By Richard Carl Lehman
By Richard Carl Lehman

Our newly formed Madison Park SCUBA group attended meetings to gather information on popular dive spots. Most of these spots involved having a boat, so, in lieu of that, we were able to take advantage of the ferry system.

From Seattle to anywhere we could dive around the many ferry landings. People on shore watched as we suited up, waded out and/or jumped in to begin our watery quest to find life underneath. A favorite area was where lingcod fed on debris stirred up from the ferry. The log bumpers that line the ferry landing were much wider 30 to 50 feet down where they spread out and was another hangout for lingcod, mesmerizing all divers.

On one dive, I leapt in as others suited up. I sank to the bottom and slowly surfaced, hand over hand along a piling. One area didn’t feel like hard wood, more like a covering of some kind. I looked toward the piling and an eye looked back! I froze — what the heck? It was a gray, overcast morning. Octopus are on the gray side, so this one blended in, but in the bright sun and sure of its surroundings they are orange. I simply gave Mr. Octopus a wide berth. He was big enough to wrap around the piling and seemed curious.

The others reached the bottom and spread out to look around the area, always in groups of two. We saw seals on the hunt, and wolf eels peered from their large boulder dens, mouths open showing their healthy bicuspids.

My dive companion shot a cabezon, similar to lingcod, with his arbalète, but it was all head and a tiny body. As I reached for the spear, the top fin struck me just above the knee. Then my friend pulled the spear, which made the fish strike my hand. Lucky that fin didn’t break off. It would have been very difficult to find and remove it. Believe me, the cost of cabezon went way up.

At one of the ferry landings, a deck hand saw a diver surface in the ferry’s path. All stop! The diver then surfaced not far away waving, OK. After that, there were signs posted, “No scuba divers near any landing in Washington State.”

Even dives near the beach had to have divers flags on site. Furthermore, no more catching fish by arbalète! In addition, we realized it was not wise to be down under when a water skier goes by above. Even then, some skiers thought it a game to touch the flag going by. New rules were making the sport of diving much safer.

A diver I knew was short of cash, but it didn’t deter his love of diving. He converted a tested “fire extinguisher,” which was far from the proper 2,150 pounds in regular dive tanks. Regular tanks had a five-minute reserve, which gave time for divers to surface from deep dives. We put him on notice and told him where he could rent a proper tank.

All of the restrictions to available dive areas made Edmonds beach a favorite, but it required a long swim out, and the same was true with Alki. Divers would snorkel with flags tied to inner tubes and then proceed to have a safe dive. Enter the famous World War II rebreather, which was used during underwater demolition in enemy territory because no bubbles would form. Good to 35 feet and then the air turned to carbon dioxide.

One diver brought one to an Edmonds dive. As divers swam to the wreck, he went missing from the group. He was found somewhat asleep on the bottom. He was OK but said he’d exerted himself. We put rebreathers on hold for future dives.

Feeling fairly confident diving with a tank at 2,150 pounds. to 130 feet, it would still create anxiety. One diver dove 700 feet in 12 minutes, but it took him 15 hours to come up to avoid getting the bends. It was a record in 1953.

In the early ’50s, a local gentleman realized he was in an unhappy marriage. He and his wife divided holdings, but he struggled to give up the family yacht.

When word of this great 40-foot ship had met its demise in the south waters of Puget Sound, the air was full of sadness. It seems the ship sunk north of McNeil Island. It actually sank to a depth of 100 feet. The sheriff’s department deputies in unison must have said, “Hmmmmm…”

Local divers got word and offered to join the search. From a trusty ship above, they slid down the anchor line with limited visibility, and they saw the mighty ship with its many petcocks reaching up saying, “Here I am! Help me!”

Help the mighty yacht they did and found very little water damage and looking surprisingly well. How did those petcocks all decide to unscrew all at once?

The guilt surrounded the husband like a perfect-fitting life preserver. Rumor has it he, the ex-husband, resided in a cell at McNeil Island with an unobstructed view of where his ship went down.

Through the years, many innovations have made it possible to reach much greater depths. Always aware of decompression sickness, it is impressive, if not daring, to take to the water and embrace an otherworldly existence.