Death of UK diver who expanded others’ horizons

Derek Edwards (right) with Rolf Schmidt of Sinai Divers
Derek Edwards (right) with Rolf Schmidt of Sinai Divers

International dive-tour operator Derek Edwards has died at the age of 83. The UK diver was best-known for starting the company Virgin Divers World in collaboration with Richard Branson’s Virgin Holidays in the 1980s, following the success of his earlier specialist travel venture, Derek Edwards Divers World. 

“During his lifetime, Derek travelled to many a far-flung place, quite often virginal dive areas, with the aim of opening them up to group trips and helping to put some of them on the diving map,” Edwards’ daughter Justine told Divernet

Derek Edwards in his younger days
Derek Edwards in his younger days

“Diving was his passion from as far back as the 1950s and he was a member of many diving associations from the start, and a pioneer of the then-emerging diving-tour industry – even to the extent of getting to some Egyptian dive-sites on the back of a camel to check them out!” 

Edwards was an active diver from his late teens, starting at just-opened Stoney Cove and going on to work in various roles including as a commercial diver off the coast of Cornwall.

In 1970 he took his young family to Menorca where he opened the Cala’n Porter diving centre (International Diving Club of Menorca), running it until late 1978 when they moved back to the UK. “He brought his love of scuba diving into many people’s lives as an international instructor,” says Justine Edwards. 

In the early 1980s Edwards taught diving at Ilford & Havering Diving Club in east London, and many of the divers he instructed would later go on to join him on his commercial overseas trips – following his debut as dive-guide and tour-leader on an expedition to the Scilly Isles and the wreck-site of the Torrey Canyon.

Edwards on a dive
Edwards on a dive

Derek Edwards Diver’s World was initially conceived and run from his mother’s spare bedroom in Hornchurch, east London. 

The company arranged group trips to now-popular destinations including the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Malta, alongside coach-trips to the Costa Brava; the Red Sea (Eilat and the Sinai, including liveaboards); Florida, and Caribbean islands such as St Lucia, Cuba and the Caymans.   

“The list goes on, as will the memories and the adventures had by many an older diver,” says Justine. “Diving the world, he was loved for his sense of humour and the laughter had on many a group trip.”

The business grew, and by the late ’80s Edwards had forged a link with Virgin Holidays and became its general manager of special projects, basing his Virgin Divers World operation out of Virgin’s Crawley office in west Sussex.

He expanded the business over a number of years before moving on to work with International Tourist Promotions in the latter half of the 1990s. He also spent several years managing a hotel and dive-centre on Grenada’s sister-island of Carriacou in the Caribbean.

In 2000 Edwards retired, moved to Spain and carried on diving at local sites, punctuated by trips to dive with old friends, particularly at L'Estartit and the Medes Islands with Unisub, and Sinai Divers’ Red Sea sites. 

Two days after his death, on 21 December, his family scattered his ashes back into the sea “so Derek is back in the place he loved the best, and off on his adventures once more”, says Justine. “He will be fondly remembered by family, friends and the diving community worldwide – RIP Derek.”

Also on Divernet: Dawning of dive tourism in the Red Sea, British scuba pioneer Bob Forster dies, UK diving pioneer Reg Vallintine dies, Wreck-dive pioneers celebrated in Cornwall

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