"So the pilot's headset is out, and he says, "If you can hear me, hold up three fingers—do you know the Morse code? which I do, because my brother taught me, so I picked up Florence and Charleston and Jacksonville and used my mirror-handwriting to hold up directions for him in the mirror. They told us to ditch it off Jacksonville, but then..."
That is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Senior Editor Coles Phinizy cut off in midanecdote. We give it a lot of thought before we send Coles Phinizy on assignment—especially on the ones he recommends. The odds against his getting back seem so high. When the call came last November saying that Coles (on assignment for the article on the Usumacinta River on page 62) had crashed in the Mexican jungle and had struggled out of the wreckage but had no money, we were not particularly startled. In 1952, on a mission for LIFE, his plane stalled and made an unscheduled stop in a clump of Georgia pines. In 1954, on assignment for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, he went up in a balloon that burst and dropped him 4,200 feet. "And I had one private bailout, for no magazine," he says of a contretemps when he had to parachute into what he is permitted to identify only as "a large body of water."
For the last few years Coles has been primarily concerned with skin diving, possibly because things seem to go better for him underwater than they do in the air. but also because he has a passion for water. Born in Georgia, he was unable to indulge this predilection on much of a scale when he was a child. "Water was all I ever cared about," he says, "and we didn't have enough of it. They gave us crayons in school and told us to color the water blue, and I thought, 'Water isn't blue, it's brown.' " (Coles was also, at this time, learning to write. His ability to mirror-write—write backwards—comes in handy now, but in the first grade he had to remember that you wrote from the red flowerpot on the left in the front of the classroom to the green flowerpot on the right. You added and subtracted, on the other hand, from the green flowerpot to the red.)
When he was 11, Coles moved from Georgia to New Jersey, where he discovered the Atlantic Ocean—color it blue—and became a lifeguard. However, he attended the Hill School in Pennsylvania, which had no swimming team. "I never saw a swimming meet until I was in one," he recalls. That was later on, when he was on the team at Harvard.
March 28, 1966
Phinizy became the swimming editor, underwater editor and, finally the adventure editor at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and has written for us about swimmers, marine biologists, spelunkers, sharks and porpoises, surfers and skin divers. He seems mildly astonished at his role. since he claims to be interested, really, in graphics. "I started out as a cartoonist," he observes. "I build underwater cameras. I never meant to be a writer—I'm not a writer."
Mr. Phinizy is in error. He is an excellent writer, as his article on his Mexican odyssey once again proves. We are pleased with it, and we might add that we are particularly pleased to have Coles back more or less intact.