This month’s blog we have to dedicate to quit a character, an amazing man called Bert Kilbride! And how better to do this than with a lot of his famous own words…
Why? Because on 8 March it would have been his 100th birthday. Unfortunately he is not with us anymore because if he was, then this is what he would have been doing; “I have a date with Jean-Michel Cousteau to go diving in the BVI for my 100th birthday.”
Who was Bert Kilbride you wonder… He had many names; “ I have been called; a Treasure Hunter by my peers, Keeper of the wrecks by the Queen of England, a Pirate by the BVI Government, a Living National Treasure by the Governor of the BVI, the Oldest Scuba Diver by the Guinness Book of World Records and a Legend in many magazine articles. I have been an explorer, an adventurer, an inventor, a Scuba Instructor, a father and a husband. I’ve also been called a ladies’ man and a scoundrel, plus a few other names that I won’t mention here.”
He was born on 8 March 1914 in Springfield MA where his was a fish ever since. His mother made him his first dive mask when he was 8 years old. He moved to South Florida in 1945, to St Croix, USVI in 1956 and ended up here in the BVI in 1964 where he lived until 2005.
When Bert got down here he bought a freehold on deserted Moskito Island so he could be near Anegada Reef. On the island he hired an all-girl staff and he started Dive BVI and the 12-room Drake’s Anchorage. As he said, they never advertised yet, and were always full. When on Moskito; ” One year, Jean-Michel Cousteau brought Project Ocean Search
(POS) to Drake’s. Kilbride led divers on a hunt for artifacts that could help recreate the history of a wreck. ”Cousteau came back every year for 10 years, until his crew held a mutiny and demanded change,” Kilbride recalls. ”He said we were the only operation where he signed up for 20 dives and got 20 dives. I was up all night, filling tanks with an old Volkswagen engine.” Today, one of Cousteau’s dive sites is called POS.
In 1970 Kilbride sold Dive BVI and moved to Saba Rock. Back then it was just a ¾ acre spit of land. He had to build it up from scratch, built a house out of driftwood and rock. It is there that Kilbride’s Underwater Tours was born, later to become our now dive shop Sunchaser Scuba.
It was in these years that he created the “Resort Course”, now known as the PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience. In 1987 he was awarded for this invention with a NOGI Award for Diving Education. ”Men came to dive the Rhone, and their wives sat on the beach all day,” he says. ”I got sick of worrying that they were bored, so one day I taught ’em a few things, and we went to the shallow end of the Rhone!” he laughs.
Bert was commissioned by the BVI government to map all of the wrecks and he did salvage a lot of the wrecks in the BVI. “I was made “Receiver of the Wrecks” by Queen Elizabeth in 1967 and called a “Pirate” by others in the BVI Government when I wouldn’t produce a map of the wrecks I had found on Anegada Reef.” The amount of “treasure” he found on these wrecks is pretty amazing. Be sure to check out his museum… One of these wrecks was the now world famous RMS Rhone in 1958. Of course he didn’t discover it, but he was commissioned to salvage it. He brought up a lot of “Did anybody see the movie, The Deep?” he continues. ”I was introduced to the producer, who was looking for a site. I brought him to the Rhone, and this is where it was done. My third wife, Jackie, became Jacqueline Bisset’s underwater stunt double. And,” he adds proudly, ”Bisset’s white T-shirt was my idea!”
Born as a fish and going as a fish would have been suitable for him; “In 2004, for my 90th birthday, Guinness Book of World Records proclaimed me the “Oldest Scuba Diver” in the World.”
Sadly the famous Bert Kilbride passed away in California on 8 January 2008 at the age of 94. One of his last achievements was after he passed away. He managed to get himself in the Scuba Hall of Fame!
What an amazing man he was and as this amazing man he will be remembered!