Deep Dive On The Tangaroa
According to Māori mythology, Tangaroa is the guardian of the sea and one of the great gods, the son of Father Sky and Mother Earth. The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, and much of their extensive tradition is grounded in the natural world, a world in which Tom Campbell and Beth Davidow have carved out long and exciting careers.
Campbell and Davidow have lived in New Zealand part time for 17 years, spending much of their time there on the water, so when they finally took ownership of their Maritimo M51 after two years of planning and six years of careful research, they aptly chose to affix the name Tangaroa to her transom.
The couple did not decide on the Maritimo because of its striking good looks—although those certainly didn’t hurt. For them, it was the boat’s functionality that won them over. They planned to live aboard and push Tangaroa to her absolute limits by using her as an expedition vessel to continue pursuing their careers and passion as underwater cinematographers.
“When you look for a boat that you’re going to buy, especially if you’re going to live aboard, you need to look at all of the factors that you need to survive doing what you do,” says Campbell. For Campbell and Davidow, that means diving, underwater filming and venturing off to remote locations to get up close with the creatures that live there.
Campbell, who is 79, didn’t grow up on the water, even though he has built his entire career around it. “I was born on a farm in North Dakota,” he says. “I didn’t even know there was an ocean.” When his father was discharged after serving in World War II, however, he moved the family to Washington state, where Campbell would skip class to hop on the nearby train to go hunting and fishing, cementing his love for the outdoors.
When Campbell was 15, his father moved the family once again, this time to Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Not one for the cold, he turned his gaze to the television, where he fell in love with Jacques Cousteau and Sea Hunt with LLoyd Bridges. “That made a big impact on me, because it was all about SCUBA diving,” Campbell says. “The very first
Campbell became a certified diver in 1958. He was working as an apprentice mechanic after dropping out of high school when he de- cided that he wanted to join the military and become a professional diver. He sold all of his belongings and moved to Santa Monica, California, where he spent every day diving and getting in shape before joining the Special Forces unit of the Marine Corps. He then spent six years diving, parachuting, mountaineering, working on submarines and leading 20 Vietnamese Special Forces commandos through highly covert operations organized by the CIA. “It was a very exciting time, and it really launched my diving career,” Camp- bell recalls.
Campbell always dabbled in photography, but he really turned his focus to it when he left the Marine Corps. He started taking pictures while working for the California Highway Patrol in Los Angeles—a high-speed job that sometimes involved pulling people out of burn- ing cars and delivering babies on the side of the freeway. He even taught photography classes for other members of the Highway Pa- trol in Sacramento. “My goal was to stay with the Highway Patrol until I made enough money as a photographer and cinematographer to move full-time into my third career, which I did,” Campbell says.
While it seems hard to top his first two action-packed careers, Campbell’s early work as a photographer brought its own share of adventure. He became close friends with John Travolta, met many other celebrities in Santa Barbara, including Kenny Loggins, and was personally invited to the White House by Nancy Reagan to “meet her and Ronnie.” But amidst the fame and glory, Campbell maintained a keen business sense.
“I changed from still photography to cinematography when digital cameras came out because I felt like the market for photography work was going to die, and I was 100 percent correct,” Campbell says. “Many people could Photoshop very easily on their computers. It didn’t matter if they didn’t understand the photographic world that much.”
In 1997, Campbell branched off yet again into a new industry, one that allowed him to combine his passions for diving and working behind a camera. He was part of the first crew to shoot large format underwater cinematography in high definition, and he was so ahead of the game that he could not sell his footage for a year and a half because major television networks, including National Geographic, Discovery and the BBC, had not yet made the switch to HD. He spent 10 years traveling the world as the production manager for a Saudi sheik, shooting underwater documentaries for the Save Our Seas foundation, and he continually upgraded his format as tech- nology advanced, moving to 4K, 5K and now 8K cameras. In 2004, he attended the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Montana, where he met Beth Davidow.
While Campbell admittedly stumbled into his wildlife cinema- tography career, Davidow, 58, was born for the job. Her close en- counters with wildlife began when she was a child growing up in Miami, Florida, where she would canoe, birdwatch, study creatures in the ocean and take marine biology classes at the local museum. While studying natural history, geology and biology in college, she worked as a naturalist for the National Park Service. After finishing her master’s degree in vertebrate paleontology, she began working on expedition ships, taking trips to the Inside Passage, Sea of Cortez and Caribbean, as well as 14 trips to Antarctica. In 1998, she became a certified SCUBA diver.
“For me, diving was more about being able to take pictures underwater than it was about being able to experience the diving,” says Davidow, who worked as a wildlife photographer for 20 years, often writing magazine articles to accompany her photographs. “It reached a point where I wanted to tell stories in a different way, and that’s when I turned to cinematography to use motion images rather than stills.” That desire brought her to the film festival where she met Campbell.
It’s mid-August when I speak with Campbell and Davidow. They have just arrived in La Paz, Mexico, after spending six weeks tied up in Ensenada and months before that in Newport Beach, California, where their cruising adventures had been put on pause since mid-March by the coronavirus pandemic. With the world slowly reopening and more and more cruisers throwing lines, Campbell and Davidow plan to head out into the Sea of Cortez for their first film project aboard Tangaroa.
The Maritimo is Tom’s sixth boat, and the third boat that he and Davidow purchased together. While this is their first time formally living aboard full-time, they have plenty of nautical miles and nights at sea under their belts, including many spent aboard a 35-foot Cabo they owned together for 10 years.
“We were doing a shoot for BBC that had to do with whales and manta rays, and they said they were having trouble with budget and weren’t able to find a boat they could afford,” Campbell recalls. “I said, ‘I have your boat.’” Campbell and Davidow brought the Cabo to the Sea of Cortez for a year, where they would stay on board for up to a month at a time with a two-person film crew and a scientist. After selling the Cabo, they purchased another boat, which they kept in New Zealand. They enjoyed that boat for four years, but they had fixed their sights on a Maritimo back in 2014, and it was time to make their dream a reality.
Campbell and Davidow might still be searching for the perfect used Maritimo had Dave Northrop, President of Maritimo North America, not convinced them that they could own a new boat. “I don’t think you need to be a multimillionaire to buy a boat like this,” Campbell says. “In fact, I know you don’t.” To purchase the boat of their dreams, Campbell and Davidow sold their boat in Australia and a piece of property. But those were small sacrifices to make for a vessel capable of transporting them to remote destinations across the globe to fulfill the couple’s perpetual drive for adventure.
And adventure is exactly what their M51 is equipped for. “We kept a checklist of pluses and minuses quite religiously, and that’s where the Maritimo shined above everything else,” says Campbell. One of the boat’s standout features is its enormous amount of storage. At the flip of a switch, they can lift the entire back end of the boat to reveal a lazarette spacious enough to house their watermaker, dive compressor, masks, snorkels, fins and wetsuits. And Campbell and Davidow have wetsuits for warm, moderately warm and cold water, as well as a dry suit for extremely cold water. The lazarette also houses ex- tra regulators and backups for most of their diving equipment. “We keep all that there, and when we lift the back end up, we still have room,” Campbell says.
The other necessity for Campbell and Davidow’s line of work is the ability to travel far offshore in remote destinations without having to worry about refueling. Once again the Maritimo delivers. With an additional 200-gallon fuel tank installed in the bow, the boat can run 3,000 miles at 7 knots, burning approximately 2 gph.
With an extended range and a boat that shines in any sea condition, Campbell and Davidow are preparing to embark on their next adven- ture, which is what brought them to La Paz. After spending a couple of weeks resting up in a slip, they will motor 250 miles off the coast of Cabo San Lucas to San Benedicto, a small island where they hope to film sharks and manta rays. “I would not take off to go 250 miles straight into the middle of nowhere with just any boat,” Campbell says, “but we feel very comfortable about doing it on this one.”
Campbell and Davidow have experienced fame and glory, and they have traversed the globe more than a few times, from Indonesia to Papua New Guinea to Micronesia. At this stage in their lives, many people would prefer to retire aboard their yacht, enjoying leisurely cruises and resting in their slip. But “leisurely” is not in this couple’s vocabulary.
“People will say, ‘You guys come down to the boat, leave for weeks at a time, come back, clean the boat and then disappear again. We never see you, and you never have time to party on the boat or have cocktail hour,’” Campbell says. “But that’s not what we bought it for. We use it like boats should be used.”
They are still motivated by one main purpose: the beauty of the natural world, which needs to be protected now more than ever. “Humans are destroying the wildlife on the planet pretty fast,” Campbell says, “and one of our goals is producing beautiful pictures that people can look at and say, ‘I hope that never goes away.’”
So, as the couple rests their sea legs in the slip at Marina Puerto Escondido for a few weeks as they prepare for their next journey, they are already planning another one; after the Sea of Cortez, they will take the boat through Alaska’s Inside Passage to film whales and bears. They have a full crew between the two of them, with Campbell serving as the captain and Davidow as the naturalist, cook, engineer and navigator. With Tangaroa, there’s nowhere on—or below—the sea that this couple can’t go. ❒