By Fred Garth
When we reflect on our lives, we’re fortunate if we connected with a visionary or two who impacted our trajectory. For me, my good friend Wayne Hasson, who passed away in February, was one of those deep thinkers who saw the future and helped me write mine.
When we met, I was a brash young magazine publisher with more confidence than a sense of reality. Wayne apparently saw potential and invited me into his inner circle of influencers and also into his home. He and his future wife, Anne, had just launched the Cayman Aggressor, the first true luxury liveaboard scuba diving vessel. Truth is, they were inventing a whole new industry. The oil business was tanking, and hundreds of crew boats were setting idle in shipyards all over Louisiana and Texas. Wayne convinced Paul Haines, one of those shipyard owners, to convert a 110-foot crew boat into a floating dive hotel. As Wayne predicted, scuba divers fell in love instantly. Being able to anchor directly over the reef, eat and sleep there and just flop off the stern to dive was pivotal. No more slogging from the dock in a cattle boat across rough seas to the dive site. In fact, if someone wanted to climb out of bed at 3 a.m. and go diving, that was cool too. Plus, Wayne and Anne pioneered many of the amenities that are now standard on liveaboard vessels, such as a camera table for the ridiculous amounts of camera gear divers use. They even processed film on board (pre-digital cameras).
The year was 1987, and the Cayman Aggressor had launched a new standard for divers. By 1992, there were more than 100 liveaboard dive boats all over the world. An industry had exploded onto the scene, and Wayne continued setting the standard by putting Aggressors in Honduras, Belize, Turks & Caicos, Kona, Fiji and another in Cayman.
I was publishing Scuba Times magazine, and Wayne and Anne became one of my first paying advertisers. We were all still in our 20s, bubbling over with adventurous spirits and experimenting with being semi-responsible adults. Life was fabulous considering we spent most of our time on boats, beaches and underwater exploring some of the most pristine waters and coral reefs in the world. Most of my friends and family hated me because I was always jetting off to Belize or Cozumel or Bonaire or Cayman for “work.”
In those early days, when I’d go to Cayman I’d sleep on Anne and Wayne’s couch in their apartment, and they’d loan me their beat up truck so I could sell advertising to other resorts and dive operators on the island. Or, if the Aggressor wasn’t booked, we’d stay onboard. That was sheer joy. After a few years, when we’d all achieved some success, Wayne invited me to the coveted monthly meeting of the Cayman Island Watersports Operators Association, which was indeed an honor. “You’re going to sponsor the refreshments,” Wayne told me. “Some beer, wine, snacks, that kind of thing.”
I didn’t question his wisdom. I followed his lead even though the price tag was more than my monthly expense account. Nonetheless, I was able to rub shoulders with all of the major players with Wayne as my escort. Then he did something remarkable. As the meeting progressed, Wayne stood up and emphatically stated that the Aggressor ads in Scuba Times outperformed every other magazine they advertised in. And, everyone knew that Aggressor advertised everywhere. That was in the early 1990s, well before email and internet marketing had taken over travel advertising. His endorsement boosted our client list considerably, and needless to say, it was not the last CIWOA meeting Scuba Times sponsored. I was in the club.
During one of my early visits to Cayman, Wayne and I were having drinks at my favorite spot — My Bar at Sunset House. Best pina coladas on the planet. Wayne spotted someone I needed to meet and dragged me over so he could introduce me to “an up-and-coming young artist.” The 30-ish-year-old dude’s name was Guy Harvey. We chatted for a bit, and Guy revealed that he was a subscriber to Scuba Times. I instantly liked him and, once again, Wayne helped to shape my future in ways that I could never have predicted.
I was also able to reciprocate occasionally. At a diving trade show called DEMA, Jean-Michele Cousteau came by the Scuba Times booth and asked me to lunch. Long story short, he and his famous dad Jacques were in a bit of a spat, apparently because Jacques had moved in with his mistress only weeks after his wife died. Jean-Michele protested, and Jacques canceled the lease on the Alcyone, the vessel Jean-Michel ran. “I need a boat,” Jean-Michele said. “I have no boat.” I told him I didn’t think my 17-foot Boston Whaler would fit his needs but that he should speak with Wayne Hasson about chartering one or more of the Aggressor Fleet dive yachts.
The two of them struck up a friendship and ran many Cousteau charters all over the world. I’m not saying I put the deal together, but I nudged it slightly.
In the following years, as Anne and Wayne grew their fleet to 15 boats all over the world and I expanded my publishing company into multiple magazines, we spoke often. Sometimes he’d call with good advice, sometimes he called to rake me over the coals for something I’d written that he disagreed with. Either way, it was always honest and real and we remained close friends.
Eventually Wayne and Anne got married, had kids, and moved to Naples. On a parallel track my girlfriend and I got married, had kids and stayed in Florida. We stayed in touch but didn’t see each other as much because of the joys and pains of our careers and raising a family — school, youth sports, teenage years, cars, college and so on.
Wayne was one of the most talented topside and underwater photographers in the world. He was an incredible diver, a brilliant entrepreneur, an outstanding teacher and devoted conservationist. Because he knew anchoring next to the reef was critical to the liveaboard experience, he developed a way to affix mooring balls to the hard bottom. Wayne financed and promoted mooring balls in every Aggressor location and even let other dive companies use them. His mooring efforts spread around the world saving countless reefs from anchor damage.
I’m forever indebted to him for believing in me and sharing his water world with my wife and me. We spent many days and nights on the Aggressors and cherished every minute of it. One of the most special memories of my life was visiting Stingray City with Wayne and Anne before it even had a name. We’d anchored the Aggressor in the North Sound of Grand Cayman overnight, and he and I were both up for sunrise and a steaming cup of coffee while everyone else slept. As a blood red sun peaked out, we went up on the sun deck for a better view of the glassy calm, clear water. There’s perhaps nothing that surpasses that beauty. Wayne wore his signature clever grin that said, “I know something that you don’t.” I knew he had a treat up his sleeve, so I just waited while marveling at the intense clarity of the water and a group of orange starfish in 10 feet of water below us. Wayne casually looked out and nodded his head toward the horizon. Like a photograph developing before my eyes, six dark round shapes appeared and swam under the boat. He just smiled and said. “This is going to be cool.”
We mingled with the rays all day, caught a wahoo that afternoon and grilled it for dinner as the sun dipped into the blue Caribbean. Life really doesn’t get any better than that. My wife and I are blessed to have experienced the best that life on earth has to offer with dear friends Wayne and Anne. He touched so many lives, and I’m fortunate to have been one of them.