I met Tim when he was my instructor for my advanced certification when I was attending university in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2004. Like many of us who are professionals, Tim’s route to his current diving occupation took many detours along the way.
Article by Ryan Vickers
Growing up, like most, Tim found diving inspiration in television. Yes, Jacques Cousteau was an influence, but like me and other Canadians, The Last Frontier with John Stoneman was the appointment for future divers. This led the teenage version of Tim to sign up for a dive course when he was sixteen. Tim recounts that he was by far the youngest open water dive candidate in the program – the others were in their twenties and thirties. He did pass (with flying colors!) and got some dive buddies out of the experience as we all hope that we will when we take our open watercourse.
Tim realized early on that he wanted diving to be his career. As a result, he completed a co-operative education placement at a local dive shop near the end of his time in high school. Tim says “they took me in… then I realized I could make money. It was expensive (diving), so I did suit work, reg work, tank work.” I am sure many of us in the industry can agree with the need to be a “well-rounded diver” so you do what you can to pay the dive bills.
Work as a safety diver came post-graduation for Tim. He found employment at the Marine Institute of Newfoundland and Labrador where he would help the students when course work required them to simulate the evacuation of a helicopter while in the water (and even submerged). Tim’s quest to continue his diving professional status led him to complete his instructor course in Kelowna, British Columbia – the exact other end of Canada from Newfoundland. Part of his course also required him to intern in Bonaire. One could only be so lucky!
It is here where Tim got to love working on a dive boat… or rather, he ended up serving on the deck of “The (Dive) Love Boat” in a manner of speaking. He signed a six-month contract with a now-defunct cruise line. He was to depart from Cape Canaveral, Florida en route to the Bahamas where he would be working with all aspects of the dive program.
Except it did not really work out that way.
It turns out that the cruise line had sub-contracted the dive operation to a little-known establishment named Stuart Cove’s in Nassau! Now, this is not to say that Stuart Cove’s is not a great diving facility – the author of this story has gone diving with them previously – but it is not what Tim signed up for! He quite literally became Julie from “The Love Boat” and became the social convenor! Running karaoke? Sure, who is up next for singing? Co-ordinating ring toss? You bet! Dressing up as a pirate? Yarr, matey! There was some dive knowledge that did come in handy – as a trained first aider, he often had to take people down to the medical bay. However, Tim knew something was up and he did not renew his contract when that time came.
Leaving the cruise ship industry, Tim now found himself back in Western Canada through a contact in Newfoundland and Labrador. He found massive intrinsic rewards in helping people get their mobility back through working at a hyperbaric chamber in Red Deer, Alberta. This center also helped treat brain injuries and strokes. Sadly, due to a supply chain issue, this lasted less than a year for Tim.
The early 2000s were a time of change for Tim. He worked a variety of positions at two St. John’s area scuba shops… and then it led to a defining moment in his dive career.
Tim tells it as such: “a guy called me and asked if I wanted to start diving for urchins.” And thus, the ball started rolling. “I was learning the urchin trade and the gentleman that I talked to (Ken)… he talked to me about seafood harvesting. I really enjoyed it and did it for about four or five years.”
At this time, Tim started working heavily in the commercial industry during the times of the year that he was not harvesting urchins. He worked in ship husbandry which meant he would be fixing boats and welding underwater amongst other tasks as assigned. Tim recounts one particularly harrowing story:
“I was guiding a boat one time, and it was a huge tanker. We had to get it onto concrete blocks, and on top of that was oak, and on top of that was pine; the idea was that the tanker would crush of the pine and then would be comforted by the oak. Suddenly, the boat fell on the blocks and then there was a tidal wave in the cove. I scrambled back to the start of my (underwater) umbilical cord and started climbing the ladders, four of them in fact, which were 15-20 feet high, all along with thirty pounds of lead, thirty pounds of the tank, thirty pounds of helmet… it was quite the trial!”
After a while of commercial diving in Newfoundland and Labrador, Tim travelled across the Atlantic to do a saturation diving course in Marseille, France. This involved many deep dives which required two to three days of decompression. And of course, a continent away, who does he meet? Another Newfoundlander! Of course, he does! Tim shared with me that having done the saturation course led him to a personal highlight – working on the floor of the Grand Banks in Newfoundland. He says that he there very much is an order to working with these types of companies: first you work on the deck working with the divers by cooking and doing their laundry; after eight weeks you move onto being a “deck diver” where you would monitor the diving bell as it went trough the moon pool; finally, you get to go into saturation which requires a large commitment to safety and precision – 22 consecutive days of 12 hours exploring underwater followed by four days of decompression.
Let us jump back to the urchin diving for a bit. In talking with Tim, I could tell this was his real passion. In 2013, Tim was “designated” on a sea urchin license, meaning that he could get certified in getting in the sea urchin business. It is best to think of a “designation” of the license as an equivalent of a taxicab license – they are limited and generally just “passed on” and cannot be bought.
Along with two friends, he headed out to Eastport (about three hours outside of St. John’s if the traffic is good!) and stuck it out for at least three months; at times they were barely making enough for food and rent. When he had rock bottom, he produced the idea about the sea urchin light. “I was cleaning the shells and put a flashlight up it (one of the urchins). After Christmas I started to make some to sell.”
Tim reflected at this time he ended up trying to harvest scallops with a couple that had a sea urchin license. It was not a positive experience but a chance encounter with a guy working on a neighbouring boat led Tim to go work with him.
“Greg Day’s dedication to quality is something I have never seen; environmental protectionism is big for him. He’s always trying to clean up the trash in the ocean. I have been with him since 2020”.
Confident with his business partnership with Greg, Tim was introduced to Andrew Facey, a wine sommelier with the Newfoundland and Labrador liquor corporation, who in turn introduced him to Matt Swift who was opening a new restaurant (Ter) in the recently opened Alt hotel.
“I met Matt and he started buying my scallops and they only feature when they are in season. He was dedicated to what I dd and did not look for other scallops. We supply Ter with all their scallops as well as their lobsters and their sea cucumbers. I was able to clean the sea cucumbers to get the meat off them; once I’ve filleted the sea cucumbers, I might have 10 pounds (of meat) and thought, b’ys, why not throw it in the batter and fry it up. It comes out in the style of a chicken patty which the restaurant then uses to make they are on take on a “Big Mary” (the signature sandwich of Mary Brown’s Chicken and Taters, a chain that started in Newfoundland and now has franchises in all ten provinces in Canada).”
Tim explains that his food supply chain was not immune from the pandemic. While he was still supplying food to his sources that requested them, he put more effort into the urchin light business. Originally, he was supplying and shipping a dozen a month, but he says it got to be too much. “Not every shell is a winner!”
Now Tim and his wife Susan focus on doing it just at Christmas time. “I do about a hundred a season and we’ve shipped across Canada.” You can check out their wares on Facebook – just search for Green Urchin Designs.
I would like to thank Tim for taking the time to talk with me about his diving career (and not to mention to thank him for being a great instructor during my advanced course!). I would like to wish him continued success in his diving career!
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