More than 15 years ago, I wanted to get re-certified in scuba diving, having first earned the certification card back in the late 1970s while in high school. After a lengthy hiatus involving career, relocation, marriage and family, I wanted to get back into the water on a regular basis. I had no idea this would unlock a great shared passion with other like-minded people here in the Midcoast.

To be a diver in New England, especially one who wants to get into the water on a regular basis, you need to embrace local diving. Diving locally can be tough; Maine waters are not like those of the Caribbean or South Pacific. Water temperatures can be challenging, and visibility often limited.

You also need to find a dive buddy. I was not really sure if there were even other divers around, any who might be interested or available. I mean, there are working local divers, but would they want to do it recreationally? My goal then was to start building a contact list.

Luckily, my first dive buddies came from the group with whom I got re-certified. We made plans to dive when we could. And we did, but times and availability proved difficult. So, we worked to expand our group.

Some of the first Aqua-Nuts were members of the same Open Water certification class, doing their checkout dive at Bayside. From the collection of Charles H. Lagerbom.

Phone numbers were exchanged, but email proved easier. An email chain was established, divers and their friends were slowly added to it and the rough outlines of a local scuba group began to form. Not quite an official club, it was still a good group of interested divers from around the area. We would meet for dives at various locations around the Midcoast and then write up accounts of our adventures and share some photos. It was low-key and wicked informal.

But what to call ourselves? There is a long-established Portland dive club known as the Maine-iacs; today we have divers who belong to both groups. But back then, we wanted our own name and identity for those of us who like diving here in the Midcoast.

It finally happened one dive as we emerged from the water on a particularly brisk fall day, late in the season. An old-timer sitting in his car watched us with skepticism as we de-geared, quickly shedding our wetsuits. As we told him about our dive with enthusiastic grins but chattering teeth, he flatly declared “You guys are nuts!”

Aqua-Nut members make their way along the rocks to the water off Ash Point in Owls Head. From the collection of Charles H. Lagerbom.

Thus, the Mid-Coast Maine Aqua-Nuts dive club was born. The email chain became our chief connector in those days; club numbers stayed relatively low but steady. We continued sharing our dive stories and photos, members seemed to like that. More contacts were added after some of us earned our Advanced Open Water certification, the next level up in diving.

By this point, we had also gotten into the habit of grabbing everyone’s email who joined us on a dive or expressed interest in what we were doing. Usually when we would gear up, people walking by would ask us what we were doing or what we saw underwater. Some would join right then or mention others who might be interested. We have added quite a few Aqua-Nuts that way.

To organize a dive, the chain worked by someone posting an email to the group stating they wanted to dive a particular location like Rockland Breakwater, or Long Cove Quarry, or Rachel Carson Salt Pond. Or they might say they were free for a dive on Saturday. Others would chime in, and a dive was put together, mostly from shore, occasionally from a boat. It was that basic and simple. And it worked.

Aqua-Nuts enter the water off Marshall Point Light House in Port Clyde. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom.

Aqua-Nut members come from all over, from Bangor, the east side of Penobscot Bay, or points farther Down East as well as from the Camden, Rockland and Damariscotta areas. Some make trips up from Brunswick or even Portland. The motto is “Have tanks, will travel.” It is truly a statewide mixed bag of Nuts!

Some members come from out of state; we have regulars who visit Maine every summer and get a dive or two in with us. One guy emailed me saying he was traveling to the area and wanted to know about local dive sites. We ended up diving together a few times and he has since been an honorary Aqua-Nut. We have great members from Connecticut, Massachusetts and even farther points away, but they are still Mid-Coast Maine Aqua-Nuts!

Aqua-Nuts share a dive debrief after a visit to the Rockland Breakwater. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom.

Club numbers really took off when we were introduced to a Camden diver named Terry. A Scotsman who ran a bed and breakfast with his wife, Terry was a scuba instructor and an incredibly nice guy. He infused us with energy, organization, gear connections and dive opportunities.

We started to join him on his certification check-out dives with students. Good scuba practice for us, I would also use my GoPro to take pictures of him in action with the newly trained divers. We would then add the students to our club email list. As a result, numbers grew exponentially; Terry was responsible for quite a few Aqua-Nuts coming aboard.

The dive club has now grown into a decent sized group of nearly 150 members. The email chain, once our primary form of contact, has been joined by a Facebook page. That was started and maintained by Aqua-Nut Sean, as I proved too much a dinosaur with my flip phone and email reliance. But I am learning to use it, posting photos and dive write-ups and new members keep coming aboard in greater numbers. Check out our page!

Early on, the club played around with some logos, even got some shirts printed up. We even had a mascot for a few seasons, when we adopted a local flounder we nicknamed Finnegan. He was good-sized and would follow us around when we dove Beauchamp Point in Rockport. Finnegan always seemed to show up and glide around us, watching what we were doing.

Pictured is dive club mascot Finnegan the Flounder, before his disappearance. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom.

I often caught him on video, enough that I edited some footage of him and posted it on YouTube. After a few seasons of seeing him, he just disappeared. Hope I didn’t help in getting him hooked, breaded, and sautéed in butter by making him a YouTube star! Other flounder have come and gone since, we call them Finnegan Jr. or Finnegan III, etc.

The skill, experience and ability levels of club members are all over the place. We have instructors, professional divers, and rescue and master diver levels of experience. Some have been at it for years. But we also have brand-new and less-experienced divers and everything in between. Some only dive when they go on vacation but might brush up on their skills with us when we host a weekly Aqua-Nut time in the Belfast Area High School pool throughout the winter and early spring.

We have members of all ages too, from teenage to…well…to “getting-up-there” status. It does not matter. The passion of scuba diving transcends age. It is that gleam in their eye when we get out and our excited chatter about what we saw or did or encountered, that makes it so much fun. I always say it is my Zen time.

Some members have every kind of gear imaginable, collected over the years. These “tried-and-true” types of gear that were popular 25 years ago are lovingly maintained and still used. We also have some divers who are just starting out, and so need to borrow or rent some pieces of gear.

That is another phase of the club, where we share gear, such as lead weights, a buoyancy compensator, fins, etc. Kind of like with downhill ski equipment, we can act as a clearing house for people searching for some particular gear or for those who want to part with some in order to upgrade.

A good turnout of Aqua-Nut members pose for the group hero shot after a successful dive at Rachel Carson Salt Pond. From the collection of Charles H. Lagerbom.

What I find pretty cool about Mid-Coast Maine Aqua-Nuts is that the dive club is open to anyone who just wants to get into the water and do some Maine diving or who just want to follow what we do. We have a lot of fun doing it, too. Veteran as well as newly minted divers can all have great dives together. It is the unique experience of entering an alien world and our passion about it that we share.

Aqua-Nuts like to shore dive, boat dive, wreck dive, night dive, you name it. We have freshwater divers as well as ocean divers, some are interested in underwater photography, some in metal detecting and some interested in any aspect. There are seasonal divers and calendar divers, those who opt out of diving after a certain date or at a certain water temperature! And we have hardy souls who are interested in diving at any time, any place, for any reason, even in the dead of winter.

I once went diving off Damariscotta one late December with the water temperature at 36°F. My wife pointed out afterward that that was just 4 degrees from ice! She even invoked the club name then. “You are Nuts!”

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.

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