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Diamond Divers from Whidbey Island's Cornet Bay hit the TV screen
Battling 50-foot waves and dangerous storms in a wild adventure to discover billions of dollars worth of diamonds at the bottom of an ocean half a world away sounded like Captain John Aydelotte’s idea of a thrill.
Longtime Whidbey Island resident John Aydelotte, his son, Jason Aydelotte, and a crew of rough-and-tumble characters from around Washington state star in the Spike TV show “Diamond Divers,” which premieres Wednesday, June 20 at 10 p.m.
“It was a heck of an adventure,” John Aydelotte, 65, said. He’s been a salvage captain at Cornet Bay for 37 years. He started the local fire department water rescue team and spent more than 18 years working with the fire department back when it was called the Cornet Fire Department.
“I’m not a TV star; I’m a salvage captain. They wanted reality and they got it,” John Aydelotte said.
As far as finding a real person more interesting than any scripted actor, the TV show couldn’t have found a better captain. With work-roughened hands as gnarly as his gray beard, John Aydelotte could easily have stepped out of “Treasure Island” or “Pirates of the Caribbean.” What gray hair peeks out from under his cap looks eternally windblown, as though he’s spent a lifetime on the water. A gold chain around his neck holding a real piece of Spanish gold salvaged from a wreck off the coast of Florida proves his flair for treasure hunting.
The show is an opportunity for six ordinary guys to strike it rich, Jason Aydelotte, 34, said. All of them had to scrape together the money to fund the adventure, a gamble worth potentially billions of dollars. The crew traveled to South Africa to test their skill and guts diving for diamonds in shark-infested waters known for dangerous poachers and unpredictable weather.
“The adventure that we had was pretty exciting and I’m thinking if that comes through on film, there’s gonna be some cliffhangers on some episodes,” John Aydelotte said.
“Getting to do an adventure like that and getting the machinery to work was a bit of a challenge,” John Aydelotte said.
Jason Aydelotte agreed.
“It was one heck of an experience to pack up in the U.S. and go to a foreign country I knew nothing about,” Jason Aydelotte said. He graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1996.
When the content developers for the TV show went looking for a charismatic captain, John Aydelotte happened to be on the board of directors for the National Salvage League.
“And everybody pointed their finger at me, I guess,” said the salty old captain who also starred as the pirate Blackbeard in a TV documentary about the famous pirate.
The camera crew filmed him at Cornet Bay and then they were off on the adventure of a lifetime.
Filming added to the complexity of life at sea, John Aydelotte said. As the captain, he was responsible for everyone’s safety, and having the extra six or seven cameramen made everyone more conscious of the dangers, he said.
“It also made us team up much better with those guys. They realized right away they were part of a crew,” John Aydelotte said, adding that they had been filming “Whale Wars” before “Diamond Divers.”
Upon seeing the final product, John Aydelotte said he was impressed with how the cameramen got the right shots and how well it turned out on film.
“I was awed by it,” he said.
Adding to the drama of the high seas is the Aydelottes’ rocky relationship.
“Dad, me, we get along at times,” Jason Aydelotte said. “We butt heads because we’re a lot alike.”
Jason Aydelotte lives in Anacortes and is an on-call diver for his dad’s business, Marine Services. He said the TV show gave him a chance to do something with his dad outside of the business.
Other crew members include J.R. Allen, who graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1979 and serves as first mate and mechanic for the crew; Marty House, of Forks, a diver; Sam Simpson, of Anchorage, also a diver; and William “Doc” Slettevold, of Bremerton, serving as the ship’s cook and medic.
While the show is about adventure and striking it rich on the high seas, or below it, the rest of the crew is as colorful and spirited as the Aydelottes and viewers should expect interpersonal friction.
“Bumping heads and alpha dogs all bound up in the same chain, you’re going to have some biting,” John Aydelotte laughed.
Despite the challenges of the sea, the crew got to stop in South Africa for some fun. The high point for John Aydelotte was big game hunting in Africa.
“It was absolutely the highlight of my hunting career,” he said, adding that he shot animals he’d only seen on TV and saw everything from giraffes to leopards to jackals.
“It was really cool to be out in the wilds of Africa,” John Aydelotte said. “It was as exciting as anything we did on the water for me.”
For Jason Aydelotte, this was his first time traveling so far.
“There’s different ways of doing things in different countries and us Americans are spoiled,” Jason Aydelotte said, adding that it isn’t as easy to go out and buy a tool in South Africa as it is in America and it took a long time to get items like that.
The highlight of the adventure for Jason Aydelotte was getting home in one piece.
“We ran into some pretty big seas over there, the biggest I’ve seen in my life,” Jason Aydelotte said. While he said he’d definitely do it again, he’d prefer to do so in a different, bigger boat. “We were all fearing for our lives!”
As to whether or not the crew obtained any diamonds, the Aydelottes said the community will have to tune in to the TV show to find out.
“I think it’s gonna be a really grand adventure in an interesting location. We’re dealt some interesting challenges. … I feel very good about how we teamed up and met those challenges. I think it’s gonna be a great show,” John Aydelotte said.