Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Friday, June 8, 2001

TV boat’s real name
holds a rich history

In my May 10 column, I wrote that Mike Nelson's boat in the 1950s TV show "Sea Hunt" was called the Aquanaut. Here's part of an e-mail about that from a "Sea Hunt" fan:

"The name was not Aquanaut, it was Argonaut (as in Jason and the Argonauts).

"The Argonaut is a 1960 Trojan Sea Breeze, Express Cruiser, 34 feet long and 12 feet wide. It's made of mahogany planking with teak decks and brightwork. She is currently being restored."

I appreciate the information and stand corrected. But who, I wondered, are Jason and the Argonauts?

The group, I learned, is not a band of musicians, but a band of adventurers in an ancient Greek story.

The story goes that Jason, in order to become king, had to sail far away, retrieve a stolen treasure and return it to Greece. To achieve this the god Argus built Jason a ship named Argo. The men who joined this sailing adventure were called Argonauts.

The voyage of the Argo, recorded in the masterpiece Argonautica, is a celebrated Greek epic famous for its psychological realism.

While reading this story, I thought the term argo must have some kind of marine connotation. It doesn't. Not in Greek literature, anyway. But in French Polynesia and Hawaii, it's the species name of a fish called roi.

The roi is a dark brown grouper covered with iridescent blue spots.

Naturalists in 1801 named the fish Cephalopholis argus because the god Argus had 100 glowing eyes.

Common English names for this game fish are Argus grouper and peacock grouper, two names more closely linked than you might think. When a cranky Greek goddess named Hera got annoyed with the spying Argus, she turned him into a peacock. That's why peacock tails are full of eyes.

But back to my "Sea Hunt" e-mail. My reader included a Web site about Mike Nelson's boat, Argonaut. I checked it out and then searched the Internet using the key words Sea Hunt. And there went the rest of the afternoon.

"Sea Hunt" lives.

For those too young to know, from 1958 through 1961, Lloyd Bridges played a character named Mike Nelson, an ex-Navy frogman turned underwater troubleshooter. Mike was a bold scuba diver who rescued trapped pilots, recovered stolen goods and cut the air hoses of a remarkable number of underwater criminals.

In the beginning, a stunt double did the diving for Bridges in a Palo Alto aquarium. But when the show became popular, the athletic actor learned to do his own diving, and the show moved to the ocean. In its heyday, "Sea Hunt" episodes were shot in waters off the Florida Keys, California and Australia.

I remember one of these shows vividly. My brother and I had chicken pox, and my mother insisted we stay in bed. "But 'Sea Hunt' is on!" we shrieked.

She relented. Wrapped in blankets and dotted with calamine lotion, we sat on the floor about three feet from the TV and watched in awe as our scuba hero wrestled bad guys and yanked regulators from their mouths. It was the only consecutive 30 minutes in the entire week when I didn't scratch.

By today's standards "Sea Hunt" is pretty corny, but it was the first TV show about the ocean, and I loved it. Judging by the "Sea Hunt" Web sites, a lot of other boomers did, too.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears weekly in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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