It tickled him to call me “Boss”; it tickled me that he did so. We both knew he had decades more diving and writing experience than I did. By the time I joined the staff of Skin Diver in 1976, he had already been diving for 33 years and had authored a column for the magazine for a dozen years. He had also served 14 years in the U.S. Navy, owned a commercial diving school, sailed a schooner around the world and written several books.
For the first few years I worked at Skin Diver, the Technifacts columns came in like clockwork, were edited and published without my having any contact with their author.
In fact, the breadth and depth of knowledge contained in the columns intimidated me. What could I possibly have to say to the man who wrote them? When I finally bit the bullet and phoned Cross—that’s what he preferred to be called—I found him extraordinarily easy to talk to. We quickly became friends. A diver since the beginning of the sport, he knew everything about it and loved to discuss it. But he lived in Hawaii and it would be several more years before we met face to face.
Ellis Royal Cross was born December 27, 1913 in Valley Ford, Washington. He was the second of nine children born to Hal and Dora Cross. Dora died the night her youngest son was born. Cross was 16.
In 1933, when he was 19, Cross enlisted in the Navy. He would spend the next 14 years there, learning skills that would shape the course of his life, including seamanship, communications, navigation, command, diving and salvage.
From April to September 1946, during Operation Crossroads (the atom bomb tests), Cross served as flag secretary to the commander of the salvage unit at Bikini Atoll. He handled administrative duties for the salvage unit, which consisted of 22 ships and 1,900 men and officers. He was in charge of the inspection and recovery of special recording instruments and took photographs of the newly sunken ships.
While in the Navy, Cross did a little moonlighting as a commercial diver. One of his clients started the Sparling School of Diving and Underwater Welding in Wilmington, California. Cross worked with the owners, helping write the curriculum. After transferring to the Naval Reserves in 1946, he went to work full-time for the Sparling School, serving as manager and chief instructor. In 1947, he became the school’s owner, changing its name to the Sparling School of Deep Sea Diving. During his years there he trained approximately 2,500 commercial, open sea, research and other
specialty divers, along with sport divers.
Cross at the helm of his 60-foot schooner, Four Winds, which he sailed to the South Pacific to educate native breath-hold divers about the bends.
By the time he became the owner of the Sparling school, Cross was married to Jere Lee Montgomery. Six years older than Cross, she played the trumpet and accordion and had traveled the world with a couple of all-girl bands. Cross and Jere Lee met in 1939 when he was stationed in San Francisco. They were married in 1943. Cross taught Jere Lee to dive using Mark V hard-hat gear and scuba. She often worked as her husband’s tender on commercial jobs.
In addition to the Sparling School, Cross owned Diver’s Supply, a mail order commercial diving equipment store, which his youngest brother, Ken, ran for him for four years.
Cross with former Skin Diver editor Bonnie J. Cardone in 1986.
In 1951, Cross resigned his commission as a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserves. In 1953, he served as one of a five man technical advisory committee to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Department of Parks and Recreation, in the development of the L.A. County Water Safety Program—the nation’s first training program for scuba divers.
In 1954, the Crosses dismantled the Sparling school. Two years later he and his wife bought a 60-foot schooner, the Four Winds, and sailed to the South Pacific. Their mission was to educate native breath-hold divers about the bends, known as taravana. He reported on this disease to the Hawaii Medical Association at its first meeting in 1959 and, in 1965, presented a report to a symposium on breath-hold diving in Tokyo.
The Crosses ended up living in Hawaii accidentally. They were on their way back to California with one of Jere Lee’s nephews onboard when the boy injured his knee. The Four Winds took him to Honolulu so he could get medical care. Almost immediately, Cross was hired by Bechtel Corporation as marine superintendent. The company was constructing Chevron’s tanker mooring terminal and underwater pipeline system at Barbers Point, Oahu. During this project, Cross introduced underwater TV and other innovative tools, equipment and work techniques to commercial diving in Hawaii.
In 1973, Jere Lee and Cross went their separate ways. She returned to California and went into the restaurant business with her sisters, Sally and Tally, in Inyokern, California. She died there on May 21, 1991 at the age of 84.
When the job with Bechtel was completed, Cross was hired by Chevron as a consultant/diver in connection with the inspection, maintenance and repair of the tanker mooring and underwater pipeline system he had just helped construct. He also performed marine life survey work and served as environmental inspector and advisor. He worked for Chevron from September 1961 through April 1983.
Cross met his second wife, Dianna, when he bought air from her dive shop on Sand Island, off Honolulu. She thought highly of him from the beginning because, she says, he was the only one of her customers who paid his bill. In 1976, Cross and Dianna were married in the Fern Grotto on Kauai, and Cross became stepfather to Dianna’s daughters, Carol, Linda and Candy.
In December 1983, Cross left Chevron and became consultant/ manager for the oil spill control and clean-up organization known as the Clean Islands Council. He retired in 1986 and returned to the mainland with Dianna. They were well-settled in their house near Port Angeles, Washington, in 1989, when my daughter, Pamela, and I were touring the Olympic Peninsula. We arranged to have dinner together and finally met face to face.
Over the years I had discovered Cross had a whirlwind for a mind. He always had dozens of ideas circulating in his brain and many projects going at the same time. Our phone conversations tended to be long and cover a wide range of topics, always discussed with a great sense of humor. Notes accompanied his monthly columns, written in a big scrawl on lined yellow paper. I found out later that he carried on a voluminous correspondence with friends and Technifacts readers worldwide, answering every letter sent to him on that lined yellow piper.
Cross was almost 76 when we finally met in person. Tall and trim, he was a physical dynamo, tending numerous gardens on his property and seeming to have unending energy. He was a handsome man, with striking green eyes and silver hair.
It’s difficult to write a biography of E.R. Cross because his life was so long and he did so many things simultaneously. He studied photography at Harbor Junior College for two years and took motion picture photography at Brooks Institute. He took writing and composition extension courses. He wrote several books, including Underwater Photography and TV, Underwater Safety, Skin Diving Annual, Science of Skin and Scuba Diving (co-author), Commercial Diving with Scuba, Introduction to Skin Diving, and Advanced Skin and Scuba Diving. He wrote many, many articles for trade publications as well as for Vocational Trends and Popular Science. He was technical editor for Petersen’s Waterworld magazine from July 1955 until October 1957. He was a member of the Hawaiian Malacological Society, serving as its president for three years and editing its newsletter, Hawaiian Shell News, in the 1960s. Three shells are named after him.
Cross with Zale Parry.
Cross also developed the Cross Conversion Tables for High Altitude Diving and served as a consultant to police, insurance companies and attorneys in connection with various aspects of diving equipment failure and diver accidents. He began writing the Technifacts column for Skin Diver in 1964 (the name of the column was changed to Cross Talk in 1999). It is the longest running column in diving history.
His overwhelming contributions to diving earned Cross every major honor given by the industry, including the NOGI and Reaching Out Awards. He received a special award from NAUI, and the Historical Diving Society USA presented him its Historical Diver Pioneer award, then named an award for him. The society also produced a video of him entitled, Interview with a Master Diver.
There are many things I haven’t mentioned. It would take a book to do justice to Cross’ life. He always intended to write his autobiography—he called it his X-rated Memoirs—and even asked me to edit it, but there never seemed to be time, and there was so much else to do.
When I was writing this article I wished I could talk to Cross. “E.R,” I’d wanted to say, “How am I doing? Have I left out anything important? Have I got the dates right?” But he’s gone now. Ellis Royal Cross died May 8, 2000. He is survived by his devoted wife of 24 years, Dianna, three stepdaughters, Carol Shervem, Linda Cochran and Candy Piccolotti, brothers Ralph, Bill and Ken and a sister, Ethel. The world is a better place because he passed our way.
Rest in peace, Ellis Royal Cross—we miss you.