Old East Chopper looks back on adventure, intrigue, romance


As a man reaches a certain birthday, he begins to think about his legacy, about his children and their children. What will they know about his life? If he’s like me, he begins to compose an autobiography or a less formal memoir. Mine might be entitled “All My Embarrassing Moments.”

But John Potter, author of “The Treasure Diver’s Guide,” (still in print since 1960 and a treasured reference for divers), called his recently published memoir “My First Nine Lives”.

The book begins in 1922 with his birth in Shanghai and proceeds anecdotally through his Harvard education into the early 1950s, when, after more than 300 pages, he sets up the next volume — his next nine lives?

This volume actually begins with an exciting story from 1950, when Mr. Potter was pulled off a train in central China by Chinese Communist soldiers who accused him, a former officer in U.S. Naval Intelligence, of being a spy for China’s nationalists. They interrogated him for 15 hours but got nothing.

One adventure follows another — he seems to have lived a charmed life — in this fast-paced narrative, broken up into short sections. Some of the adventures are business oriented, for Mr. Potter was early trained as a businessman, practicing throughout the Orient. He explains his business dealings clearly, a big help for innocents. Like business everywhere, there were some awkward deals involved, and eating and drinking with many friends, and romancing many women. The romantic adventures are offered as discretely as possible, some of them bowdlerized, as Mr. Potter, his wife Joan, and his large family, on East Chop, were considered the family’s younger generation. One modest complaint is that the primary anecdote about Black Tamara, a Russian “princess,” has been excised.

Mr. Potter has lived through significant history, its wars and political tensions having afflicted the area of the world in which he lived and worked, and he presents the history, from his standpoint as a participant, easily and understandably.

There is more to come, as Mr. Potter writes, at the end of this installment: “As I exited my first nine lives, I was already moving toward new lives in the future. I knew they would be rewarding and exciting. But not even in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen such events as winning the Big One at Monte Carlo, wrestling with a giant conger eel deep under the Mediterranean, as it ripped a 60-pound grouper off my spear, drinking with Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner…, leading the first big SCUBA-equipped treasure salvage expedition off Spain…,” and more. There’s much to look forward to, including John Potter’s charming storytelling.