Bentz swims in the shadow of Lloyd Bridges at Sea Hunt Forever

After being nominated recently by a diving friend, Brown County Deputy Sheriff Ron Bentz went scuba diving at Sea Hunt Forever in Silver Springs, Fla.

Below right: Bentz had to remove original yellow hoses from this rebuilt U.S. Diver’s Mistral regulator because yellow hoses were not used on the Sea Hunt TV

Brown County Deputy Sheriff Ron Bentz has a flair for excitement. He’s drag raced at eighth-mile strips. In more recent days, he went scuba diving much as Lloyd Bridges did decades ago in his television series filmed at what is now Sea Hunt Forever in Silver Springs, Fla.

Due to its crystal clear water and tropical environment, Silver Springs State Park was the setting for many Sea Hunt episodes, plus the movie “Creature From The Black Lagoon” and some parts of the movie “Tarzan.”

Bentz skin dived at the park at the Sea Hunt Forever Exhibition during Florida Springs Fest March 4-5. He learned about Sea Hunt Forever about two years ago, noticing online photos of it. Scuba divers are only allowed to dive at Silver Springs during the Florida Springs Fest.

Only 25 divers from across the country are invited to the Sea Hunt Forever Exhibition. Five were from Minnesota including Mike Nelson look-alike contest winner Joe Musial.

Divers act out underwater knife and speargun fights including a battle with a fake 20-foot snake. More than 2,000 tourists watch the two-day event, floating over the divers in glass-bottom boats.

Photo courtesy of Mark Spencer Bentz using a Porta-sub underwater propulsion unit at the Sea Hunt Forever event.

Divers must wear authentic, period-specific equipment. Bentz wore a 1961 U.S. Divers Mistral double-hose regulator with twin 72 cubic-foot steel tanks. He wore a custom-made silver wetsuit.

Bentz belongs to the Inland Divers Vintage Dive Club. He began diving in 1992 and trains with the Tri County Dive Rescue Team of Brown, Nicollet and Blue Earth Counties.

He has what is believed to be the only working condition U.S. Divers UDS-1 triple tank system but couldn’t use it at Sea Hunt because it was made only from 1984 through 1976.

Bentz did three dives a day and talked with tourists between dives. He said nobody was paid to be in the show.

“I got the itch to scuba dive growing up watching Jacques Cousteau and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” Bentz said. “Sea Hunt was a little before my time, since I was born in 1964.”

Four Sea Hunt Forever participants from left, Rich Merten and Eben Brown, Alexandria; Bentz and Brian Carson, Plymouth, Mi.

Bentz said he has enjoyed watching Sea Hunt episodes.

“I think it was a very informative show about the general dangers of scuba diving,” Bentz said. “I think the gear from that era was very well built since it is still safe to dive with…I had to spend time training for Sea Hunt Forever because during the show, divers don’t wear a BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) that modern divers wear. I had to get my weight belt adjusted just right to be safe underwater and remain naturally buoyant.”

The television show “Sea Hunt” starred Bridges as underwater action hero and retired U.S. Navy diver Mike Nelson, one of the most popular television programs that aired from 1958 to 1961. The show created a generation of diving enthusiasts.

Today, the history of Sea Hunt and the vintage scuba gear of the era are celebrated at Sea Hunt Forever.

Sea Hunt Forever shows began in 2006. Dive activities included a drift down the Silver River, loading onto a pontoon boat and riding up stream to Silver Springs Park, the head of the river.

Many Florida critters were spotted on the river including monkeys, descendants of those lost decades ago during the filming of the movie “Tarzan” in Silver Springs.

The Sea Hunt television series was a stepping stone for some of Hollywood’s most notable actors, including Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Dern, Robert Conrad, Ross Martin, Larry Hagman, Larry Pennell, Ken Curtis, Jack Nicholson and Bridges’ own sons Beau and Jeff.

During the first nine months of its debut, Sea Hunt was #1 in television ratings. The show attracted half of the viewing audience in 50 major cities, and averaged 59 percent of audiences in New York city.

Despite good ratings, “Sea Hunt” was canceled in 1961 due to the dwindling first-run syndication market. The series ran for 155 episodes.

“Sea Hunt” went into reruns in 1961, and has aired on various channels since. The series now airs on weekdays on This TV, a classic television and movie network carried on digital sub-channels of local stations around the country.

Bentz belongs to the Inland Divers Vintage Dive Club in Minnesota. He began diving in 1992 and trained with the Tri-County Dive Rescue Team of Brown, Nicollet and Blue Earth counties.

Bentz said anyone who wants to see a high-definition video of the Sea Hunt Forever event can find it at “Jonathan Bird’s blue World Sea Hunt” on YouTube.

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