March 14, 2014 9:18 pm
Updated: March 14, 2014 9:36 pm

B.C. diving community celebrates 25th anniversary of the sinking of the Emerald Princess

The Emerald Princess

Photos courtesy of Doug Pemberton and Neil McDaniel

One of B.C.’s most famous underwater attractions is celebrating an important milestone.

The world famous Emerald Princess was lowered into the waters near Powell River on March 16th, 1989 — 25 years ago.

It is a 575-pound, nine-foot tall bronze mermaid statue that now sits 60 feet below the surface in Saltery Bay Provincial Park.

It is the creation of local sculptor Simon Morris.

But Morris says the wife of Jim Willoughby, a local diving legend, takes all the credit for coming up with the idea.

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“It was Jodi who said we should put a mermaid under water for divers, and that got us started.”

In 1986, Willoughby met Morris in a pub and started talking about the idea for the Mermaid.

“He said, I’d like to try that,” says Willoughby.

The two started drawing pictures, until Morris came up with a concept he liked.

And the, says Willoughby, he started carving.

“The guy was a magician. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life,” he says.

Once the sculpture was finished, the duo scouted a big boulder as a permanent home for the Emerald Princess.

“I designed the Mermaid such that she could brush against it. On the left side of her tail are two rods sticking out and we pre-drilled holes in the granite boulder,” says Morris.

With the help of a crane and a lift bag, the Mermaid was lowered to its permanent home at the bottom of Saltery Bay.

“We were looking for a spot that was going to be easily accessible for a shore dive, so that divers of all levels could dive there,” says Morris.

In the last 25 years, the statue has attracted divers from around the world.

Celebrities and explorers like Prince Philip and the Cousteau family have visited B.C.’s only underwater sculpture.

84-year-old Willoughby says he travelled around the world to tell people about the Mermaid.

“When I quit diving, that stopped. Compared to what there used to be, there are very few divers around town now,” says Willoughby.

“Powell River is a long way from Vancouver, it does not have a high population. The dive shops have come and gone for a long time,” says Morris. “I am hoping [it] will see a Renaissance as far as dive shops, because the diving up there is absolutely world class.”

Willoughby says he used to dive in the area regularly, occasionally giving the Emerald Princess a good sweep.

But in recent years, she has been weathered by marine growth and salt water.

WATCH: The lowering of the Emerald Princess

Morris has last visited the Mermaid last March and says she is in very good shape.

“She is pretty clean and we keep her protected with cathodic zinc, just like you protect boat propellers in sea water, so after 25 years, she still looks pretty good.”

Morris says in 2000, another casting of the Princess was sank in Grand Cayman in the Caribbean.

In April 11, another of Morris’ creations — 13-foot tall Guardian of the Deep — will be lowered in the same area.

On Saturday, the community of Powell River will be celebrating the Mermaid.

There will be a non-sanctioned public dive for anyone to take part in.

A dinner celebration will also be held at Beach Gardens Resort & Marine. There will be an open mic for anyone wishing to shares their “Mermaid” stories and memories.

For details, click here.

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