Early in Red Rackham’s Treasure, the 12th story in Hergé’s classic comic series Adventures of Tintin, the intrepid boy reporter finds himself in a curio shop purchasing diving gear. Tintin, along with his dog Snowy, Captain Haddock and, of course, Thomson and Thompson, are on a quest to find treasure in the wreck of The Unicorn. They purchase diving gear (for ten pounds no less!), like the archetypal cylindrical brass helmet with round-glass portholes, canvas suit and lead boots. The gear is operated (quite hilariously in the story) by a hand-cranked air compressor. Both Captain Haddock and, much more successfully, Tintin, use it to explore the sunken Unicorn in what I think are some of the most evocative pictures Hergé ever drew.
One image of Tintin approaching the wreck in his heavy diving gear cemented my desire to explore the underwater realm myself, something I continue to do all these years later in my role as Diving and Boating Safety Officer at Ocean Wise.
When I was a growing up, Tintin was almost as significant an influence on my personal and professional future as Jacques Cousteau. I had (nearly) the full series of Tintin books as a child, and read and re-read them many times. My kids read them today. The themes of loyalty and friendship are as relevant now as there were when they were originally published in 1944. As I reflect on the power of this story, I realize that its charm is that Hergé managed to simultaneously present a highly romanticized and technically accurate portrayal of diving in those early days. The treasure-laden sunken ship and the tedium of turning the air compressor crank. The glory of the find and the real hazards of the endeavor. The perils of drinking rum.
Tintin and his Unicorn adventure is one of the reasons I especially enjoy the display of heritage diving equipment at Divers’ Weekend, coming up this weekend at the Vancouver Aquarium. Tom Bell, Mike Bentley and their colleagues at Heritage Hard Hat Divers have, for many years, graciously shared both their collection of vintage gear and their passion for diving with Vancouver Aquarium visitors. Their annual demonstration dive in the Shark exhibit is reminiscent, for me, of Tintin’s underwater explorations (sharks and all).
Come see for yourself a range of brass helmets, lead diving boots and weights and a hand-cranked air compressor. You can even put your head in a genuine vintage brass diving helmet for the full Tintin experience. That, and so much more at the 19th annual Divers’ Weekend at the Vancouver Aquarium on January 27 and 28, 2018. There will be diving demonstrations, activities for the kids and over 30 exhibitors to meet. All Divers’ Weekend events and displays are free with regular Aquarium admission, which is 50% off if you show your diving certification card.
This year, Divers’ Weekend explores aspects of dive training and features a series of engaging workshops. Learn more at vanaqua.org/diversweekend. Safe diving!
Jeremy Heywood is a Tintin fan and Ocean Wise’s Diving and Boating Safety Officer.