Many of us are familiar with the divers at Edmonds Underwater Park, just north of the ferry landing. They rise out of the water in their black suits and sometimes colorful gear, having enjoyed the mobility that comes from diving equipment, swimming amid an old dry dock, wooden tugboat, rock piles, tires and huge ling cod.
Bradley Mitchell, 52, of Kirkland, watched divers along the Seattle waterfront when he was a child but never dove until last year when he submerged in Lake Stevens. While the Edmonds divers resemble fish, Mitchell resembled a sumo wrestler with a hose attached to equipment on the surface.
Until that day, Mitchell’s focus had been on a 20-year collection of vintage diving gear, much of which will be on display today and Sunday at the Seattle Aquarium in conjunction with the Bell Street Classic Yacht Rendezvous.
“I have a lot of it: six hats, four pumps, one from 1893 in perfect working order manufactured by Morris Diving of Boston … three dive radios, one runs on a dry cell battery that dates back to 1918. I have air hoses, I have diving boots, I have knives, communication equipment, cable, lots of papers, manuals, articles and photographs,” Mitchell said.
“I wasn’t a diver, just a collector. But last year I dove at Lake Stevens. I suited up and went down … in the antique gear. I was a nervous wreck, but once I got on the bottom I was OK. It was awkward for me, but I lived through it. It was quite the experience, like being inside a great bubble in an aquarium looking out.
“Once you get in the water it isn’t too bad. But when you’re dressed and ready to dive, all the gear weighs 190 pounds. The weight belt weighs 85 pounds … the helmet weighs 58 pounds.”
The 5-foot-10 Mitchell weighs 142 pounds but is strong from his heavy excavation work on highways and airport runways.
“It seemed 10 times heavier coming up the ladder out of the water.”
He dove in the most popular hardhat diving gear, the U.S. Navy Mark V, which the Navy used from 1916 to 1983. In that time, Mitchell said, the gear did not change.
“They got it right the first time or they finally got it right and they stuck with it,” he said.
Diving attracts people because it’s adventurous, entertaining, and has the element of the unknown, Mitchell said.
“It’s dangerous, absolutely dangerous. To some people it’s like art, a very expensive art. I have one helmet that’s easily worth $15,000, a Miller-Dunn. They were awarded a one-time contract in 1943 to make 1,500 U.S. Navy Mark Vs because there was so much salvage work during World War II.
“None of them went into the civilian sector because they went on American warships and most were lost. I have helmet number 22.”
Mitchell is always looking for additions to his collection. If you can steer him in the right direction, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While Mitchell will be showing off his collection during regular hours at the Seattle Aquarium and a few pieces at Anthony’s Home Port, where the 10th annual Bell Street Pier Classic Yacht Rendezvous will be going on a little to the north. It’s one of the largest gatherings of pre-World War II classic motor yachts.
Check out these beautifully restored boats from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Each yacht will have posted written information. Admission is free, but the regular admission rates to the Seattle Aquarium are in effect.
Book shelf: “The Shorebird Guide” ($25, Houghton Mifflin) is a beautifully photographed book that will help birders identify shorebirds, often a confusing set of birds because of their variety of plumage in any one species. The three authors offer a way around the problem, a method that places plumage down the ladder of identification priorities.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
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