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Man-Fish Gives Thumbs Up to Iron Man

By Phil Nuytten

‘Jeek’ with the first ‘Newsuit’ postulates that such devices may be the key to manned exploration of the deep oceans. This first production suit is currently at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Photo: Courtesy Historical Diving Society - Canada

In the summer of 1986, Jacques Yves Cousteau was in Vancouver, BC, accompanied by his son and producer, Jean-Michel. They were in the city to take part in Expo ’86, an international exposition that was attended by hundreds of thousands of visitors from all parts of the globe.

‘Jeek’ and Jean-Michel were just as gracious as they could be, signing autographs, pumping eager paws and showing up at the special diving shows held several times daily at a multi-swillion gallon exhibition tank provided by Can-Dive Services Ltd. [I forget the exact gallonage. One of the major curses of aging is the loss of short-term memory – and, also, the loss of short-term memory. – P.N.]

Veteran Vancouver diver Jim Willoughby was the ringmaster for the diving shows, which included an underwater wedding, a whole submarine (big tank!) and a host of oddball activities. Jim was very pleased with his two famous guests and the enormous crowd that they attracted.

Jeek and Jean-Michel also attended the inaugural unveiling of the new one-atmosphere diving system called the ‘Newtsuit’ that I had patented the previous year. When Jeek addressed the crowd gathered at the Vancouver Maritime Museum for the unveiling, he pointed to the Newtsuit prototype and said, “If this works as well in the water as I am told it will, it may well be the key to a new era in deep-water exploration. My team and I developed the ‘Soucoupe’ [diving saucer] submersible to free ourselves from the need for decompression, just as the Aqua-lung freed us from the umbilical to the surface. To move freely at great depths, to work, to explore in a device such as this, may be the next steps for man under the sea.”

I thought, “Holy Cow! How incredibly generous of him! His whole empire is built around the documentation of the ‘men-fish’ – scuba divers – to have him suggest that this aluminum contraption of ours may one day open up the deep ocean is absolutely incredible!”

Jean-Michel Cousteau, DIVER Publisher Phil Nuytten and Jacques Yves Cousteau at the unveiling of the first ‘Newtsuit’ – one atmosphere, 1,000-foot (305m) diving armour – in the summer of 1986. Photo: Courtesy Historical Diving Society – Canada

During a wine-break, I asked Jean-Michel if I could quote ‘the old man’. He replied, “Of course!” with a twinkle in his eye, “Why do you think he said it!”

That was a quarter of a century ago. ‘Newtsuits’ were sold all over the world, to navies, commercial diving companies and offshore exploration groups. Now we celebrate 100 years of ‘JYC’: ‘Jeek’. I wish he were still around now, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I could ask him to endorse the new, free-swimming version of the ‘Newtsuit’, called the ‘Exosuit’! At long last, a one-atmosphere man-fish! (Watch these pages for more: the first production models are due in January 2011!)

Those of you who actually read my editorials (you precious few) will know that I think highly of the Australian mag ‘Sport Diving’. It recently ran what I think is a very concise précis of Jacques Cousteau’s time and I asked Barry and Belinda if we could re-print it. Here it is on these pages, just as it appeared as an editorial in ‘Sport Diving’.

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