Jill Heinerth, whose first job was a newspaper route in her home town of Toronto, Canada, is today a pioneer technical diver and instructor, a renowned explorer of underwater caves who owns a record for the deepest and longest cave dive, and a record for the longest dive into an Antarctic iceberg.
Heinerth currently resides in High Springs, Florida, with her husband, Robert McCellan, who is not only her life partner but her business partner, too. He has a background in concert promotion, as a studio engineer and a Navy SeaBee combat photojournalist—all critical tools at Heinerth Productions.
Heinerth earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications Design from York University. “It is a highly specialized and competitive four-year degree that puts out creative professionals. My advanced education is in curiosity,” she commented.
BHM: When and where did you become interested in SCUBA diving?
JH: I was a volunteer swim instructor and lifeguard at a local swimming pool when, at age 16, I got a chance to try scuba. I was hooked. I finally got certified in university. I had been wanting to do it all my life, but I had to earn the cash to take the classes. My early years in diving were in Tobermory, Canada, in the wreck capital of the Great Lakes.
BHM: Did you have a hero when you were growing up that influenced your desire to dive and explore?
JH: This may sound obvious, but I loved Jacques Cousteau’s Undersea Adventures. It was on on Sunday night, and we were permitted to have our dinner in the living room to watch the show. That was a real treat. I also thought the astronauts were pretty cool.
BHM: Diving, writing, filmmaking, photojournalism – which came first, how did you connect them and why?
JH:I had a small advertising and graphics company in Toronto and taught diving at night. The ad agency was the money. The diving was the relaxing bit. I knew I needed to find a way to bridge my two loves, so I sold the business, packed up and moved to the Cayman Islands for almost three years working as a dive instructor, guide and managing the marketing for the resort. In terms of photography, I think I have always been the person to document life and share it.
BHM: If you could switch professions, what would it be?
JH: That’s tough, because I am living my dream.
BHM: What do you do when you are not working?
JH: My husband and I have a really weird yard. We grow as much of our food as possible and built an outdoor shower, a yurt and a geodesic greenhouse. We love working on our mini-farm and yard art. We are also avid cyclists and paddlers.
BHM: What is the one thing about you that your colleagues may not know?
JH: That one thing is actually two. I am a painter and love to watch “Dancing with the Stars”. My husband loves watching, too. We watch very little TV; we don’t even have cable or satellite; we have to rely on what we can get with our antenna.
BHM: What are the greatest challenges you have faced in your career?
JH: I’ve faced numerous challenges being a woman in a man’s world. Whether it is in the field of technical diving or filmmaking, that said, the older I get, the more our world seems to embrace talent in either gender.
BHM: What are the most important attributes of a person who wants to get involved in the work you do?
JH: I think humility is the key… perhaps in all aspects of life. Tenacity is critical, too. If you have a dream, you can accomplish anything you set your sights on, but it will take tenacity and really hard work to succeed.
BHM: How do you prepare for the demands of tech-diving?
JH: In diving, fitness is ideally important and that includes physical and mental fitness. I manage to put in hundreds of dives every year, but I still focus on rehearsal and currency. I have a lot of diving toys and have to remain fresh and current before taking those toys out on a job. Then, Practice, Practice, Practice and always accept new learning opportunities.
BHM: What kind of person do you want diving on the same team as you?
JH: Open minded. Comfortable in their own skin. Versatile, creative thinkers and hard workers. ...
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The Red Sea: Discover Nuweiba with Charles Stirling and Taba with Peter Symes; Charles Stirling also takes us to the Canary Islands' oasis of Lanzarote; Discover the Wanli wreck with Carol Tedesco; Bonnie McKenna interviews cave diver, Jill Heinerth; Learn the do's & don't's of shark diving with Andy Murch; Educate yourself on managing narcosis with Dr Barry Fowler; How to use flash in underwater photography with Lawson Wood; Don Silcock shows us the B17 Black Jack wreck in Papua New Guinea; plus news and discoveries, equipment and training news, underwater photo and video equipment, squid news, shark tales, whale tales and much more...