Early years of UNEXSO
Editors note: This letter was written by Albert Tillman in answer to questions posed by UNEXSO for a project they did for their Silver Anniversary. It is left unedited because of the nature of the letter.
The Underwater Explorers Society
The Founding Years
The Idea – In 1958, the Los Angeles County Underwater Program, for which I was responsible, had become a prototype for organized civilian diving instruction. Other regions and countries were seeking its advice and involvement. The program actually extended far beyond instruction by initiating workshops and retreats in everything from night diving and underwater photography to the best ways to cook seafood.
Under the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation the program was politically restricted to serving the citizens of Los Angeles County. The created controversy whenever the program seemed to step over geographical boundaries. We went ahead certifying, in a provisional way, instructors from elsewhere by evaluating their records of experience. We even had a National Underwater Instructors Course scheduled for Catalina Island in 1958 and combined with that concept was the idea for a fully equipped diving center in a resort region where every diving desire could be carried out with full convenience of any and all equipment, facilities and professional personnel. Although politics thwarted that 1958 course and “diving resort club,” the general concept was the forerunner of both NAUI and UNEXSO.
By 1960, NAUI came into being as the national, and even international, embodiment of the LA County program. Skin Diver Magazine became a key sponsor for it and the International Underwater Film Festival that I began producing annually in 1957. I became Skin Diver Magazine’s Director of Public Affairs – which encompassed the Film Festival, NAUI, a diving museum, and other diving growth projects.
At the same time I was also engaged as technical advisor for Ivan Tors and ZIV Productions for Sea Hunt and other underwater productions. Frank Strean, a cousin of Art Arthur (a producer and writer for Sea Hunt), was directed to me by Arthur because of the diverse influence I had by 1962 in the world of diving. Stream came to me with an idea for a Sea Hunt Village, a sort of diving “Club Med” that they wanted to develop on Grand Bahama Island. At that point, I think Stream and Associates were trying out the idea, market researching my concept of what at that point of time would get divers excited.
I think I resented the idea of luring real divers someplace using the Sea Hunt name and the village sounded like another beach boy with a concession level of operation. However, Frank Strean is one of the world’s great persuaders and salesmen and he would have made the idea work.
That summer of 1963 I was running NAUI’s Miami ICC and Bill McInnes invited me and my wife Ruth over to Grand Bahama to discuss the resort idea. At that time the Canadians who wanted to set up a wetsuit company and had suggested the idea of a resort to Stram and McInnes were brought to my attention. I liked McInnes instantly and the virgin diving wilderness potential of the island seemed a good site for my latent UNEXSO idea. I suggested I go back home and draft a plan for a diving resort that would be unique and ultimate.
Strean, McInnes and Shefsky, (Pioneer Bahamas Ltd) evidently liked to see something in print and not just verbal … and my idea of UNEXSO was apparently better than anything that came before it.
Bill McInnes was the in-residence administration of Pioneer Bahamas and I think he felt the “Wetsuit Canadians” should get some kind of recognition. I had no contact with them but went along with McInnes’ request they be given membership at an official ceremony. Nice guys but they were no part of my UNEXSO concept or development of the club.
My “dream” was to have a fully facilitated center on the edge of a clear, warm water wilderness where anyone could just bring a toothbrush (we’d give them one of those if they forgot it) and learn to dive or go deep or explore possible Atlantis site with top quality equipment and personnel. It should be a club where divers could feel membership and join together in exciting exploration and adventure. It would be for “civilians,” recreational divers (I was feeling the scientists and military tended to crowd the public out of good diving areas and activities – and used tax monies to do it).
It is important to note that diving was moving from Skin to SCUBA, fish killing to photography, and car trips to jets. UNEXSO would push photography over everything else and provide the expertise and photo lab to let a diver record the great adventure without destroying the scenery. Killing things using scuba would never be a moral sport activity at UNEXSO.
This dream for UNEXSO never changed, it is still intact in my mind, but a number of individual aspects were altered. I had to learn that veteran divers (Depression Babies) already in existence would not be the major consumers needed to help support the operation. I also discovered how naïve I was about business, coming from a public service background. I discovered the other principals, the owner investors, my partners, (I owned 50% for developing the project) tended to change their motivations and philosophy – UNEXSO was to be a carte blanche full concept loss leader for the Oceanus Hotel and a crated tourist attraction for the island in the beginning but ended up having to be a self-supporting business.
Association with Sea Hunt
I’ve answered what I know about the Sea Hunt connection except that Ivan Tors had taken a look at sites all through the Bahamas for a possible “dolphin farm” as a spin off from Flipper. I don’t think Ivan was really looking for a resort involvement. He was my good friend and one of the first animal protectionists before it was popular. At any rate, in all of our meetings and conversations the Sea Hunt Village idea never arose.
Lloyd Bridges and family were friends of mine through my Sea Hunt involvement and a number of aquatic events that I produced. I asked him directly to be on our Board of Advisors and gave him a complimentary membership – and invited him down. Lloyd and his family rally liked UNEXSO in a personal way. Lloyd, Jeff and Beau were all good divers.
The State of Diving and Dive Travel
This is a book in itself but I will be brief.
I flew my first jet in 1960 to the Houston NAUI ICC. The jet made the diving resort industry possible.
“Diving Resorts” with a few exceptions consisted of a “beach boy” who pushed untrained people into the surf with shabby equipment. People survived the “ordeal” of the SCUBA experience. Experienced and trained divers had to spend a lot more time pulling together air, boats, guides, etc. than actually diving.
There was no connection between organized instruction back in the city and resort diving. The charter diving boat was the primary contact in most places when a diver was ready to have his first offshore diving experiences.
UNEXSO was to be where diving was a way of life and not just a part of vacation activities.
I visited a number of operations and spoke with divers who had been to destination resorts. I went “diving” as a customer at some (Paul Tzimoulis and I watched the beach boy at Lucaya Hotel crucify neophyte divers in 1964). UNEXSO was radical and I think I failed to get across my vision to the consumers we needed in the startup. There wasn’t anything that compared to UNEXSO at this point (1965). UNEXSO as it was conceived and operated some of the time was a high water mark prototype that should have inspired and spawned a quality diving resort industry. Some ideas did come but the concept of a club, a place where you belonged, you were treated as family and not as a tourist, didn’t seem to hold up, probably because it was not a volume marketing method.
UNEXSO was the first grand diving resort and it pioneered many of the classic systems of operations used in the diving resort industry today.
UNEXSO – The Underwater Explorers Society – was my idea and the name legally belongs to me if the business should ever stop operation (a condition of my sale of shares to Pioneer Bahamas). The name is based on my feeling that the essence of diving as a sport is exploration – not the physical sensation and not for any competition sport.
It was my plan with some hard business input from Bill McInnes.
I don’t have any records of how many members we finally came up with in the first years. We had a goal of 200 members in 1966 but note that the “loss leader status” changed. It was a private club but it wasn’t elitist. Most clubs allow daily visits, guest privileges, etc. We did screen memberships and revoked some when rules weren’t followed. It met all of the criteria of a private club and it made people feel they were special and belonged.
I chose the staff. Selection was based on a grid of 20 factors. Among them were integrity, underwater photography, capability, emotional stability, instruction ability, diving prowess. I made up lists of some of the top people from the diving world in each category then scored them on number of categories that contained their name. Woodward, Peterson and McKenney were good men and I would probably pick them again. Unfortunately, they were just employees and should have had ownership incentive.
Overall I wanted mature family men, experienced divers with whom I’d trust my own family and that is what we had in the beginning.
One area that we hadn’t been prepared to staff separately was the broad social program of activities apart from diving. My wife Ruth had to become our Program Director and a great deal of the club’s membership cohesion was the result of her programming and helping everybody fit in. She was and is the best people person I’ve ever known – and she gave UNEXSO that extra dimension that made it more than another diving resort.
We did go to local divers, mainly members, because we needed some territorial smarts and back up for the peak loads. Ben Rose was a special case because he knew every dive spot and fish surrounding the island and we needed to have local support. This was a long, complex part of the UNEXSO operation in the start up years and there would be many names to cover. We did train guides from other resort regions and were moving toward a “Professional Guides Association” when I left. We comped and used visiting professional instructors as short term guides.
My hiring philosophy will always be people who care about people and can confidently handle a group of people underwater. I can teach “territory smarts” in a few days and locals who have only that qualification are the the best choice.
We all named sites together but I packaged them and set up the “menu blackboard” with specials of the day. Ben Rose led us to some exotic sites we’d never have found. He took me to one great cave in the bottom I named “The Zoo Hole.” There were great turtles and schools of big fish boiling out of it, a great black coral tree and sharks we had to chase out to get the divers in.
Dave Woodward was very conscientious about safety. He did a good job with our regulators and put together the Octopus for our deep dives. The deep diving and night diving were complex and we all developed ideas and designs to make it safe and effective. Chuck Pederson was excellent at rigging special effects for film companies or equipment testing groups. One of his great achievements was getting a Seeley Mattress to float half way to the surface with a nude lady on it.
We did bring the first diving doctors together for seminars. Actually, UNEXSO was supposed to become NAUI’s international headquarters (our staff was NAUI’s top echelon) but politics interfered. NAUI’s great loss.
This is a tough one. It wasn’t finances that limited this one but the reality that I had too little time in the driver’s seat. We did have a possible reciprocal going with Acumal (Yucaton) with my friend Pablo Bush Romero and were exploring a branch setup in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. We were working on a Catalina Island possibility and I met in London with key people in the British Sub Aqua Club to try and get a UNEXSO branch operating over there. I did set up an Explorers Club on Fuga in the Phillipines in 1970 (after I’d left UNEXSO) but Marcos and martial law blew us out before we got the operation going. The branch idea is still a sound one.
Train the managers and personnel at original UNEXSO then franchise the new site with local money.
Actually we worked with front desks and concierges at other hotels, kicking back with a signup book by which they collected a deposit and kept it as commission. Although the Port Authority was supposed to protect licensed businesses, the interpretation seemed to allow competition to develop everywhere.
Every beach boy had a dive operation and then there was Fred Baldasare with blonde Kitty in the bow of the black glass bottomed boat. It was a dog fight we’d never expected. Someone would dump our flyers ten minutes after we had been to one of the hotels.
It wasn’t a craze. I believed everybody should have a chance to qualify through a series of sequential dives and make controlled, safe-as-possible deep dives to a maximum of 250 feet. It was part of our progressive program system where divers could log deeper and more technical dives each time they came for the rest of their lives.
We should have had on onsite chamber and had better checks before and after activities. I think John Englander once flew out after a dive and got a hit. But we made a lot of well organized deep dives with screened people who had one of the great experiences in diving. I believe that people should have the right and opportunity to try anything that doesn’t endanger someone else and there ought to be a controlled program to service them.
The only chamber was at the medical center in town. Woodward had to use it after getting bent during the Jacques Mayol record dive we sponsored. I hadn’t come on site yet. I guess we were guilty of not having a chamber or doctor on staff but we made excellent deep dives … and we did in water decompression.
We never lost nor had anyone seriously injured while I was there.
We just did a classy job of it. We made a ceremony out of it. It was a loss leader but like deep diving, it was for special people who deserved the opportunity (and would probably do it on their own). I think our “airplane formation” with a ranger guide leading, people protectors on wingtips and tail, servicing up to 30 divers, with helicopter lights from a second boat was a high quality dive activity.
We helped a lot of film companies in shooting commercials and just members who wanted to take pictures of specific sea creatures. So we would bring in hand caught “guests” and put them in our pen by the side of the dock for a few days. Some of them became stars. We were careful and took them back to their homes after a short stay. None died and they helped our divers recognize and appreciate the sea life much as our biology lab aquariums did with smaller creatures.
OK, once in awhile we would invite one or two of them to dinner – to be dinner. I wouldn’t have anything caged or captive today. I wouldn’t have a plastic shark either. It starts to evolve into an amusement park or zoo.
Woodward picked the boats, deluxe Evenrudes which were elegant small ratio (we prided ourselves on small ratio of guides to divers) vessels. But they were temperamental and a lot of special rigging was necessary to use them for diving. Boston Whalers would have been a better, more seaworthy and faster choice. We went through a lot of equipment racks and re-entry ladder ideas. I originally wanted to get some small shrimp boats from Carolina Coast but time ran out. At one point we had an old Chinese junk and we were also using member owned boats on loan to us.
We finally had to go to a larger boat, mainly for the long run for the day at Pederson Cay. We couldn’t spare small boats for the run, a losing proposition financially during peak days. We looked over a lot of boats locally but found nothing suitable. I found AMA on Miami River (had been using for racing and then importing Cubans) and I thought the shape and tuna tower gave it an exotic look. The gasoline engines were dogs and we should have gotten one with diesels (my error). But we did great large group dives with it and it was quite wonderful. I was sorry to see it altered after I left.
We were boat dumb but so was everybody on the island. We had to go to mainland to get anything done right … and that was one of the major breakdowns financially in the first years. A boat out of commission during a big earning period was deadly. A big boat out just about shuts you down.
I’ve already answered this. It was where diving had to go and the very essence of UNEXSO. Explore and record – Don’t Destroy!
All of us, the originals, were top underwater photographers and pioneers. I ran the Underwater Film Festivals from 1957 on so we had contact with all of the underwater photographers around the world. Rental cameras were a big loss leader for us. They got beat up and repair was expensive. We had a great onsite photo lab and divers could review a day’s shoot with our pros every night. Some of the greats passed through and got a little better for having been at UNEXSO – I think. The four top photographers from National Geographic came to UNEXSO to get good at underwater work. Bates Littlehales led the group of George Mobley, Jim Stanfield, and Bruce Dale and as we did with many groups that came to UNEXSO we supported the visiting group leaders. It was our concept to let the visiting leader have the limelight. We did this with fathers and sons also. It made people feel important and love UNEXSO.
Small Dive Groups
I still think small ratio, eyeball to eyeball guiding makes a great dive. I’d had too much of cattle boats and I wanted people to have personalized attention of one of the mature pros I’d staffed. Six was the max, four was better. We lost money at 2 to 1, showed some profit at 4 to 1, started getting “rich” at 5 or 6 to 1 (but it became less safe and more awkward).
Deep dives usually went out on a one on one ratio but cost a lot for the customer because we priced it on a “dollar a foot basis.” Small groups allowed us to specialize dives for special interests and distribute the impact on the reefs. It just costs a lot more to run the small group system.
When I got on site the staff was running two guides to one customer and staying out half the day on a $17 dive trip fee. I had to survey the times for various dives to come up with hour and a half runs, one guide to four divers, everybody in and out together, and so on.
I came on site to physically direct operations in July of 1966 (up to that point I tried to supervise by tapes, phone calls and quick weekend visits). My partners called in May 1966 to say I’d have to come on down and straighten the operation out or we’d be shutting the doors – we were losing money. That first 6 months was a shakedown period for the staff but by June of 1966 nothing seemed to be falling in place so that’s where I stepped in to fine tune UNEXSO and get it financially upright.
Price Rainier went diving with us, Mayol, VonBraun, Ed Link, Astronauts, Garrowey, Bridges, Cronkite, O’Brien, Orson Wells. This is a whole lot to cover. Many more. I’ll have to pick one, maybe my favorite, Arthur Godfrey. He loved UNEXSO and talked about it all the time on TV and radio. He had just one lung, from smoking, but he really ha fun on all the shallow dives. I remember boosting him up with his tank on one of the boat transoms and breaking his ribs and he just laughed about it all the way back to the medical center. I think he saw the club as a quality place that treated him in a caring, human way and yet no special treatment because he was a celebrity. We treated everybody as if they were Arthur Godfrey or the King … that was a major facet of the UNEXSO concept.
The best celebrity diver was probably Hugh O’Brien who I’d been diving with before UNEXSO. Good athlete, at home in the water, but lacked a divers curiosity about the environment. He liked an audience and usually showed up with his own diving buddy, one of the Lucaya show girls.
Werner VonBraun, Mr. Space, was the most enthusiastic; a guide couldn’t keep up with his swim away genius curiosity. I had a chance to introduce VanBraun to Ed Link and Jon Lindbergh underwater when we were supporting an experiment with submersible dwellings. VonBraun clicked his finned heals together 45 feet down and saluted; Link thought he was some crazed tourist until I put Werner’s name on the slate.
Probably the most memorable local members during the founding years were a part of the international community that served as waiters, chefs and construction workers. A lot of them traded skills for diving – we got the great logo sign in front of UNEXSO for a bartered membership. The wildest of them all was Vaino Vaino, a Finnish dry waller who looked a bit like an ancient biblical zealot. Vaino scrounged gnarled driftwood and created animal sculptures that we sold in our one-of-a-kind art gallery (called Explorers Landing). Walter Cronkite bought one of them. Vaino’s great joy besides diving was to put on his work stilts and appear as if he was walking on water when we’d take a tour group through the club. I’m sure a few of them crossed themselves at the sight.
Howard and Sue Whitman were a quality charter membership couple from the island. Howard was a well known radio commentator and Sue was a talented artist. They brought to the club a cultural quality in the early years. Sue took the fish printing that Ruth and I introduced to the members and made it an art form by inserting colors – her prints became highly collectible. We even substituted large framed fish prints for members who brought in trophy fish and couldn’t wait to have them sent to the mainland for taxidermy (we only programmed spear fishing on demand and only on distant reefs.
“Great PR Man”? – no way. I’m an organizer, a people programmer, that’s my recreation orientation. A playground guy who enjoys making good experiences for people. I didn’t do a good job with the PR, the marketing or the advertising. I was too full of my own vision and there wasn’t money to do much. We had to piggyback on Oceanus Hotel promotions. I used the Film Festival as a major exposure but I let other people create the ad copy because I was too close to the idea. I got very little help from Skin Diver Magazine (they weren’t into resorts as a market back then). I relied on our ability to place articles. It just wasn’t a very sophisticated approach.
I’d probably do the same thing again but buy some space in some major upscale media as well.
We went after American divers as I knew them through instruction programs and Film Festivals. At that point in time I only knew diving doctors, dentists and lawyers had the bucks and could get on a jet. I knew where the diving centers were geographically. Divers, including myself, up to this point had made their own equipment and had to stretch to buy SCUBA gear.
I didn’t know we’d have to depend on local consumers to keep the club operating – which it did but it eroded away some of the speacialness of the membership and overused the facilities. Frankley, the locals almost buried us in many ways.
The UNEXSO/SDM relationship should have been great. But Jim Auxier and Chuck Blakeslee had sold the magazine to Robert Pederson who didn’t want to house and support NAUI or the Film Festival because he was afraid of losing ads because of supporting one instruction program over others on the rise. So I really lost what should have been a great outlet that I’d helped to build.
I think they deliberately ignored UNEXSO after we got operating and I think I know the whys but I’m not positive. We could have used their support. No, we didn’t buy much space.
My son Tom maintains all the archives for the early years of NAUI, LA County, UNEXSO and the Film Festivals. He will gather the requested documents for you.
UNEXSO was a loss leader for Hotel Oceanus and Grand Bahama Island (the Port Authority gave them that choice piece of real estate – incidentally my choice of three sites offered – because unequal UNEXSO was going to be there.
But things changed and suddenly there was a mortgage and new hotel owners. We had to pay the bills on a lot of exotic amenities that probably weren’t financially feasible for a profit/loss business operation. Pioneer Bahamas’ principals said to go ahead and dream up the best club you can think of. I did without knowing it had to make money for the investors.
We did and were making money when I sold out. But I was forced to cut back to a barebones operation to do it. We were ahead of our time and would have benefited by the synergism of other diving resorts that came along later. A new government had come into office by 1987 and there were threatening overtones. My partners had too many other involvements on island that were counterproductive to UNEXSO’s best interests. My original staff had not matured to meet the situations probably because they had no profit sharing incentive.
I made a lot of naïve mistakes but the original idea of UNEXSO is still a great one and we pioneered some great systems, and for a short time we really did make great diving a way of life for a lot of people.
Some random notes:
– We organized the political pressure, with James Rand as the key figure that got Pederson Cay designated and protected as a marine preserve. A day at Pederson Cay was probably our overall best dive activity.
– We had to deal with US Dollars, Bahamas dollars and British Pounds in running the business – and learn to drive on the left hand side of the road.
– We could have sold the best gear at top dollar but encouraged members to get a better deal back home. They bought anyway out of respect for UNEXSO.
– People who took the short resort course, an idea and program that was originally developed at UNEXSO, were always referred to a NAUI instructor back home for a full course.
– People came back to UNEXSO for diving, an unusual happening in the fickle resort business, because we knew their names and that they had a dog names Rex. We kept info cards on members and encouraged staff to stay informed. We catered to their level of diving and custom programmed favorite experiences for them. We had a welcome marquee that said “Welcome Charlie, George and Billy Smith.” We produced picture stories of their dives to take home.
– We scheduled dives to cater to customers – fish feeding, explore a new place, photo shoots, cave and blue hole probes, and phenomenon events like the lobster march were spur of the moment offerings.
– Nobody left feeling lonely. We were open every day of the year, especially holidays when Ruth and I took out the dives and manned the club.
– We never let the weather stop the diving. We safaried to the inland blue holes and to the other side of the island.
– We had a string of unusual things and the program was ever-changing. We had a model school, a day camp, a museum full of diving history, a research library – people who could have gone anywhere or had already been everywhere came back to UNEXSO over and over.
– Our pricing was probably too cheap. We gave away a dollar loaf for fifty cents. I take the blame for this with my public service mentality.
Other wrong calls I made were:
– Aquariums and slurp guns would be as big as photography. Locals would keep fish as pets in salt water aquariums, catch their own and leave them in “our kennels” when on vacation.
– Create an artificial reef with mirrors and junk diving equipment in barren spots. When we dumped metal to 100 ft ledge the glitter and fluttering brought dozens of big sharks instantly – sharks we had never seen before or realized were there.
– The research library, which was my personal library donated to UNEXSO, never got much support and materials got “borrowed away, forever.
We had a grand recreation room with card tables, ping pong, billiards but its disuse led to a meeting room conversion.
– I wanted a great full-wall aquarium in bar wall of lounge but we got in a hurry to open and couldn’t work out structural problems. In hindsight it’s a blessing because we wouldn’t have been able to keep it up. I’d still like one though.
– The space given over to the underwater museum I had put together (originally for SDM) was bottom line merchandising space and represented a rather grand loss leader. But I still believe the Cousteau Museum (I had his approval for the name) was the heart and soul of the UNEXSO idea and should have been continued by outside sponsorship. We had some significant artifacts and at this point I don’t know what happened to any of them.
– I fought the idea of a TV at the resort. It seemed to me out of character with a wilderness vacation but I was wrong and we finally had to put TV in lounge to supply the addicts. I’d like to have had a 24 hour closed circuit TV coverage of the best reef available to hotel room sets and to the one in our lounge.
Better stop there – I need to save some of the stories for my books.
Al TillmanEditors notes: Below you will find a confidential report drafted in June of 1967. It has never been released until now.
Purpose of this Report:
The report is to summarize the growth and development of UNEXSO through a year-long “on-the-job” analysis by its President and Executive Director. It will contain some negative critisisms and confidential information and is therefor a privilaged document available only to legitimate investors and officers of the company. It will recommend numerous changes now in process and others yet to be executed. Alternative courses for future survival and growth will be recommended.
Historical Synopsis to June 1966
The origin of the International Underwater Explorers Society Ltd. is based upon the fusion of two seperate and original plans:
1. That of Bill McInnes and Frank Strean to build a Skin Divers Hotel.
2. That of Al Tillman’s to create a world wide organization of Underwater Exploration with operational facilities at key resorts.
Fall 1962 – Frank Strean approached Al Tillman on this project in Los Angeles. He was interested in the possibilities of cooperating with Skin Diver Magazine and other organizational interests existing in the diving field to help promote a hotel to be built at Freeport, Grand Bahama with a skin diving theme.
Summer 1963 – Al Tillman visited Freeport at the request of McInnes and Strean for the purposes of rating the natural diving potentials and exploring further hotel possibilities.
Fall 1963 – Al Tillman presented the original idea prospectus for an Underwater Explorers Club.
Winter 1963 – Al Tillman met with Bill MCInnes and Frank Strean and architects in Freeport and elsewhereto proceed with the creation of Oceanus, a complex of a hotel and underwater explorers club.
Al Tillman’s official involvement as President and Executive Director of the company to be established was agreed upon commencing in January 1964. He began the necessary planning and advance promotional efforts to establish the idea of the facility and membership organization yet to be built.
June 1964 – The International Underwater Explorers Society Ltd. was incorporated as a Bahamian Company. The company shares were devided as follows:
50% to Al Tillman
50% to Pioneer Bahamas (a company representing the personal interests of McInnes, Stran and Shefsky)
At this point, Al Tillman’s salary commencing as of Janaury 1964 was to be $10,000 per year with no obligations of residence. The 1964 salary was taken in the form of a Bahamian lot and the 1965 salary is deferred payable of the company at this point.
1964-5 – The plans were drafted with a great deal of continuous alteration and expansion from the original ideas. Membership materials and promotional campaign was initiated and maintained by Al Tillman. A staff was recruited.
Jult 1965 – Dave Woodward took residence on Grand Bahama as General Manager of the club which originally had been set to open at this date and now was projected for October 1965. At this point it started to become apparent that the hotel did not intend to cooperatively promote the two entities, instead to disclaim connection except in the role of landlord. This seriously impaired the planned promotions of UNEXSO.
August 1965 – The big USA convention, diving’s top gathering of enthusiasts, which Tillman had arranged the previous year, was disastrously held in Freeport which was ill-equipped to do the job and as a result many influential diving leaders were alienated to the area despite an all out promotional effort by the UNEXSO staff.
September 1965 – Chuck Petersen and Jack McKenney were brought into the operation as resident program directors.
October 1965 – The club did not open.
December 1965 – An opening ceremony was held but the facility was not complete and did not become fully operational until February 1966. The UNEXSO staff were involved to a great extent to this point in basic construction efforts. Meanwhile the time schedule on promotion and membership recruitment was completely disrupted and a great deal of effort became wasted due to the delayed opening.
April 1966 – The board of directors of UNEXSO met to discuss some serious breakdowns in the original plans. Pioneer Bahamas felt that the operation could not succeed without direct on-the-spot administration by Al Tillman. In turn, Tillman pointed out a serious misunderstanding about the terms of a contract which guaranteed $100,000 operating insurance reserve if it should be needed. Since Pioneer Bahamas did not intend to invest further and was unable to meet such an obligation, the matter of the $100,000 remained a moot point. Al Tillman agreed at that time, subject to the drafting of a new contract, to take residence in Freeport and directly administer the club under the following conditions:
1. A salary of $1000 per month be paid with $500 additional each month that turned a profit.
2. That 20% of all membership initiation fees be paid to Al Tillman as commissions as of July 1966.
July 1966 – Al Tillman moved to Freeport and took over direct administrative responsibility of the club and the company. At this point and to this date, no legal status has been documented as to the relationship to Oceanus Hotel which owns the facility.
In July 1967 Tillman wrote to Pioneer Bahamas and suggested several operation changes that should be done to save the original concept.
1. Set a specific budget for 1968 of $125,000 with expected revenue of $180,000.
2. Make significant cuts in staffing and “loss leader” programs.
3. Return daily control of UNEXSO to Dave Woodward with a larger but lower paid staff. In other words he proposed cutting the other highly trained, highly paid staff aside from Woodward. This included his own salary and position in operations.
4. Tillman would focus on an expanded marketing campaign in the US with a budget of $25,000 (included in the operating budget) and travel worldwide the develop the franchise idea.
5. Develop a stronger presence in supporting media and industrial agencies – an area that was already accounting for a fourth of all revenues.
6. Make UNEXSO a publically traded company with shareholders.
The operation at this point was turning into a rote business entity and Tillman related to Pioneer Bahamas that his role as an organizer and programmer would be of little benefit to the operation unless his vision of an international company were pursued. His recommendations came with a request to be bought out if these ideas were not acted upon.