Story By Heather Lowery
Photography By Keith Ketchum
I knew that I’d be in for an enthralling journey when I stepped onto Nick and Bobbi Warden’s front porch and saw a mailbox made out of a scuba tank. And I was right.
Souvenirs, diving treasures and photographs collected over the years, which the Wardens use to splendidly adorn their new home in Palmetto Creek, gave me a glance into their life of adventures. Displayed in cases in their home are samplings of French coins (Ecus, circa 1724-1725) that Nick recovered for the Canadian government off the coast of Nova Scotia, along with fossilized Megalodon sharks’ teeth approximately two to ten million years old. In addition, an array of delightful pictures of their two daughters, son-in-law and three grandchildren and photos of the Nick and Bobbi with famous oceanographer Philippe Cousteau (son of Jacques Cousteau) embellish their walls.
Nick and Bobbi have ventured much of the planet. So how did these two explorers find their way to South Brunswick County? To get the full picture, and what will ultimately lead us back to Brunswick County, let’s follow Nick and Bobbi on some of their past excursions…
We will begin in the 1970s in California where the couple first met the Cousteau family.
“We were living in Santa Monica at the time,” says Bobbi, “and my friend, who worked for the Cousteau Society, got me a temporary job doing book keeping in the office … this was during the team’s expedition in Alaska.”
Bobbi recalls these memories with delight. To her, lunch time was the most fascinating.
“Lunch was between 12 and 2 o’clock,” she recalls. “A European spread of cheeses and fruits were laid out on the long conference table. The engineers and crew would come off from the ship, Calypso, and everyone would chit-chat. The engineers would tell stories that weren’t told on the TV episodes.”
Jacques Cousteau’s son, Philippe (who followed in his father’s footsteps with the same love for the ocean and exploration), would often come into the meeting room as well.
“Then one day, my friend invited Nick and I, and Philippe and his wife, Jan, over for dinner,” says Bobbi, “and this is how we first got to really know the Cousteaus personally.”
Nick, already having an interest in diving, hit it off instantly with Philippe.
“After some food and wine, they got to talking and solving all the world problems,” chuckles Bobbi. With Nick being British and, of course, Philippe being French, running jokes and a friendly rivalry quickly developed.
“From that day on, we started hanging out when they were in town, having a few laughs and taking flights up in the Calypso hot air balloon,” says Nick, who went up with Philippe in the hot air balloon’s maiden voyage in the Mohave Dessert.
“As you know, hot air balloons spin when in flight, and what no one realized until that first voyage,” laughs Bobbi, “was that the Calypso lady [the Cousteau Society’s sea nymph insignia], was ‘swimming’ backwards.”
The couple remained friends until Philippe’s tragic death in 1979.
“Philippe was a great guy…,” says Nick, “and truly into conservation. He lived it.”
“Through Philippe,” explains Bobbi, “we met Jacques. He was truly passionate in his love for the ocean, and we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet someone who really believed in what they were doing.”
Philippe’s passion for the ocean was inspirational in giving Nick the final push he needed to pursue his diving certification and continue on his life’s path toward an occupation that he loves — diving. In turn, Bobbi became a certified diver. Diving led them to many memorable and exotic places over the years, such as the Galápagos Islands, Roátan, Australia, New Guinea, Mexico, New Zealand … and the list goes on.
The couple eventually moved from California to New Jersey (much to Bobbi’s dismay), but Nick promised it would be only for a year. However, they stayed considerably longer. More like 36 years. In 1987 Nick opened a dive shop there called Elite Divers.
“As a dive shop owner, I ran dive trips and I knew that Carolina’s coast was known for its shipwrecks,” says Nick.
Thinking this would make an exciting dive, he booked a trip with Cape Fear Dive Center out of Carolina Beach.
“On the day we were going out on a dive, one of the crew suggested going to the ‘Meg Ledge’ instead,” says Nick.
This, he found out, is a three-hour boat ride, 40 miles off the coast where the fossilized Megalodon shark teeth can be discovered. Nick fell in love with the dive trip and for years kept coming back. Finally, last year, Bobbi got her wish of moving out of New Jersey.
Taxes, weather and the quality of life are the reasons the Wardens make for wanting to move south. They had initially thought of selling everything and moving to the home that they have in the Cayman Islands. But Nick knew that there truly is something called “Island Fever.” So the couple decided to look to the Cape Fear area for a home base. They heard of a resort-style community called Palmetto Creek in Brunswick County and decided to visit.
Within the first moment of meeting Palmetto Creek’s agents, the couple felt at ease. They were invited to the community’s KISS (Keep It Simple Social) where they met the residents. They instantly knew that they didn’t need to look any further. The couple promptly chose a house plan and was ready to build. However, during a solo trip back to the community, Bobbi fell in love with a spec house already in its framing stage.
“The home plan was the Sanderling by Logan Homes,” says Bobbi.
Bobbi informed Nick of this change, swearing she was only looking out for his interests because this house had a bigger garage to fit all of his scuba gear.
“We’ve had all of our houses built,” they say in agreement, “and this was the smoothest process we have ever experienced… the builder is extremely efficient.”
The Wardens feel that the developers, Bobby Harrelson and Bert Exum, take care of the residents, listen to ideas, keep unity within the community and make prospective buyers feel welcome.
“They have an ‘ambassador program’, where current residents can volunteer to show newcomers the community and surrounding area,” says Bobbi.
“Everything is welcoming, yet no pressure … you can do as much as you want or as little as you want,” says Nick.
They signed the contract on their home in May 2009 and moved in Fourth of July weekend.
The Wardens not only love their community and neighbors but also the entire area. They like the fact that nothing is far away.
“And the people are so charming and friendly,” says Bobbi. “The weekend we moved in, Nick was tired, but I wanted to see the fireworks in Southport. So, I went by myself. A resident let me park in his driveway, and people immediately started talking with me as we sat to watch the festivities.” As for the Wardens future plans, they intend to stay in Palmetto Creek and are looking forward to visits from family.
Eastern North Carolina allows Nick and Bobbi to be able to continue following their dreams on land and on the ocean. Bobbi says she will continue to work at home doing IT support and joining Nick on dives. Nick, who still owns the dive shop in New Jersey and calls himself, ‘gainfully retired,’ can’t wait for diving season and perhaps to do a little dive instructing as well.
Of course, they will continue to travel the world and make visits to their Cayman Island home where they can dive right from their property.
“We made a very good move,” they say happily.