A Heart for the Ocean

Buenos Aires, Argentina, may not be the most obvious place for a life of incredible sea-faring stories to begin. But Armando Jenik has been called to the ocean since he was a little boy, and each adventure is more incredible than the next.

Early Days

Growing up with a younger sister and brother, he remembers them all going to summer camps together, but he was the one who loved the sea. Spending summers with his family at the Mara del Plata, the adventures began to stack up, one after another.

“My love for the ocean began to develop itself in Patagonia,” said Jenik.

Patagonia is the southernmost region of Argentina, where the Andes Mountains divide the area with Chile. Jenik remembers fondly his days of free diving with Southern Right Whales in the San Matias Gulf.

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These curious creatures are active on the surface, and Jenik would dive with them, and even hold on to a fin or tail for an exciting ride.

“I remember one day, my friends were sleeping, and I went jogging on the beach. A mother, father and baby whale were very close to shore, so I put on my wetsuit and went into the water. The mother surfaced and I just reached out and held her tail,” Jenik remembers.

It was very difficult to make a living from the ocean, so as Jenik grew up he kept returning to Patagonia to work as a diver making it easier for fishermen to find oyster beds. After this, his diving career took off.

His Patagonian dive training continued in a quarry, where visibility was very bad – nearly zero.

“We would reach our arms out and feel around until we touched something, and then we had to figure out what it was,” said Jenik. “We collected a lot of brass nails and china, and found out that they were remains from the Lord Clive shipwreck (1763).”

The First Camera

With a world of adventure waiting, Jenik volunteered to help the Israeli army during the Arab-Israeli water in 1967. With the conflict famously ending after just six days, Jenik found himself in a foreign land with no job and a lot of time on his hands. He then walked into a local aquarium and met the director, was invited to dinner with him and as those things happen, he left with a job collecting fish from the Red Sea for the University of Jerusalem zoology department. The aquarium director would compose sea “scenes” in a tank, and Jenik would capture them on film.

Jenik’s father visited him in Israel in 1968 and bought him his first underwater camera – a Calypso. This was the first 35mm underwater camera conceived by none other than marine explorer Jacques Cousteau. The ocean had not only provided a hobby for Jenik, but adventures and career opportunities kept coming as well.

The next step in Jenik’s ocean career was to become a dive instructor in Italy. After achieving his CMAAS certification, the warmer waters of the Caribbean came calling.

Virgin Islands Adventures

Armando headed to St. Thomas, USVI, in the 70s and lived there for 18 years. He opened a dive centre at Bolongo Bay hotel, and didn’t even have a dive boat. He began taking Bolongo Bay guests to Coki Beach on the east end of the island by bus to teach them how to dive.

Jenik’s sister Viviana came to visit in 1972. In architecture school at the time, Jenik remembers dating some of Viviana’s girlfriends and remembers that time fondly. Viviana later married and began living in Tortola, becoming a much-loved and respected architect of the BVI community.

After working at Bolongo Bay, Armando bought his favourite 42-ft dive boat, Goldielocks. It was at this time that famed conservationist Jacques Cousteau and his crew ventured to St. Thomas to film humpback whales for the film, The Singing Whale. Jenik jumped at the opportunity to work with Cousteau. Spending time with the crew and paying close attention to the filming, Armando experienced a once-in-a-lifetime master and knew that photography and cinematography was his future.

Desperately wanting to work and dive with Cousteau, who at the time only had European divers on his team, Jenik remembers watching him leave St. Thomas.

“He was climbing the stairs onto the plane, turned around and threw his red stocking hat at me and said ‘Armando! See you in Marseille in a few weeks!’,” said Jenik. However, having a wife and family to care for this dream wasn’t meant to be.

Jenik wanted to further pursue underwater filming. He sold his beloved Goldielocks dive boat and moved to Tortola to manage the research vessel, Okeanos.

Film and Future

From adventure charters on the Okeanos, Jenik further developed his filming career and environmental work.

In 1993, Weekend at Bernie’s II was filmed in St. Thomas and released as a major motion picture. Jenik was tapped to teach the talent how to dive. The director felt that not only should Jenik be the principal dive instructor, but that he looked enough like Terry Kiser, the actor playing Bernie Lomax in the film and should be his stand in for the underwater scenes.

Jenik remembers being recognized at the supermarket and locals shouting “Hey Bernie!” at him.

“They couldn’t believe that the guy in Tortola was Bernie underwater,” said Jenik.

With filming lasting nearly a month, Jenik taught the crew how to oxygenate the body before diving and donned 90 lbs of lead to walk like a dead man under water.

Many other filming jobs mark Jenik’s long and storied career. From filming scenes for multiple soap operas to working on underwater footage for “The Magic of David Copperfield”, the list of credits for Jenik’s work is long and rich. He also worked on an episode of 20/20 with Hugh Downs and Geraldo Rivera, searching for the wreck of San Ignacio in Anegada, and even trained long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad to free dive in Patagonia to prepare her lungs for one of her marathon swims.

Jenik has been honoured with the distinguished Mobius award for environmental excellence, and his work in Mastercard’s “Priceless” campaign won him the prestigious Emmy.

After a 2018 knee replacement, Jenik is working on rehabilitating his body and looking forward to returning to the sea soon.

“Every picture tells a story,” said Jenik. “I’m trying to do my own Cousteau thing; being in love with the ocean, chasing sharks and filming underwater.”

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