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.