Mike Pinnington and the billionaire

The phone rings and the man at the other end invites you on board a billionaire’s yacht for a world cruise.

You get paid as well and it’s all good – then the alarm clock goes and you wake up!

A dream for most of us maybe, but for Mike Pinnington it actually happened.

Dive master Mike was head-hunted to be private instructor to retired billionaire insurance mogul Peter B Lewis and his partner on his private, ocean-going yacht The Lone Ranger.

He took approximately two seconds to think about the offer and then snapped the skipper’s hand off and soon after was sailing off on the trip of a lifetime.

It all started for Mike in Cardigan Bay on the West Wales coast in the UK where he began diving in 1976.

It was a natural progression to explore the undersea environment after spending many years swimming competitively for his school and state.

Mike explained: ‘Pembrokeshire National Park provided us with an incredible backyard. In fact, it was the first underwater park in the UK.

‘The coastline here in Pembrokeshire is pretty rugged and it gave us a great place to explore.

‘My buddy Simon Dorras and I would snorkel for hours when we were kids and later when we became divers we took it to the next level.’

In 1998 Mike moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands where he was inspired to turn his passion into a career.

Bob Brownridge, the famed underwater stuntman from Adelaide, and Gary Mawston became valuable role models and soon Mike became an instructor.

‘In the late 80s and early 90s diving was taking off in the UK to an incredible extent,’ said Mike. ‘I was pretty lucky I guess and ended up running a very old and highly regarded training facility back in Bristol in England.

‘I introduced PADI to the store and that’s when training really took off.

‘They were great days,’ aid Mike, ‘that’s where I learned the craft – being positive about diving in a quarry in January when there’s ice and your dry suits leak, well it tests you a little bit.’

Mike got his first overseas tour in the United Arab Emirates representing the Hilton chain of hotels and then went on to Hong Kong.

In the early 90s Mike found himself knocking on the office door of Rod McDowell at Red Sail Sports.

‘Uncle Rod gave me the break I needed to get into the Caribbean. I guess I never looked back then and became Operations Manager reasonably quickly and then as the company grew went on to be Director of Training.

‘That old beggar helped me more than anyone,’ said Mike.

Since then Mike’s been around a bit. He had a fascinating four years on Little Cayman running a dive programme at the Southern Cross Club.

‘I wouldn’t have missed that for the world,’ declared Mike, who then found himself further a field on liveaboards in Palau.

‘Getting deported from there was expensive,’ he mused.

More recently Mike has returned from that private contract with Peter B Lewis and brought some fantastic memories back with him.

‘It was a great year – one I’m glad I did,’ said Mike. ‘I was fortunate enough to go to some great places with great people and did it in style.

‘Easter Island, Moorea, Tahiti was all good, Europe too, but the highlight without question was Antarctica.

‘I knew it would be special, but what we saw was incredible.’

Mike was so taken with the South Pole, he is running an expedition there next year with one of the cruise lines and plans a second visit in 2006 as assistant to Sports Divers Ty Sawyer on a photo shoot tour.

The focus now though is on warmer climes and Sunset House in particular.

‘We have a wonderful location, unique to anywhere else in the Caymans and we intend to utilise it,’ said Mike.

‘Hurricane Ivan certainly impacted on us as a company, but we came back stronger than ever – and with a new philosophy.

Mike says he could not have wished for better team. ‘They are all young and raring to go,’ he said.

Their enthusiasm is more than apparent when you walk through the property at Sunset and meet the international instructor team.

‘I think I’ve got a well balanced crew – Sam from Texas is the older Statesman who keeps everything that needs fuel running and everyone else smiling so that’s a plus.

‘Little Jimmy Ridgeway has joined me from Leeds via South Africa. He brings to the boats an incredible wealth of experience in training, marine and commercial fields and Annie just walked in from Germany, although not quite literally.

‘She has a great attitude and will compliment the team and keep the boys in line!

‘So, all in all, we are able to provide first class instructors with a great place to work and the guests will benefit from these people,’ said Mike.

‘The guys have just got through Total Submersion week where we had 70-plus divers in or on the water.

‘We had some help, but at the end of the day the lads and lass did it and the group were happy.

‘PADI were pleased with the success of the week and Keith was smiling too, so at that point I knew we had achieved something.’

Mike still dives on his days off and while on vacation. He even throws in some quarry training to remind of the good old days!

‘In August I train a family in Pennsylvania, so its thick suits again I guess,’ said Mike.

Ask Mike about his favourite spots and his quick response is: ‘Without a doubt the Caymans, just because of the water quality and it’s so easy.

‘You have incredible topography, the walls still amaze me after all these years.

‘If we go in cold water try and keep me off Vancouver Island – it’s an incredible destination above and below water.

‘Mike looks forward to next season with eager anticipation.

‘We have all the ingredients for a great year. The crew are ready and if all goes to plan, Manta will be up and running after her refit and we’ll be back to providing the best dive experience in the Caymans – in fact it’s better than good!’ promised Mike.

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