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Dick Birch: In Memoriam

"The only immutable Law of Life is change" - Dick Birch

When Dick Birch opened Small Hope Bay Lodge in 1960, he set the standard for both small hotel development in the Out Islands, and for diving as a recreational sport. He was in the first wave of pioneers that migrated to the Caribbean in the late 1950s and launched a tourist industry.

Dick Birch moved from his native Toronto to Andros Island at a time when there were no roads, no town electricity and only one phone in the area. And certainly there was no one else in the Bahamas and probably the whole Caribbean who had built a resort that was dedicated to recreational diving.

He built Small Hope Bay Lodge himself - its central Lodge and its 21 coral rock and Andros pine cottages - in order to create a place where people could find good beds, good food and good diving. Tariff in those early years was $12.50 for accommodations and three meals a day - plus diving. Times have changed, but we are still trying to offer a fair price for accommodations, meals, diving, snorkeling, and all the other activities we now offer.

Most people who first visited were free divers. Recreational diving was still something of a rarity and recreational certification was not yet a reality. As a pioneer in the industry, Dick Birch recognized the simplicity of diving as a sport - you just had to give people a way to learn how to do it. Consequently he devised simple methods of teaching people - this system becoming the forerunner of today's modern resort course. He publicly eschewed some of the certifying agencies because of their teaching methods, ridiculing them for spending more time in the classroom than in the water. Many took advantage of his teaching - Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and former Bahamas Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling, and world-renowned photographer David Doubilet were among them.

Dick Birch

Small Hope Bay Lodge grew in reputation and became the scene for a number of great events in diving: Dr. George Benjamin of Canada first explored and photographed the Andros Blue Holes from Small Hope Bay Lodge; Betty Singer of Canada set the woman's deep diving record at 348 feet there; and Dick Birch himself set the all-time deep diving record for compressed air when he dove 462 feet in 1962.

Because of these early adventures, Small Hope and Dick Birch became synonymous with adventurous diving. As early as 1962 the Lodge offered a no-decompression dive to 185 feet (a dive still offered today), and currently boasts one of the most exciting blue hole diving programs available to sport divers.

Dick Birch was also among the first to ban spear fishing at his Lodge, and strove all his life to have the Andros Barrier Reef declared a national park. He was active in the tourism industry in the Bahamas, a founding member of the Bahamas Dive Association, three-time president of the Out Island Promotion Board, and member of the Bahamas Hotel Association.

In addition to Small Hope Bay Lodge, with its 30 employees, Dick Birch co-founded Androsia, the batik industry of the Bahamas.

Dick Birch was buried at sea off Andros Island on June 11, 1996. The Birch Family continues to own and operate Small Hope Bay Lodge.

Dick Birch family photo
androsia designs 1973 dock fashion show
hot tub fun beach historical photo
dick and margo birch historical photo
underwater photo birch family small hope bay lodge scuba dive
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