*Photos: Scott Stallard, LookBermuda and Bermuda Sun file photos


N
ational treasure Teddy Tucker understood the ocean so well he could tell the exact species of fish just by the tug he felt on the end of his fishing line.  

Many will remember him as a pioneer of marine archaeology or for finding priceless treasure in ancient shipwrecks, but his knowledge of the ocean and almost everything in it was boundless. 

Mr Tucker passed away at his Somerset home on Monday afternoon at the age of 89, surrounded by his family. 

Teddy Tucker’s life story is inspirational. He discovered more than 100 wrecks in Bermuda including the San Pedro, which hid in its hull the precious Tucker’s Cross. He has been the subject of numerous books, magazines and films, including Peter Benchley’s blockbuster The Deep and his stories are the stuff of legend — whether of being towed behind boats with sharks in his wake or ‘hair- raising’ stories during his underwater demolition exploits in World War II. He has been awarded countless accolades including the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Medal by Her Majesty, the Queen.

Mr Tucker’s close friend and fellow treasure diver, the former Premier of Bermuda Sir David Saul, described Mr Tucker as a “surrogate father” and spent hours on the water with him listening to his incredible tales. Mr Saul said: “Since I was a teenager, we have been great pals under the water and on top of the water. This fellow was truly a national treasure — he, not quite singlehandedly, invented marine archaeology. Although people say he was a wreck diver, he knew a lot more about the sea and its fish — big and small. 

“He has taken my wife and me fishing at the Banks by driving the boat straight across the reefs — he knew his way in and out of the reefs. He knew Bermuda and certainly all of his life has spent a good portion, more than most people in the world, under water. I heard his stories right throughout the night fishing in the dark. He was a surrogate father to my wife and I — he adopted us a long time ago.

“He could have something on a hand line 200 feet down and he could tell you 100 times out of 101 what fish was there and on the line. We would laugh and scorn but he would bring up exactly the fish that he said was down there.”

Dr Saul believes that Mr Tucker should have been a professor for his depth of knowledge about the world’s oceans. “He should have been an academic but his service during the Second World War got him into underwater demolition... He had a mind that retained information that was encyclopaedic and he learned it from experience. You could see him as professor holding students spellbound but he went a different course. All of that knowledge and experience has been lost to Bermuda now — there will never be another Teddy Tucker.”

In the words of highly acclaimed National Geographic photographer in residence David Doubilet: “He wore many cloaks and many hats and they all fit perfectly.”

Expertise

Even as he approached his 90th year, Mr Tucker remained a vital source of marine expertise both locally and globally. At the end of June he was due to be the principal investigator on a National Geographic project documenting the Sargasso Sea with two of the world’s top photographers — David Doubilet and David Liittschwager. 

The government’s official Custodian of Historic Wrecks, Philippe Max Rouja, has worked closely with him in recent years. He said: “His work with the government over the last couple of years was pretty extensive. We did all the sea level rise work with (scientist) Steve Blasco at the Bedford Institute and he played an instrumental role in getting the Sargasso Sea Alliance together.

“When he got to know Steve Blasco, and sea level rise and climate change was at the leading edge of science, he said: ‘I know where there’s a submerged forest would you like to see it?’ and the scientists would say ‘god, yes!’ That was the art of Teddy, to cut through what could have taken years of research for an independent person.

“The hard thing to grasp about Teddy was how unbelievably connected he was internationally. He was connected to all the “go to” people. Every single pioneer would call Teddy, right up until now.

“He was my friend and my mentor and it has been my absolute privilege to be out with him on the water. His advice was always: ‘Do what you love and don’t push against nature’. He loved a joke as well — he was a very serious prankster.

“There’s a lot of people in Bermuda but not many of us are native — in the sense of being indigenous of the land and soil and ocean. This was Teddy’s ocean, this was Teddy’s place.”

World-class

Former Premier Sir John Swan described Mr Tucker as “a friend above all else”. He said: “Teddy and I go back a lot of years. He was such an iconic individual that no doubt he was a world-class man in a small country. He always sought knowledge and was prepared to share that knowledge with others. He put Bermuda on the map for his exploits and explorations of the ocean. I want to extend to his family my deepest sympathy because he is a man that will be missed by so many and in particular by his family. It’s not the passing of Teddy Tucker so much as the passing of a great treasure-trove of information. I say he is iconic because he has impacted the lives of so many people in so many positive ways. He had an indomitable smile, a voice that you could not miss and a handshake that was strong and profound and therefore once touched in any of these aspects, he was never forgotten.”

Photographer and filmmaker Scott Stallard knew Mr Tucker for 35 years and had the privilege of working with him and author Peter Benchley over the years. He said: “Teddy could be counted on to give advice, opinion and detailed information on the coast of Chile to the islands of Indonesia. He was a library of knowledge gained by a genuine interest in our natural world from an early age.”

Mr Tucker leaves behind his daughter Wendy and wife Edna. 


A life of exploration and discovery

Teddy Tucker discovered more than 100 shipwrecks around Bermuda, including the San Pedro, where he found the famous emerald-studded Tucker’s Cross. 

• Along with Mendel L Peterson of the Smithsonian Institution and staff from the Department of Armed Forces History, developed the grid system for surveying wreck sites in 1957.

• He taught Marine Archaeology at the University of Maryland.

• Mr Tucker discovered the six-gill shark in local waters in the 1970s.

• He was a founding member of the world renowned Beebe Project in 1983, discovering and studying deep-sea animals using cameras and submersibles. 

• He was the subject of Peter Benchley’s The Deep by Columbia Pictures and has been the subject of numerous books and films. Peter Benchley once said of Mr Tucker: “Teddy has brought the world to Bermuda and Bermuda to the world”.

• Mr Tucker was a member of the prestigious Explorers Club and was awarded the Lowell Thomas Award for Challenging The Deep.

• In 1991 he was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the Underwater Society of America,.

• He is a founding member of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. 

• In 1994 Mr Tucker was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Medal by Her Majesty, the Queen.

• He was a member of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology.

• He has worked with the National Geographic and has been featured in its pages countless times as well as Life magazine and the Illustrated London News among others.