EVERY WEEK, A handful of folks show up at a local waterfront, zip themselves into inch-thick dry suits and don masks and oxygen tanks to commune with the world under water.
The idea of scuba diving in Puget Sound — year-round, at night — is mystifying to a landlubber like me, if not downright terrifying. But the people who do it seem mystified that there aren’t more of them.
This group calls itself “Bubbles and Suds.” Bubbles represent the diving; suds the beer they grab afterward.
On a recent evening, I watched about 10 divers enter the water near the Mukilteo ferry dock, making last-minute adjustments and double-checking each other’s gear.
Diving brings them together, and with it comes a precious and rare thing: trust.
Everyone pairs up with another diver. “When you’re underwater, your life might depend on your buddy, so that connection is crucial,” says longtime member Robert May.
With low visibility, fearsome depths and water temperatures hovering at about 50 degrees, this is not a place for the careless. But the sea rewards divers with experiences that would be impossible anywhere else.
“It’s a great escape for me. No traffic, no cellphones, no one talking to me,” says Jai Sanga, one of the group’s founders. “Everyone else has no idea what’s down there. I’m like, you have no idea what you’re missing out on. It’s one of the best things about living in the Pacific Northwest.”
They often dive here or along the Edmonds waterfront but range up and down the Sound.
Their best-attended events are seasonal crabbing dives: “We harvest the crabs and immediately go to somebody’s house, and voilà — it’s a feast,” says Tom Carcellar. They’ve also met for poker nights and music jams.
They dive year-round, and winter is little different from summer. The water is always cold, and you always need a flashlight to cut through the murk.
The group encompasses a wide range of ages and professional and cultural backgrounds. Women tend to make up smaller numbers — “I don’t know if the cold scares them off or what,” says this night’s only woman diver, Kate Brown.
Unlike some other dive groups, Bubbles and Suds is open to people with varying types of training and equipment. “I wanted to start a group where we don’t care what kind of diving you do,” says co-founder Rick Norris, who started the group with a few buddies and has watched it grow organically over the years. “As long as you’re safe, we’ll take anyone.”
I watched the divers emerge from the water, counting and recounting to make sure all who went in came out again, before everyone headed to a nearby pub.
They routinely drop 70 to 130 feet below the surface. Because the seabed near the shore is sandy, without many hidey holes for critters, divers have set up underwater “parks” with man-made structures that become home to fish, eels, anemones and the world’s largest octopus species.
Harbor seals are frequent companions, sometimes zooming right past the divers.
But seeing something new every time isn’t really the point. It’s about regularly getting out there and experiencing this otherworldly world.
Heath Uncapher says people ask, “Do you dive at high tide or low tide?” His reply: “No; we dive at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.” It’s always a different configuration of divers, but they know someone will always be there.