS,” which is even thinner than crushed neoprene but not quite as rugged. Initially, Dick felt that TLS material would not be sufficiently robust, but this material has proven itself over and over again through the years. It is still one of the most popular materials DUI uses to build dry suits. DUI became one of the leaders in the development of dry suit systems as well as other accessories to complement the diver’s equipment. [caption id="attachment_37806" align="alignright" width="241"]Dick has always been involved at the highest levels of diving. In this photo, left to right, John Craven, Naval Scientist; Dick Long; Dr. Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer; and Sir John Rawlins, British Navy (deceased). © Leslie Leaney Dick has always been involved at the highest levels of diving. In this photo, left to right, John Craven, Naval Scientist; Dick Long; Dr. Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer; and Sir John Rawlins, British Navy (deceased). © Leslie Leaney [/caption] STANDING UP FOR THE DIVING INDUSTRY One of the issues that became a concern throughout the U.S. in the late 80s was the subject of duty to warn, which relates directly to the matter of product liability. The courts ruled that manufacturers were required to provide adequate product labeling on potentially dangerous products, and provide instructional manuals to help customers avoid injury. Ultimately, this became an important matter not just for the scuba industry, but for every manufacturer who makes consumer and industrial products. Dick became painfully aware of the issue of product liability and duty to warn when DUI was sued in the late 80s as a result of a sport diving accident. However, in 1989 when Dick raised this issue at a DEMA meeting following the sport diving trade show, he was considered a heretic. Most manufacturers were fearful that people would not buy their products if they thought diving was dangerous. When DEMA rejected Dick’s demand that this was a problem that needed to be addressed, Dick formed an independent team known as the Scuba Diving Resources Group to help educate manufacturers and service providers about how to cope with these issues. When DEMA rejected the introduction of nitrox to sport diving, the SDRG again stepped forward and hosted a workshop (organized by Michael Menduno, with funding from Dick) on the subject to educate the industry about the benefits of using this alternative breathing mix. The rest is history. [caption id="attachment_37803" align="alignright" width="186"]Dick Long Project Yukon Ships to Reefs is a cause to which Dick has a serious commitment. He was the driving factor in the sinking of the Yukon, a retired Canadian Navy vessel, that was “reefed” off the coast of San Diego specifically as a diving destination. (Photo by Steven M. Barsky)[/caption] Ships to Reefs is a cause to which Dick has a serious commitment. He was the driving factor in the sinking of the Yukon, a retired Canadian Navy vessel, that was “reefed” off the coast of San Diego specifically as a diving destination. (Photo by Steven M. Barsky) Ships to Reefs is a cause to which Dick has a serious commitment. He was the driving factor in the sinking of the Yukon, a retired Canadian Navy vessel, that was “reefed” off the coast of San Diego specifically as a diving destination. (Photo by Steven M. Barsky) MAKING A PLACE TO DIVE: PROJECT YUKON As a business leader, and an outspoken one at that, Dick was deluged with invitations to join worthy causes. Where he could respond, he did, but he didn’t have time for everything. But, when the San Diego Ocean’s Foundation (SDOF) approached him and brought up the concept of stewardship for the ocean, Dick could not ignore their invitation. He realized that whether you enter the ocean as a sport diver, for commercial gain, or as a military diver, you are responsible for what does or does not happen in the ocean. One of the projects that interested the Ocean’s Foundation was using concrete to build artificial reefs. Dick championed this project and contacted different cities around the country to see what success had been achieved in constructing these marine life habitats. During the course of his investigation, Dick ventured up to Canada where he met Jay Straith of the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia. Upon returning to the U.S., Straith contacted the SDOF and asked if they wanted a “spare” ship, the Canadian destroyer Yukon, they had sitting at a dock. After they accepted the project, the initial program manager was transferred out of state and the task of readying the Yukon for sinking was passed to Dick. After three years of preparation and the donation of $1.5 million in cash and in-kind donations, the 366-foot long Yukon was floated out off Mission Bay and sent to the bottom. DUI alone donated more than $500,000.00 to the effort.  Dick firmly believes that reefing ships is probably the single most important thing the scuba industry can do to help promote diving and build homes for fish. The sinking of the ship was consistent with Dick’s personal mission to provide places for divers to explore underwater and activities for them to enjoy. It’s also in line with his personal conversion from being an underwater hunter to being an underwater sightseer. When Dick began to see the amount of marine life at our local dive sites depleted, he wanted to become “green” and protect what we have, realizing that if we destroy the environment, there will be nothing for divers to see. THE FUTURE OF SPORT DIVING Anyone who has been involved in sport diving over the past few years knows that the industry has been shrinking, and it’s Dick’s belief that it will continue to shrink. “Both the demographics and the economics will cause this,” notes Dick. “But, there will always be divers. People who learn to dive and stay in it become “divers,” but we have many people who have tried our sport who are not true divers.” It’s Dick’s stated goal to convert the divers into active evangelists for the ocean. When someone asks Dick to define the mission of DUI he’ll tell you their job is to “protect people who work or play in potentially hostile environments. We help people to do things they thought they could not do. Today every time a diver makes a discovery or does something new I feel I get a small piece of that action. The diver takes me with him.” Before SeaLab went operational, Dick had been approached to become an aquanaut for SeaLab II. Walt Mazzone, SeaLab’s operations manager told Dick that he was qualified and that if he truly wanted to go, he would sign the papers. Mazzone cautioned Dick, “If you don’t become an aquanaut you could be contributing to diving for the rest of your life, rather than spending your time diving. No one is trying to keep divers warm underwater. If you don’t become an aquanaut, you will have a lifelong influence on diving.” “I took his advice to heart and have never been sorry,” observes Dick. For those of us who dive with DUI’s suits, we couldn’t be happier with his decision. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Steven M. Barsky has been diving since 1965 and was a commercial diver in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico from 1976-1982. He is a full-time consultant in diving as well as a professional underwater photographer, author, and videographer. He has authored or co-authored 18 diving texts and has made 9 diving DVD videos. Steve also serves as an expert witness in both scuba and commercial diving accident cases, and runs Hammerhead Press, which publishes unique diving books, in Ventura, California. Download article in .pdf format by clicking The Warmer Side of Underwater Life Support