July 7, 2005 — When Harrison Liddle dons his SCUBA gear to explore a wreck, he doesn't enjoy it solely for the coral and marine life that have made their homes there. He dives much deeper than that.
"I love wrecks because of the history," says Liddle, owner of Blue Island Divers located in Crown Bay Marina. The most recent wreck to capture his interest is the Grainton, a 415 foot steam ship that hit dry rocks off Saba Island in 1928. "I'm still working on that one. I've got some interesting information." According to Liddle's research, the ship was en route from South Africa to Canada. The captain died on the trip, leaving first mate to continue with the captain's body on board. He hit the rocks and sank the ship.
"I've got to ask the question how a 415 foot steamer hit those rocks when they were well charted even in those days. There's a story there," says Liddle.
And in addition to the intrigue behind the ship, the Grainton happens to be a great dive. "There's a lot of life, a big nurse shark comes out and checks us out, sea turtles, lots of coral on it, and shoals of fish," says Liddle.
Liddle took over Blue Island Divers five years ago. Since then he and his crew have been dazzling divers with some of the best experiences the dive world has to offer. "We do more adventurous dives that others won't do. We do varied sites; we don't go to the same sites every day." Some of the sites are exclusive to Blue Island Diversthey were found by Liddle's crew so the coordinates aren't available to others.
In fact, when instructors from other shops dive for pleasure, they usually go out with Blue Island Divers.
Another wreck site his crew frequents is the WIT Shoal, rechristened by Liddle last summer as the LST 467. He sponsored a special dive with WWII veterans who served on the ship and their families. (See "Sailors Reunited With St. Thomas Wreck"). SAILORS REUNITED WITH ST. THOMAS WRECK
Liddle has been diving for 31 years. Growing up in the Mediterranean, he spent his days as a child snorkeling. "I don't ever remember learning to swim. I just could. I snorkeled and watched fish." But his family moved back to England when Liddle was nine years old, so he ended up learning to dive there. Instead of the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, his first dive was in a flooded quarry.
So began a long affiliation with the British Sub Aqua Club. As an adult Liddle spent 12 years living in the Middle East, and volunteered with branches of the club.
It was always his dream to have his own business. "I thought why not do it diving? It seems I know a bit about it," says Liddle.
In 1999 Liddle, and his wife Jayne, were ready to make their move. They went to Grenada, bought a sailboat, and spent the next year sailing through the Caribbean. Their plan to buy a dive shop materialized when they dropped anchor in the waters near St. Thomas. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right timeBlue Island Divers was for sale.
Liddle went to workinstructing, driving the boat, running the store, fixing the gearthen he would go home at night and do the accounts. He's now able to do the accounts during regular business hours, which he regards as a step up.
But nothing compares to diving the deep waters of the Caribbeanespecially with a new diver. "You get to very briefly experience your first dive through their eyes. It's thrilling just to be under water, it's all about the wonder of breathing under water," says Liddle.
Some other exciting things in the works for Blue Island Divers include:
–The dive shop is becoming a PADI career development center to teach people to become professional divers. "We can offer job training, scholarships, and internships."
–Blue Island Divers runs the water sports concession at the Best Western Emerald Beach Resort. Hit the beach there for sailing, wind surfing, kayaking and the latest edition, "Snorkeeze," a personal glass bottom boat with a little motor. They also offer a Discover scuba program at the beach.
–A Blue Island Divers retail store will be opening with the new Crown Bay Center opens. They will also be booking tours from that location.
— Liddle is one of a handful of people on the island certified as a hyperbaric technician. He volunteers at Roy Lester Schneider Hospital doing recompression treatments.
The dive shop is open seven days a week. Visit Blue Island Divers at Crown Bay Marina, online at blueislanddivers.com or call 774-2001.
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