'When I first got diving, really got out and got interested in it, I was 12.'
'The government aquarium here, had the first tourist diving program. You paid a dollar they put a helmet on you, you went down in Harrington Sound and saw a lot of fish, a lot of corals and stuff.
I got a job in the summer and there were two of us. One of us was pumping and the other guy put the helmet on – pulled them up and watched they didn’t float away in the current. And that’s where the diving first started and when nothing was doing we’d take it in turns to put the helmet on – it was just an adventure. And you had to keep your eyes about you because there were a lot of sharks around. After I guess it was a few minutes – something like that - you got your confidence – you're down the ladder, down to the bottom, go ahead and walk around.
When you were down there on the bottom, down with probably 20 feet of water over you and you could see all the fish and you were there – that really excites me right up. I doubt if one person in a million had seen this or experienced it – and a lot of people didn’t like it – it wasn’t everybody that really had the ambition and the desire and got kicks out of it that I did diving. That was when I really got hooked on it.'
In the 1950s Teddy started an underwater salvage and construction business – fixing docks, moorings and recovering valuable metals from shipwrecks. His use of explosives for the latter was a skill he had honed in the Second World War.
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
At 16 Teddy joined the Navy – ‘Joined Monday, had my medical Tuesday and I was on the gun boat Wednesday. And a little out of my league – I didn’t even know which end of the gun you put the bullet in. But as far as the function of the ship and everything I knew probably as much as anybody else on it.’
Something about Teddy’s independent character and unique skill set caught the attention of officers searching for someone a little different. Operatives needed to be tough, creative and practical, that was Teddy to a T and he was sent for specialist training in explosives and underwater sabotage.
Deployed to the Far East he worked closely with Australian special forces in a number of dangerous missions to attack the Japanese fleet while in port - diving undetected to attach limpet mines.
‘Although I saw service from the Barents Sea to the Indian Ocean and experienced my share of bombs and torpedoes, and being shot at a few times, I never really reckoned that would be the end of me’
Sent by train to an Indian hospital after contracting malaria he later recounted that the staff would move patients out to the cool of the veranda for their final days – one afternoon he woke up on the veranda and said to himself: ‘there’s no way I am dying here’! A determination that would continue to serve him well.
Teddy returned to Bermuda in 1947 with the firm intention of making a living on, or rather, in the sea. But he was happy to apply his skills with explosives to anything that needed blowing up or bringing down, and it was often a case of learning on the job.
He was brought in to help with the demolition of the old Hamilton Princess Hotel. Time was against the developer and the wrecking ball they had was simply punching holes through the large wooden structure, getting tangled in splintered timber. Teddy's solution was to connect a ship's chain between two bulldozers to slice the bottom out, allow it to collapse into the huge basement space then burn it. The fire burned for three days at an intense heat, Harbour road on the opposite side of the bay was completely blackened out and they had to buy every pump from Meyers to douse the flames.
Afterwards all that was left was the huge brick chimney. In a tight built up space the only option was a controlled explosion designed to drop the structure straight down Pitts Bay Road. Teddy set a ring of charges around the base, cleared the area and fired. Nothing. The explosives failed. Careful not to disturb unexploded charges Teddy set a second ring. This time when it fired the whole tower lifted off from the force of explosion, went straight up for a moment like a rocket launch. When it came down it laid down perfectly along Pitts Bay Road. What no one had anticipated was that the bricks would bounce off the road surface. Bricks flew everywhere, raining down all over the area. Afterwards, Teddy restricted himself to work in the Ocean.
'I was going to go look for treasure'
Teddy bought an old work boat and with his future brother-in-law, Robert (Bobby) Canton, started working in marine salvage and construction. Using boat chain for dive weights and producing the compressed air with a retired aircraft de-icing pump, Teddy would lay moorings, repair docks and salvage small ships, planes and pleasure craft. The work was hard and the pay poor: 'We didn't make a lot of money in a hurry, we ate saltfish and turnips in the early days.'
Bobby was not a diver himself, he was the other half of the salvage operation and would be an ever present figure during the most fruitful years of hunting for wrecks.
The door to the world of wreck hunting opened when Teddy was approached by the Government of Bermuda to salvage nonferrous metals from submerged ships and shore dump sites to help the repatriation of the island’s war debt.
'Copper and Brass that was out of the modern ships, that used to pay for treasure hunting – we used to go out there and used to blow the propellers apart and pick them up and ships condensers – blow that apart and get the brass out of it. Probably in a summers time take 8-10,000 dollars worth, which was a lot of money in those days.'
This salvage work funded his true passion, to head out onto Bermuda’s reefs along with his wife Edna and her two brothers, Bobby and later on, Donald Canton and search for lost shipwrecks.
'I was going to go look for treasure – there was no question about that - the ability to be out there on the ocean and looking in the reefs when the weather was suitable – and I started finding a lot of shipwrecks'.