In Memory of Dr. John Pina Craven
When the editor of OTEC News asked me if I would like to write an article in memory of Dr. John Pina Craven, I jumped at the opportunity and said, “Yes of course”. Having closely known Dr. Craven during my 35 year working career at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) I felt honored and qualified to be given the opportunity to celebrate the life of an amazing man whom I considered to be a brilliant ocean engineer, genius, and my most highly regarded hero.
When it came down to actually putting my thoughts and memories through the keyboard, I was totally stumped. How could I possibly honor this “Ancient Mariner” more than he has already been honored? Who do I think I am to take on such a challenge when there are so many better qualified? After settling down and conducting a little research to refresh my memory of what Dr. Craven had created in his lifetime, I realized that the extensive background information about this distinguished gentleman available on the Internet best portrays his legacy. Take the time to search the Web for yourself using just the words “John Pina Craven” and see what happens. Wow!! Most notably, please direct your attention to the article in Hawaiian Airline’s inflight magazine Hana Hou written in the October/November 2008 issue (Vol. 11, No5) by Blade Stabwell entitled, “The Mind of the Ancient Marine”. This swashbuckling tale of Dr. Craven’s life and accomplishments is as good as it gets.
Then I started thinking, what can I possibly say to honor this man more than he has already been and will be honored at his Celebration of Life ceremony in Honolulu on April 9th? I came to the realization that what I have to offer that no one else has is my professional and personal experiences with this incredible man. Rather than to attempt to parrot or improve on what someone else has already more eloquently portrayed of Dr. Craven, I thought that I would share some of my most favorite life experiences together with this great mentor:
First of all and other than at some important meetings I have seen him at, has anyone ever seen Dr. Craven wearing anything other than a turtle neck sweater? He was hip before it was cool to be hip. And a bit of a pirate too, as he was proud to share with anyone in the room…. The mold was certainly broken for this human being when he passed peacefully away in the early morning hours at his home in Honolulu from complications of Parkinson’s disease on February 12th. He was 90 years young.
One day back in 1981, I was working in NELHA’s new biofouling and corrosion test laboratory when Dr. Craven walked in leading a group of distinguished visitors. We had just completed the plumbing of NELHA’s first cold, deep (0.3M) ocean water pipeline to the experimental apparatus inside the building and were installing fiberglass trays to collect the condensation that dripping onto the floor. When I told Dr. Craven what we were doing, we looked at each other and it was as if a flash of light burst out of the top in his head! I’m sure that there been many flashes of this kind during the lifetime of this analytically inventive mind, but I feel very honored to have been there for several of these occasions. As the tour moved on John stayed behind to take a closer look at what was happening. Flash! The concept of OTEC Agriculture is born!
A few years later Dr. Craven arrived at NELHA with his own project and funding through the US Sea Grant Program at the University of Hawaii to test of the growth of strawberries, Alstroemeria flowers, and other plants using this new process. The process involved regulating soil temperature and plant seasonality by controlling the flow of cold, deep ocean through tubing embedded in the garden. Placing this same tubing onto the surface of the ground in tropical climates causes water vapor in the humid atmosphere to condense on the surface of the tubing and thus drip into the soil to irrigate the plants. What a brilliant concept! After the cold seawater serves this purpose, it can be used again for other uses such as aquaculture.
Later Dr. Craven would be heard to say, “The secret of the fruit is in the root”. In his mind he viewed it as a thermodynamic process whereby the differential between the cold, higher density soil environment and the less dense (I.e. lower pressure), warm air above it functioned like a heat engine. The greater the differential, theoretically the more carbohydrates and sugars could be pumped into the fruit. He actually proved this by growing strawberries that had five times the fructuous level of regular strawberries. Several years later Dr. Craven formed his own company called the Common Heritage Corporation to promote his concepts and the utilization of deep ocean water around the world.
In relation to the development of OTEC, Dr. Craven was one of Hawaii’s and the world’s greatest champions. As with many of his dreams he knew that innovation was the enemy of the status quo and it would probably not be until the next generation that these visions could be realized. He dreamed on a grandiose scale and envisioned concepts like placing floating cities around the planet where everything that human society needed in the way of energy, food, and water was sustainably produced on site and from the sea. Dr. Craven was definitely ahead of his time. We would be wise to implement many of his inspirations.
Aside from my most memorial professional moments with Dr. Craven, I am delighted to say that he considered me as his golf partner when we both had the time to play while he was in Kona. Spending four or more hours side by side in a golf cart with someone merrily blasting little white balls around really gives you a great opportunity to get to know someone, especially when there are no distractions and beautiful scenery all around. These were some of my most favorite times together with John.
There were several time when I gingerly tested John’s zipped lips for classified tidbits of information and I must say he took most of those secrets with him. What I did get from him while we were rolling along through our rounds of golf was a firsthand perspective of some of his personal experiences. Like how he recommended against attempting to recover the entire Golf II Russian submarine (KS ) on the grounds that the risk to reward ratio was very high, but how President Nixon owed Howard Hughes a favor and politics prevailed. Dr. Craven’s recommendation was to use a manned submersible (such as Alvin) to strategically place explosive charges on the hull of the sunken Soviet sub, blast small openings in it, reach in and grab the classified information and hardware of value. He also seemed relish in the fact that despite that the razzings he would receive from Admiral Rickover at the Pentagon for not divulging highly classified information that even the admiral was not on a “need to know basis”, Craven’s lips remained sealed. This frustrated Rickover to no end and Dr. Craven was often at the brunt of his sadistic tongue lashings. His recounting of these and other experiences to me were very exciting.
Dr. John Craven was always more interested in talking about man’s plight and how we were going to get ourselves out of the messes we had created and the consequences of what nature is now throwing our way (global warming, climate change, sea level rise, etc.). I have often heard Dr. Craven say, “We are doing everything all wrong”! We discussed this viewpoint on several occasions and what I interpreted him to mean is that, as humans we should spend a lot less time and effort on personal wealth, selfish individualism and superficial pursuits and a lot more time and effort in the sense of “Common Heritage” for all mankind with love and sustainability in mind.
Despite being the real Jack Ryan of the US undersea submarine espionage programs during the entire Cold War era and helping to save the world from the Red menace, Dr. Craven was always very kind and personal. As the Chairman of Board of NELHA through its first twelve years of development, it was always a pleasure to see Dr. Craven in action. He was always cool under fire and usually offered the most sensible and rationale solutions. If you were lucky enough to be there to witness his wheels turning, you might also have heard him recite an appropriate poem or sing an old sea ballad. These meetings have never been the same without him.
Whether he was looking for lost hydrogen bombs, missing nuclear submarines, pushing man’s habitation limits at the bottom of the sea or creating NELHA, John Pina Craven was always very humble. He always took the time to lovingly give credit to those on the team who toiled beneath and with him. In the signed inscription he wrote in my volume of Blind Man’s Bluff, Dr. Craven stated words to the effect that it “was not John Craven that made those things happen”, but the men who served under him. It took a team player like Dr. Craven to often pull off what many considered to be impossible. He will surely be missed and spoken about for time eternal.
It was an honor to have known and learned from him. Bon Voyage you Ancient Mariner……
Jan C. War
“May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His Hand”
….an old Irish verse
Mr. Jan C. War has been employed with the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority for the past 35 years and as of 1983 has been its Chief of Operations. Mr. War holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology and has been associated and involved with the progressive development and utilization of OTEC, Seawater Air Conditioning (SWAC), Deep Ocean Water Aquaculture and Agriculture and other ocean and solar related technologies.
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