Title: “From Escape to Escapism: The AquaScooter’s Remarkable Journey”
In June 1980, SOLDER OF FORTUNE Magazine recounted a remarkable tale of ingenuity, perseverance, and escape that began in the icy waters of the North Sea. Bernd Boettger, a chemical technician, found himself in the throes of a daring escape from East Germany. His journey took an unexpected turn when he conceived and constructed a unique underwater machine that would forever change the world of diving.
The Desperate Escape: Boettger’s initial attempt to escape East Germany on his own failed miserably. The sea was treacherous, the waters frigid, and the distance insurmountable. As he gazed at the distant Danish lightship, Gedser, his beacon of freedom, he suffered a crippling cramp. Struggling against the odds, he clung to a makeshift underwater machine he had crafted himself.
A Mile Out to Sea: Despite the odds, Boettger’s determination propelled him across the choppy sea. He navigated by the North Star, shivering in his wet suit and heavy sweater. Nearly five hours later, he finally spotted the Gedser’s twin flashes, a glimmer of hope on the horizon. When the lightship’s crew hauled him and his water-machine aboard, Boettger had completed his first successful test run.
The Birth of AquaScooter: Bernd Boettger’s prototype AquaScooter was born from the crucible of escape. The machine was his brainchild, a device that needed to meet specific criteria: it had to be quiet, capable of pulling him underwater, store sufficient fuel for a 15-mile journey, and, most crucially, it had to work on the first try.
The Machine’s Anatomy: Boettger’s water-scooter was a meticulous creation. Weighing 22 pounds, it consisted of a fiberglass tank, a 1 1/2-HP scooter motor, a propeller, and a snorkel-equipped breathing unit. The tank held fuel in one compartment, while the other contained the flotation unit, engine air, a muffler, and the breathing apparatus.
The Great Escape: Boettger embarked on his escape from Bad Warnemuende, Germany, on a starry September night in 1968. His underwater journey began as he sank beneath the surface, skimming just a foot and a half below the waterline to avoid coastal watchtower guards. He let the AquaScooter silently propel him through the frigid waters, occasionally surfacing to ensure he wasn’t pursued.
Provisions and Safety: Boettger was prepared for the long voyage. He carried a second belt with provisions, including Vitamin C and a mixture of sugar, chocolate, and milk. A small rubber balloon held precious drinking water. Safety equipment, including a rolled-up air mattress and tools for in-sea repairs, were strapped to his back.
Silent Escape: For over two hours, Boettger swam in total darkness, keeping an eye out for potential pursuers. He gripped the pipe beneath the scooter, with the propeller turning just inches from his nose. He ventured into uncharted territory, hidden beneath the waves.
A Triumph of Innovation: After hours of underwater silence and determination, Boettger finally spotted the Gedser’s signal lights. It took three more grueling hours before the ship’s watch caught sight of him. He had made it.
The Legacy of AquaScooter: While Bernd Boettger’s life took a tragic turn in the early 1970s when he perished in a diving accident off the coast of Spain, his ingenious AquaScooter found a new life. James Taylor brought the AquaScooter to the United States, forming AquaScooter Inc. for its distribution. By January 1978, the first commercial AquaScooter prototype successfully tested, marking the beginning of a new era in underwater exploration.
Bernd Boettger’s escape and his creation, the AquaScooter, serve as a testament to the human spirit’s boundless ingenuity and determination. From the depths of the North Sea to the world of underwater exploration, this remarkable journey continues to inspire.