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The First Diver in Palm Beach Florida...Frank Hammett

Discussion in 'Vintage Diving & Equipment' started by danvolker, Mar 8, 2014.

  1. danvolker

    danvolker Dive Shop

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Lake Worth, Florida, United States
    5,884
    3,009
    Once referred to as the "Butcher of Palm Beach", Frank was the first Diver in Palm Beach, and the guy that first found all our reefs, and the first to create a Dive Operation and charter business. His big boats were the Shark Killer, and Shark Killer II if memory serves.....and in his shop circa the early 80's, there were newspaper clippings of him swimming to the surface with a shark in each hand that he had just speared--in those days, the schools were still teaching that the oceans were inexhaustible, and in all fairness, fisherman and spearfisherman alike, had no idea of the damage they were doing.
    Also, there was a tradition in human pioneer behavior, to kill off all the dangerous animals near a new settlement....that this was a good thing....This was true with wolves, bears, and many dozens of predator populations all over the world, for the last 10,000 years....And it was true with the early divers of Palm Beach as well. Sadly.

    [video=youtube_share;4m93w_79M00]http://youtu.be/4m93w_79M00[/video]

    Mid way through in the CNN part of the video by Stone Phillips, I get interviewed ( I am in the yellow wetsuit).... I dove almost every weekend with Frank, and this "Hole in the Wall" dive site at 140 to 150 feet deep, was a weekly favorite.

    Phillips did this Story on the Gorilla Divers, after reading this story I wrote for Florida Sports Magazine:

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    [TD]Back in the early days of diving there was a club. No ordinary club, you couldn't even join if you had concerns about safety or were known for having common sense. They called themselves Guerrilla Divers .Composed of elite divers with Macho mentalities, back when men were men, and FEAR was a lispy companion of the common Man. It was a time before insurance liabilities, lawsuits or beauracratic regulation of the "sport".Guerrilla divers didn't need "Buoyancy Compensator Vests". In fact, "Anyone who needs a BC deserves to drown" was a popular adage. Exploration and the Hunt came first, excitement and fun followed. Safety was the stepchild of fitness, good reflexes and a cool head.This was a time of great Adventure , a time when looking for big fish could mean diving a 200 foot deep wreck in a five mile per hour current, with Volkswagen sized Jewfish bolting out from within their unseen hiding places, and 25 foot long Great White Sharks circling with consumptive intent.It meant diving constantly into the unknown... to Go...Where No Man Has Gone Before..."Today's[circa 1990] Guerrilla Divers, although far removed from their thrill seeking precursors, are extremely competent experts--the Best of the Best, who like diving with big fish and sharks in deep water under challenging conditions.These are computer frame divers who plan bottom time on multi-level calculations, and frequently plan on performing a decompression stop in order to enjoy more actual bottom time. The original Guerrilla Diver was most likely Palm Beach Dive legend Frank Hammet, who captains the only boat which now caters to this form of diving. Frank's Dive shop is home to Rambo, Conan, and The Barbarian Queen--No man can touch her naked steel.On the dive boat, everyone is armed and ready to do battle. Each diver is a Force of One. Each is confident, infinitely capable, and not your average diver. Personalities are unique, some off the wall, all are interesting. This is a great place to come if you are a novelist looking to do an Ernest Hemingway type character study. The most compelling character, Frank himself, has a personal history rich in folklore, adventure, and perhaps, legend.One of the first scuba divers, Frank made his own gear in 1951 with a CO2 tank and homemade regulator after hearing about Cousteu's Aqualung. A few years later Frank invented Drift Diving by pulling a milk jug on a line and having the boat follow; later, Frank developed a dive ball, which has changed little to this day. In his dive shop, pictures circa 1960 show Frank heading to the surface with a freshly power-headed 10 foot shark in each hand. Back when Volkswagen sized Jewfish sucked 20 pound lobster out of small caves, at times trying to inhale invading scuba divers, Frank was adding 300 pounders to his trophy case.Today, the modern understanding of reef ecology and the scarcity of these great fish has ended Frank's big game hunting. But should any large shark try to pilfer a snapper while Frank's spearfishing, the shark will undoubtedly find itself on a trophy case labeled: Accidental death due to Inappropriate Behavior. Today, Frank and his divers still enjoy the hunt--but few fish are speared. Each diver is very particular about what he/she wants and each is concerned with reef ecology and conservation.[/TD]
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    [h=2]THE HOLE IN THE WALL[/h][TABLE="class: hotelBox diveboatBox findTbl, width: 100%"]
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    [TD][​IMG]This dive occurred in June 1990, off the coast of Jupiter, and takes place in an area of strong Gulf Stream Intrusion. The current is so powerful that Frank will have to drop us 150 yards up current, over sand, so that we will not be blown beyond the big ledge by the time we hit bottom.Six of us stand on the dive platform, surfing at 10 mph until Frank reverses then kills the engine. Word is given and we hit the water. There is no screwing around on the surface. Each of us is swimming down at full speed before we hit the water. Down, down we plunge, weighted heavy to assist our rapid descent, we encounter one thermocline after another, and the water becomes frigid as we near the bottom at 150 feet. The lead diver levels off and streaks out toward some unseen target, hidden in the darkness and unknown distance.Large schools of Jacks intersect our course as we push ourselves flat out to reach the reef. As it suddenly looms up ahead of us, we slow our pace and begin to control our breathing. A massive outcropping of rock, teeming with life, faces us in surprised acceptance.[/TD]
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    [TD][​IMG]And then ....a CAVE. Not just any cave, this one is huge---you could drive a tractor trailer through it. Its huge mouth swallows us up and we are immersed in darkness for a moment as our eyes adjust. As this long moment ends, we begin to see the interior of the cave, somewhat horseshoe shaped and funneling us and the current back out through what appears to be a tiny blue hole about 100 feet away. Huge boulders litter the floor, and our new eyesight reveals swarms of snappers and jacks and groupers blasting through much larger schools of silvery baitfish. We see light from both ends of the cave, as each opening has at least a 20 foot diameter. And now deep inside the cave we begin to see there are many BIG FISH here, cobia, gray grouper over 40 pounds.... And BIG SHARKS--- sleeping sharks. It seems sharks congregate here because the current running through the cave is strong enough to allow them to lie down on its bottom and sleep (without drowning from lack of oxygen).Of course, many of these sharks are not yet sleeping. They have big bellies from the vast supply of appetizing fish in the area. We will assume they pose no threat to us in their lethargic states.We however, have traded in our blood for adrenaline and a little nitrogen narcosis. As we glide effortlessly out the other end of the cave, the 2-3 mph current pushes us into deeper exploration beyond the cave and the ledge below. Each of us continues with high spirits and adventurous determination.In the dim twilight of our 160 foot depth, the shadows of circling predators in no way detract from the concentration of the spearfisherman. As one silent human glides into range of an unwary Hogsnapper, the silence of the moment is interrupted by the concussion of the thrown spear. The fish dies instantly and several friends will dine well tonight.[/TD]
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    [TD][​IMG]But now there is blood in the water and the formerly lethargic sharks are beginning to take interest. Gosh, look at the time...my computer says its time to come up---yeah, that's it..." In reality, none of us actually feels threatened, but each is aware that with blood in the water , one of the sharks may become bold enough to make a pass--leaving us no choice but to kill one of these beautiful creatures, even though it was our spearfishing that would have caused the confrontation. As we rise gently up to our decompression stop at 20 feet, we all wish we had more time to sight see, each looks forward to the next Guerrilla Dive. The Guerrilla Divers are just history now, but many of the younger ones have become Technical Divers. Frank has retired and sold his shop, but at 65 he still dives and if you're lucky you can dive with him on one of the newer advanced diving operations in Palm Beach, such as Seascape Charters or Divers World. The spearfishing has faded among them, now most take video or just look. But the adventure and excitement once enjoyed by the Guerrilla Divers at the HOLE IN THE WALL is still available, if you really want it, and if you have the right stuff.[/TD]
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  2. dsr30

    dsr30 Contributor

    80
    29
    Love it Dan!
     
  3. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
    5,066
    3,932
    Enjoyed the story.
    The world owes the Aussies a debt of gratitude for the invention of the Bang stick. Very effective on sharks and stubborn fish way back in holes

    I recall recently hearing the name Frank Hammett, but had never heard the name before in connection do the UW world.


    I goggled his name and it indicated he was 65 years old and referenced this story. Is he indeed 65 and is he still alive and kicking?

    SDM
     
  4. danvolker

    danvolker Dive Shop

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Lake Worth, Florida, United States
    5,884
    3,009
    Hi Sam,
    Frank was 65 when I did the magazine article in 1990....and he is still alive and well today, though he stopped diving around 2005 because his knees were giving him too much trouble.... Even at 70 Frank could do things underwater which 99% of "today's" divers could NOT do....He is hard of hearing, so phone calls with him have to go through his wife Dee :)
     

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