Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, May 27, 1999

John Craven and
deep-sea operations

I told John Craven I asked numerous people to evaluate him, then come up with my own consensus word: "Unmanageable." He likes it, but argues that the trick in dealing with unmanageable people is to build an organization around them that will get them to do what you want.

A recent book, "Blind Man's Bluff," credits him with a major conceptual role in pioneering deep-sea operations. His team's successes include locating and raising a lost H-bomb off Spain, and finding two lost sunken subs -- USS Scorpion in the Atlantic and a Soviet sub 1,700 miles from Hawaii. The latter was well outside the Soviet search area. Multi-millionaire Howard Hughes tried unsuccessfully to raise it, pretending he was mining manganese.

A 400,000-copy printing of "Blind Man's Bluff" will be followed in August by a 1 million-copy soft-cover printing. It has rejuvenated his reputation, Craven says, and evoked interest in a book by him with the tentative title of "Tales of an Ancient Mariner."

I have watched Craven with awed fascination ever since Gov. John A. Burns brought him to Hawaii in 1970 to be the state's first marine affairs adviser.

His concept of floating cities to relieve population pressures got lots of press but no more than a constructed mini-model that was finally allowed to rust away. His idea for a deep-ocean research lab in Hawaii was one he himself had pigeonholed until Burns wanted it to help stimulate development along the Big Island's Gold Coast.

The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii at Keahole now brings up cold deep-sea water for agricultural as well as energy development. Craven heads a firm there called Common Heritage Corp.

In 1990 the then-dean of law at the University of Hawaii announced Craven's resignation as director of the Law of the Sea Institute at UH after 14 years even though Craven, perhaps proving his unmanageability, said he would have to be fired.

Around then Craven turned in 10 or 12 letterheads when UH President Albert Simone asked staff to submit to him all the letterheads they were using. Craven says forming organizations with titles and letterheads was sometimes the quickest way to get things done. All, I am sure, were with a public purpose in mind.

"Blind Man's Bluff" reports his pride in getting one of former U.S. Sen. William Proxmire's Golden Fleece awards for a 2,000 percent cost overrun on a deep submergence research vessel.

USING an art learned from Adm. Hyman Rickover, Craven made the DSRV program a cover for super-secret efforts such as locating the Soviet sub. One person who knew the truth was "Hawaii's admiral" -- Bernard Clarey, for whom the Ford Island causeway is named, then vice-chief of naval operations.

Craven is restored to an office at UH-Manoa to teach "Sea and Society" as an "uncompensated appointee." I highly recommend him based on past listenings.

Edward Teller, 90, the famed nuclear physicist, puts himself in a decompression chamber periodically, hoping the pressurized oxygen may protect his thought processes against the erosion of age. At 74, Craven may move to scuba diving for the same reason. Now he immerses his head, hands and feet in 45 -degree water at Keahole to stimulate circulation.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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