Edna and Wendy Tucker
There can’t have been many children diving in the 1960s but much of Wendy Tucker’s childhood was spent on or under the water.
Teddy’s wife Edna, and daughter Wendy were part of the crew. For Wendy, this meant that large parts of her childhood played out within one long, fabulous adventure. Diving on coral reefs, hunting for sunken treasure, studying artifacts as they surfaced and meeting all sorts of interesting people along the way. A fantasy; like a story lifted from the pages of a children’s novel.
‘My mother and I were living in a man’s world and in that era it was not always accepted by others and thankfully my father did not feel that way. He did say we had to fit in if we wanted to be part of the adventure and we would hear colourful language. I knew what to expect and I ignored it.'
Like the others working on a wreck site, Wendy used a Desco, a full face mask fed by a hose attached to the boat. Tethered in this way her parents knew where she was and that she could not wander off too far.
‘I first started diving when I was seven, I thought it was normal. I felt like a mermaid, I didn’t grasp the seriousness of it. It was like being in an aquarium with fish all around you, sometimes I took a piece of bread to feed them. I was never anxious, it felt friendly to me. It was pretty and it was all around, everywhere I looked there was something different. I was exploring like any child that age and everything was interesting and unique. I was curious.’
If not exploring the reef below the boat, Wendy would work her own little area on the wreck site, fanning the sand with a paddle and looking for artifacts.
‘My father always told me to keep an eye out for sharks but I was not worried, I just thought it was part of it. He didn’t say it in an alarming way – as a child you take your lead from the tone of your parents but it was not in a dark tone, just if you see anything, swim over to us or back to the boat. And we did encounter sharks...
One time I was holding on to the ladder in the water talking to my uncle Bobby on the boat and he suddenly grabbed me and pulled me out of the water as a shark came up to the ladder. It didn't frighten me but I now knew what my father was talking about.’
‘It was so different from everyone else’s family and maybe it was thought of as a bit of an oddity but I didn’t know any different. I thought it was all quite normal.’
Perhaps as uncommon as a child diving on the reef is a child being fully accepted in the adult world. Wendy was not regarded by the regular crew or by visitors as either a novelty or a nuisance.
‘One thing that helped was that I was very quiet, reserved. I didn’t need to be the center of attention. I was more than happy to listen to the stories and see what was discovered. It was a big reason that I was accepted – I was not difficult or always asking questions. If I had been a monster, firstly, my father wouldn’t have put up with it. It was serious, it was still work.
I was surrounded by fascinating people. Specialists in their fields and I would love to sit and listen to their stories of experiments, travels and adventures from around the world.’
Astronaut, Peter Conrad relaxing in Bermuda after the Apollo 12 mission, while avoiding the press in Houston, joined them to explore some of the wrecks and became close friends of Teddy, Edna and Wendy. 'I remember, later when we were listening on the radio to one of his missions. His orbit took him over the Atlantic and he said 'I can see little Bermuda down there' and we knew it was his way of saying hello from space.'
Wendy had inherited the adventurous spirit of her father and she decided to see how many different ways she could travel in to school. ‘One day I sailed in, across the sound on one of those sunfish sailboats. Well, by the time I got to Hamilton my school uniform was soaked and I started the day in trouble for turning up dripping wet.’
'Then one morning before school my father asked if I would like to come out in the seaplane that we used for wreck hunting to watch the first yachts in the Newport to Bermuda race arriving. I jumped at the chance and we flew off to look for them. Well, they were late coming in and by the time the race leader arrived I was late for school. We flew into Hamilton Harbor, tied up and I raced up the hill to school. The teacher asked why I was so late and I told her my plane was delayed. I was sent to stand below the flag pole all morning for lying.’
Observing excavations underwater, studying recovered artifacts on deck and listening to impromptu lessons from visiting experts, Wendy enjoyed an exceptional education out on Bermuda’s reef platform. A tough act to follow for her teachers in school.
‘One of my teachers from school, many years later, said to me that she felt it was difficult to keep my attention, because she knew that what was going on at home was far more exciting than she could ever make French and Latin’
'Every child is excited by stories of pirates and treasure, and being on a shipwreck made your imagination work overtime. I was very aware that I had a different life than my school friends and did not always have a lot in common with them, I was doing things completely different to what they were doing. Different but not unusual to my mind. I thought it was normal because the discovery of the treasure (that propelled Teddy’s wreck hunting activities) happened when I was very young so I didn’t know any other way of life.'
There were no weekends, you worked hard and you had fun.
'My father would say: If you don’t have a good time, it’s your fault!’