Errol Flynn, the legendary Hollywood swordsman (pun intended) was also an early skin and scuba diver. By the time I discovered Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s first book, “The Silent World,” in the early 50s, Flynn had already been spearfishing for years, and had recently taken up scuba diving. In his autobiography, “My Wicked, Wicked Ways,” he recounted his love of deep diving off his yacht Zaca:
“Every time I go underwater for a deep dive I am petrified. Outwardly I try to appear nonchalant. Light a cigarette, to stall. I take a drink. Underwater you can’t do this. Why do I challenge the depth of the sea as I have been doing for twenty or more years? As I have done hundreds of times? In my normal senses I wouldn’t take such risks, in other matters, for anybody in the world. On scores of professional and personal hazards, where I might appraise a situation and figure my chances weren’t good for coming out alive, I would say no. But not skin-diving.
“There I throw caution to the skies – or seas. I know that I have a deep fear of it and that I am in rebellion against my fear. I know I am going down into an element I don’t know – nobody knows. Once I get into the water I don’t feel so badly. But I must go down. Next to this sport all others are childish: the thrills of baseball, tennis, football, golf, they are nothing compared with being a hundred feet below, with a great stone sea wall about you, the sunlight shining down through the green illuminating an underwater seascape, and the fish moving by.
“The lure of the sea, in all its forms, is probably the strongest urge in me. It is a silent world. I am always fascinated, as one is with a favourite poem. It is the indescribable beauty down there that makes you want to go to it and hold it. It is an exercise in quick reflexes. Your mind sharpens, it snaps, it works like an automatic pistol. It is an exercise in self-control too, for you have to breathe half the number of times you do normally. The oxygen-tank [sic] is on your back. It is a new, a different, a fallible lung, and you go with dread and expectation and a sense of danger, and you hope you’ll live.
“This sport keeps me alive, but there are those who know me who say I am trying to kill myself this way. I wouldn’t say no. I just don’t know. I know that when I get down a hundred feet or so, and the air in the tank is gone, and I have only a two-minute or three-minute reserve supply left, and I pull the lever that sets this free, and I start my swim back up to the surface – then I am living – and if not, I am dying as one who has, just before, been living intensely.
“Throughout the period of my decline, 1952 to 1956, I went skin-diving, if not daily, then two or three times a week – oil Spain, in the Mediterranean, and at a dozen points in the waters of the Caribbean.”
The book was written in 1959, when Flynn was 50, and he ended it by prophesizing: “The second-half century looms up, but I don’t feel the night coming on.”
Unfortunately, his “period of decline” was a lot more serious than Flynn realized, or admitted to himself. After a lifetime of alcohol and drug abuse, Flynn died later that year from a multitude of maladies, perhaps the result of living too daringly.
Co-Editor “There’s a Cockroach in My Reguator!”