A 'Peter Pan' of so many talents
By Bill Exley : & : Geoff Baker
A tibutute to Nigel Froome of Guernsey from Geoff Baker
With kind permission of The Guernsey Press Office
The death of Nigel Froome while snorkelling on the coral reefs off Grand Bahama on 24 June 1989 was in so many ways a fitting, albeit tragic, end to a life filled with an abiding interest in the underwater world. Nigel was brought to Guersey as a young child in the 1930's and was schooled at Les Vauxbelets in Guernsey and Victoria College in Jersey.
The Occupation of the islands had a dramatic impact on his life as he was interned in Germany, having being seperated from his parents. He returned to Guernsey as a young man and worked with Johnnie Ray around the Channel Islands waters. Their interest in salvage work and fishing encouraged them to devote much of their energy, as well as ingenuity, to the design, manufacturing and testing of underwater equipment, especially breathing apparatus
.Nigel was wholly at ease in the water, He was a hero to the young men who enjoyed spearfishing and then became enthralled by scuba diving in the 1950's at a time when the exploration of the undersea world was hazardous but exhilarating. For many their professional lives have centred on sub-sea activities around the world as well as in these islands. He amazed a wider audience at the Vallette swimming galas both with his escapes from a straight jacket inside a box locked and chained and thrown into the pool and as one of the highboard Crazy Gang.
In 1958 Nigel left Guernsey for the Mediterranean then the Bahamas where he ran a sports diving business until his retirement in 1983. His diving interests took him to many exotic locations where he used his outstanding talent as a photographer of the natural world. He won a number of awards in the annual international competion run by Spectrum. His favourite retreat was Port Antonio, Jamaica, where he spent happy weeks each year.
Nigel Froome leaves many friends spread over each continent who will remember with very great admiration and affection the best diver they ever met, the talented photographer, an irreligious man who was irreverent to the point of hilarity, a wickedly witty letter writer and raconteur who loved roast dinners and gooey deserts (a la Mrs Mckenna) and huge plates of fish and chips (a la Frank's). Wagner played at full blast a perfect end to his day. For those of us lucky enough to know Nigel, he was never old. / Memories from Geoff Baker
An in Depth look at THE FIRST GHOST OF THEO'S WRECK
Friend and colleague Lou Lihou who operates out of the diving school at Grand Bahama Hotel says that the coroner thinks Mr Froome had a 'shallow water blackout', when the brain becomes starved of oxygen. He used to play a trick on tourist divers on 'Theo's Wrcck' (an old cement ship deliberately sank to provide a diving venue), says Mr Lihou.
He used to swim half a mile out to the wreck which was in 150ft of water then dive just using his snorkel, mask, weight belt and flippers, down to the bridge, which was 80ft down. He would wave back to the tourists as they arrived above him in their Glass bottomed boat. They could not belive their eyes, says Mr Lihou (a very close friend and Diving Companion of Nigel who had previously joined him from Guernsey)
He was soon given the title * The Ghost of Theo's Wreck * . - He left the shore as usual last Saturday, carrying a sandwich wrapped in a polythene bag with a 'joke-note' in it for the tourist diving instructor. The next time he was seen was by people in a glass bottomed boat. .He was dead and about 50ft under water with his hands clasped behind his back (in his normal swimming position) his snorkel, mask, flippers and weight belt all on.
Mr Lihou says that the evidence from this and Nigel's diving doctor indicates that he had a shallow water blackout and that there is unlikely to be an inquest. 'One good thing is that he didn't want to make arthritic old bones- he went the way he would have wanted,' says a sad Mr Lihou, . it is likely he wil be buried at sea.
My own Memories of Nigel Froome, an old friend I knew.
To finalise these Tributes, I knew Nigel Froome and John Lihou (or Lou) from my life in Guernsey during the mid 1950's, the Halcyon days of our teenage years. Nigel always swam using a synchronous, but strong style which, if there were a Mens' Synchronised swimming event, he would be there. His constant steady leg kick, plus relaxed Crawl stroke took him easily across to Herm Island, the annual swim of 3 to 4 miles, dependant on tidal flow, with many saying he could have done the return swim back. To reiterate the words before me, yes he was a member of the 'High Board Crazy Gang', a talented band of locals who I knew. They were always a popular and funny crowd pleaser at every Gala event, for Locals and Visitors.
Nigel was forever the Jester and so in the words above from John Lihou, , it would have been a typical prank from Nigel, to wave back to a passing tourist crowd from 60 to 70 feet under water. * I maintain he was the 'Original Ghost of Theo's Wreck' back in the 1960's - 70's *
One memory of him, was at La Vallette pools, on the top diving board, sat on a wooden kitchen chair reading a newspaper, with his back to the pool, with an enthralled audience of Visitors and Locals looking on. He would slowly rock back and forth, maintaining perfect balance by leg movements. After 4 or 6 times he would enter the deep water, and the event judge would announce ''Nigel can stay underwater for 3 or 4 minutes, or more''.
What the onlookers did not know, was that Nigel could easily swim a length of the pool under water (we all could), go slowly up the wall at the far end of the pool and enter a Preset Box of a foot square and into fresh air. He would be gazing out of a 'slot' to Herm Island for 6 to 8 mins, then return the same way to emege under the divimg boards.
He made a very good Harpoon Gun, which was crafted from one piece of Mahogany about 2 feet long, then shaped and Button -Polished, the gun was then finished off with a 'jewel chromed' retaining tube for the harpoon, even the hand grip skillfully inlaid with pieces of white formica. The trigger mechanism and brass hinged-barb being designed and crafted by Nigel.
I saw him design two other Harpoon Guns, which we copied with his help, firing the Harpoon either by two compressable B.S.A. air rifle springs, or half inch square rubber-slings. He then went on to design a self- contained under water Breathing Apparatus, using Pure Oxygen, but for shallow water diving Only.
The Mouthpiece with two flexible tubes and one-way valves for it to work, were obtained from 'Siebe Gorman' in Northern Ireland. (So it was a Closed System). He then fashioned a 'bespoke' Diving Jacket, all this worked, but only up to a Max depth of 30 feet, then Oxygen can be dangerous. The Lung was on your back and fed as required, in short bursts, by a 12 inch Oxygen Cylinder , mounted at the front.
Nigel then decides to try a new challenge , and constructs a very high quality Valve Amplifier, powered by KT66 Valves, all this from his 'self taught' electronics. Modern valve amplifiers are built these days to order, at high prices, by Marshall Amps of Cambridge and sold to world famous groups. It was a unique experience to hear 'Ride of the Valkyries' and 'Toccata and Fuge' for Organ by Bach, as a newcomer to the Classics and quality Hi Fi. - (Valve amplifiers are Rich in Harmonics so more faithful to a true, realistic sound reproduction) - B.Ex.David Kreckeler (my Cousin) a local author and acclaimed athlete, John Lihou (Lou), Billy Hill and I, were all members of the '1st. Guernsey Sea Scout Troop', (see my link at the end) In 2018 I included Bill's work/ thesis on the troop - 1946 to 1953 - by Bill Hill. My last memory of Nigel was being with him and 6 to 8 others, at La Vallette pool, one summer day, we were always at the 'Gents Pool', even on a Christmas Morning or 'New Years' day, for a Dip in the Ice Cold sea, for a 'laugh' . There are 4 open Tidal Pools, dating from Victorian times (1865). the Gents pool, Horse-Shoe pool smaller and open ended , the Ladies pool and a smaller Childrens pool. - Note the strict Victorian Modesty rules being applied.
He was holding up a huge Conger Eel he had just caught off the nearby rocks, his jointed Aluminium hand Harpoon was bent like a letter 'S' , by the eel's fight for survival. Eels are a ferocious and strong oponent to take on- with huge jaw and two rows of inverted teeth. *
I can vividly remember snorkelling (1950s) in a gully, only six to eight feet deep and glanced to my left to see a huge Conger-Eel staring at me from it's Conger Hole, I was gone in a flash. I would not dream of trying to tackle him in his own enviroment. They can vary between 4 to 6 Feet in length and weigh up to 90 lb, all of Pure Solid Muscle, so a monster. It is a Guernsey rumour, that a Lobster lives at the back of every Eel's home, living on scraps etc. - / - It is on record that a 110 lb Conger- Eel was caught off the Cornish coast in 1991
* But here was typical Nigel, prize in hand - with a comical grin as usual, on his face
Soon after, around 1956/57 Nigel was enticed by two American Millionaires who had heard of his talents, to work at a Luxury Hotel in the Bahamas. A short time later (date unknown) his close friend John Lihou / Lou also joins Nigel from Guernsey.
Last Revision made by Bill Exley on - / - 31st May - 2022
For Billy Hill, David Kreckeler and John Lihou / Lou - his wife Pat, still lives in Freeport, Grand Bahama - (Dec 2021)
links to - The Adventures of Mr Blex - or - 1st Guernsey Sea Scouts - by Billy Hill
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