Deepwater Diving Monument | CELEBRATING DIVING HISTORY

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Deepwater Diving Monument | CELEBRATING DIVING HISTORY

The Deepwater Diving Monument will recognize and celebrate Santa Barbara’s legacy as the birthplace of Deepwater Diving and will be gifted to the City by the Local and International Diving Communities.

Located adjacent to the Santa Barbara Harbor, this long overdue monument will depict a professional diver, circa 1982 “Going to Work”, wearing the locally made and world-standard Kirby Morgan® Superlite® 17 Diving Helmet. The Project is being funded by the sale of Limited Edition, Certified, Fine-Art Bronze Statuettes sculpted by California-based artist, Greg Polutanovich.

Very few people know it, but Santa Barbara, California is recognized by most international diving historians as the birthplace of deepwater diving technology. During the 1960’s, many of the Santa Barbara abalone diving industry divers began a rapid transition from air diving to deepwater oxy-helium commercial diving.

Mixed gas breathing apparatus developed in Santa Barbara was used by divers to rapidly expand the safe depth range for offshore exploration.

This development of equipment, technology, support, and training infrastructures developed by the pioneering divers in Santa Barbara rapidly spread worldwide and revolutionized the trade of both the commercial and military diver.

2022 marked the 60th anniversary of the 400 - foot pioneering mixed gas dive by Hugh ‘Dan’ Wilson, a former abalone diver, that led to the deepwater diving revolution.

Wilson lived in Santa Barbara and cast off from Santa Barbara harbor for his historic dive in relative secrecy on the fishing vessel ‘Rio Janeiro’ on November 3, 1962

During this timeframe, the diving industry evolved from utilizing traditional copper and brass heavy-gear helmets for surface gas dives into modern lightweight headgear used from closed diving bells. Wilson’s historic dive was the catalyst that created what is known as “The Santa Barbara Helium Rush.” The technology developed in Santa Barbara rapidly spread to the North Sea, the Middle East, Far East, Gulf of Mexico, Venezuela and beyond.

Local diving companies using the mixed gas helium diving technology were quickly formed such as DIVCON, some years later California Divers (Cal Dive) followed and used the harbor and Stearn’s Wharf as their base for many years. The world’s largest publicly traded dive company, Oceaneering International, had its corporate headquarters on Cota Street in the 1970s.

Cal Dive and Oceaneering are still trading today on the New York Stock Exchange.. He took a support crew of abalone divers and some Brooks Institute photography students, who served as safety divers and documented his successful record attempt.

Wilson dove to over 400 feet off the east end of Santa Cruz Island, in the Santa Barbara Channel, using the oxy-helium mixed gas (Heliox) as his breathing gas [Heliox was used instead of normal air, as it is non-narcotic at depth].

Wilson’s General Offshore Divers company built and launched the world’s first commercial lockout bell ‘Purisima’ in Santa Barbara in 1964.

​While the concept of Purisima was advantageous, its initial use revealed several flaws and challenges that needed to be addressed. The bell’s instability in the water column required the addition of a third sphere for buoyancy to keep it vertical. This made launch and recovery difficult in most sea conditions.

The Purisma Bell has been restored and can be seen today outside the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, there’s an excellent display telling its story inside.

In Santa Barbara, Bev Morgan and Bob Kirby subsequently formed Kirby Morgan Dive Systems® and designed the mixed gas diving helmets and systems which have become the international standard for military and deepwater divers worldwide.

Since 1964, well over 90% of the deepwater diving helmets used by working divers worldwide are made in Santa Barbara. In 1968, Santa Barbara City College developed the only community college program in the United States to train Marine Technicians and divers to support this global industry.

The Santa Barbara Deepwater Diving Monument Committee was formed by local historian and founder of the Historical Diving Society, Leslie Leaney and Professor Emeritus Don Barthelmess of Santa Barbara City College’s Marine Diving Technology Program.

Their mission is to design and privately fundraise a bronze diver sculpture/monument to the pioneering local divers as a gift to the City of Santa Barbara Waterfront Department. The monument will provide an enduring local attraction that confirms Santa Barbara harbor’s place in history as the birthplace of international deep water ocean exploration.

Don Barthelmess

Professor Emeritus / Program Director Santa Barbara City College Marine Technology Program 1989-2019

Leslie Leaney

Co-Founder of The Historical Diving Society USA in 1992

Diving expert and local historian

Bronze Statuette Ordering Information

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