In case you missed it, June 25 is “Red Hat Day.” If this is news to you and you are wondering what Red Hat Day is all about, it is a tradition started by the National Marine Sanctuaries. Specifically, “on June 25, 1997, the ocean lost a great advocate—Jacques Yves Cousteau. Rather than mourn the loss, the National Marine Sanctuaries choose to celebrate the inspiration he provided to many of us in the field of ocean conservation today.
Red Hat Day is now a National Marine Sanctuaries tradition. It’s a day to remember the wonderful films that gave us our first glimpses beneath the waves; the hypnotic, French-accented narrations that described the beauty of the underwater world; the new technology that made the ocean that much more accessible to future generations.”
In late 2017, Fourth Element introduced a special edition red hat in honour of Jacques Cousteau. We were among the first to purchase them and gave them to our staff at the holiday party. Since then, the demand was so great, that Fourth Element added them to their line as a regularly offered product (although they are sometimes in short supply).
Now you may be asking yourself why did he wear that red cap? According to the Historical Diving Society, “During the days of the standard-dress diver, enclosed in canvas suit and copper helmet, the diver was obliged to wear something on his head to keep him warm, because the breathing air that continuously blows into the helmet is very cold. It was even colder than the surrounding water, because by the time it arrived down the long air hose through the water, it had not only attained the low water temperature, but as it enters the helmet it expands slightly, thus chilling it a little more. Further, the air is deliberately blown around the helmet to ensure effective ventilation and to prevent any build-up of expired air, as well as prevent condensation build-up on the viewing ports. This adds a ‘wind-chill’ factor to the cooling effect.
The early divers would have used whatever was the common form of thermal head protection around at the time helmet apparatus was introduced, viz the 1840s. This tended to be a red woolly cap that was commonly used by sailors of the time and especially the oyster fishermen from Whitstable in Kent, England, the ‘home’ of helmet diving. A quotation referring to these hats came about in 1851 when someone described the oyster fishermen tied up at London’s Billingsgate fish market, selling their loads of oysters:
“Who’s for Baker’s?” “Who’s for Archer’s” Who’ll have Alston’s” shout the oyster merchants and the red cap of the man in the hold bobs up and down as he rattles the shells about with a spade”
Contemporary paintings of sailors and boatmen also illustrate the common use of the red woolly cap. Even men in diving-bells needed to keep their heads warm and so used the red woolly cap.
The caps themselves were of the ‘sleeve’ pattern, in that they were knitted as a sleeve. The two ends were stitched up and then the sleeve was half-pulled inside-out, making it a doubled layered sleeve, now open at one end. The open end was pulled over the head and the lower edge was turned up to provide a four layered band around the forehead. The red diver’s cap tradition was therefore established at the same time as diving helmets were introduced at the oyster fishing port of Whitstable, UK.
It is interesting to also note that the famous British diving equipment manufacturers, C. E Heinke & Co and Siebe Gorman & Co of the 19th century, included the red woolly cap in full sets of their diving apparatus sold. (Ref: “Another Whitstable Trade” by Dr. John Bevan)
Like those early divers, current divers find warmth with “watch caps,” whether they are the traditional red or the newer polar fleece versions also available at your favorite Dive Facility – Oceanic Ventures (yes, Fourth Element makes these too). At the end of the dive day, if you put on your cap you will get warm in record time — ok maybe a little hot tea or hot chocolate will help too.
So grab your hat, some good wine (Cousteau was French after all) and sit back and watch an episode of the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau…