The names of Bob Kirby and Bev Morgan can be found above and below every ocean on the planet. Their names replaced that of England’s Siebe Gorman as the world standard in surface supplied diving equipment. Although the world uses their equipment, and each man is considered a true living legend, only a handful of divers have ever met either Bob Kirby or Bev Morgan. That situation is not likely to change as each man has become more reserved and private as the years have passed. There is now however, a chance to meet Bob Kirby almost face-to-face. In his autobiography, Hard Hat Divers Wear Dresses, Kirby shoots his story straight from the hip, and with no sentimental prisoners taken. Kirby tells it like he sees it.
Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in a water front bar, and a John Wayne sized guy pulls a stool up next to you and says “Hey amigo, let me buy you a beer and tell you some real diving stories about how it really was!” Well, that is exactly how this book reads. Like a one-on-one conversation with Kirby. It is a roller coaster of Kirby’s deep sea diving adventures, some good, some bad, some funny, some sad, through the last half of the 20th century. And Kirby has pretty much written like he would have told it, although he admits to having reluctantly eliminated much of “my beloved and frequent swearing.” Even with this minor vocabulary restriction, the book is definitely not one for your grandmother.
Starting out in the early 1950’s with his US Navy diving career and moving on to abalone diving, Kirby wheels out a cast of misfits who find a base in Southern California and eke a living off the sea bed. Bob Ratcliffe, Lad Handelman, Whitey Steffens, Jerry Todd, George Rebuck and Glen Bickford all surface in this early period as do Kirby’s equipment design talents. Kirby eventually migrates to work as a diver in Santa Barbara and describes the divers, companies and jobs of that period. Here there are adventures with white sharks, old and dangerous equipment and the young off-shore oil industry. Kirby joins Associated Divers and, with assistance from others, develops and builds his famous helium recirculator helmet. He also meets Bev Morgan, who in addition to his diving skills, has a background in fiberglass molding from his involvement in surfing. The two divers combine their skills and the Kirby Morgan company is born.
From the early 1960s Kirby’s talents with metal and Morgan’s with fiberglass produce an ever evolving line of cutting edge equipment that kept up with the demands of the military and commercial markets. With a good dose of humor Kirby recounts the joy, despair, love, hate and ongoing dramas of their partnership as their fortunes rise and fall. Crooked business partners, law suits, commercial diving, military contracts and Hollywood all add to Kirby’s colorful escapades through the world of professional diving. But it is the recollections of equipment design and manufacture, that really make this an important addition to any diver’s library. Kirby’s insights into why the USN chose the Mark XII, his work with Morgan, and how he came to build the helmets for Jim Cameron’s movie The Abyss, highlight the technical side of Kirby’s character. The book also contains numerous unique photos from Kirby’s career including some of his helmets.
Self published by Kirby, with warts and all, and limited to only 1,000 copies, Hard Hat Divers Wear Dresses will appeal to anyone who has a passion for diving, be it commercial, recreational, technical or military. All copies are hardbound, and individually numbered and signed by Kirby. As the story of one of diving’s few living legends, it will stand as a personal record of one mans unique journey through an industry at its prime. More on Kirby’s career can be found in the HDS DVD Bob Kirby on building and restoring copper diving helmets available at our eBay store. Bob is a former director of the HDS which is the sole vendor of this title. – Leslie Leaney, Publisher, Historical Diver Magazine. including some of his helmets.
By: Bob Kirby
Perfect bound 262 pages with b&w photos and diagrams