Passion: A younger Bill Gillies. *Photo supplied
Passion: A younger Bill Gillies. *Photo supplied

Bill Gillies learnt the art of wreck diving during a golden age of sea exploration in Bermuda’s history.

Following in the flipper prints of Teddy Tucker, Mr Gillies has dived the most famous and notorious wrecks off the island’s shores and discovered his fair share of treasure sites, too.

Close encounters with sharks did nothing to dampen his passion for the reefs and diving; a passion that spanned more than four decades.

He told the Sun: “I started diving with Harry Cox in 1965. We knew each other from the Bermuda Rifles and he had a boat.

“I was interested in corals initially, but that quickly changed to the wrecks and historical artifacts.

“The third time we went out we found an old bell that we later discovered dated back to around 1550. And the seventh time we went out we found a Spanish olive jar from the 1550s too — after that I was hooked.”

In 1968 Mr Gillies and Mr Cox found treasure in the shape of gold and silver coins. The haul included 29 pieces of gold made up of gold bars, a chain and pendant as well as other jewellery that dated back to the 1500’s.

The incredible find was one in a long line of discoveries made by Mr Gillies during his diving career. He went on to devote his life to searching and then restoring some of the most important pieces of Bermuda’s underwater heritage. Mr Gillies said: “They were great days. Harry and I would go out every Thursday afternoon and Sunday.

“I knew nothing about wrecks until 1965. It was a long process of learning what to look for on the bottom of sea and accustom your eyes to look for the tell tale signs of wrecks.

“The equipment we used back then was very basic compared to nowadays. I had a regulator, a tank, a 6lb weight belt and a mask and flippers.

The retired diver added: “I documented every trip out I ever did.

“Often we found nothing, which did not make for very exciting entries.

“But then there were times we discovered real treasure. I loved the reefs. I was never that fond of boats but they got me to the reefs, which is where I wanted to be.

“Getting out there on a beautiful, calm, sunny day — it was like flying.

“I only had one shark that was interested in me. They gave me hell for getting out of the water but I am still here.”