Charlie Tucy finds the good life on the ocean floor
The low points in Charlie Tucy's life usually suit him perfectly. There are days when he decompresses simply by sitting on the ocean floor, 50 feet below the surface.
Mr. Tucy combines a high-stress job as manager of the Vineyard House, an Oak Bluffs residence serving men in early recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, with deepwater SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving, his lifelong avocation.
"Sitting on the bottom at Big Bridge on State Beach is a favorite place for me, watching boats and schools of fish pass by," says Mr. Tucy, who has been diving professionally for ten years. "It's so relaxing you can almost go to sleep - it's Zen-like. And sometimes there are big bass just sitting there, with people casting for them" - he grins - "and they just won't bite."
At 61, Mr. Tucy, who operates Two Seas Dive Service in Oak Bluffs, has been diving off and on since he was 13 years old, and is rated to dive to depths of more than 110 feet. In addition to his treasure hunting dives around New England and in the Caribbean, he finds and recovers valuables and does boat repair and cleaning.
"Several years ago a woman called me from the pier at Oak Bluffs. She had lost a cover from her jeep. Blown off into the water, sank. It had great significance to the family," he says. "She'd had some local teenagers diving for it all morning and they couldn't find it. By the time I got there, the bottom was silty and clouded up. Tough to see," he continues. "Before I went in, I thought about it: what time the cover went in, what the tide had done since and how the current was running. I concluded it wasn't lying where it went in but had moved farther down, near the pilings. That's where I went and there it was. Covered with silt but one snap was showing."
A native of Buzzards Bay, he got his passion for SCUBA diving from his father and uncle who were members of the town's fire department dive and rescue team. "When I was a kid, I would sneak in and take their gear and do what I saw them doing," he says. "I was with them all the time when they dove."
A self-taught diver, Mr. Tucy shakes his head at the recollection. "Don't do it the way I did," he says. "Go to a certified dive shop and take the lessons."
Mr. Tucy credits two Islanders for his training and proficiency: John O. Potter of East Chop and Joe Leonardo, operator of Vineyard Scuba and Snorkel in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Potter's book "Treasure Diver's Guide" is Mr. Tucy's diving bible. "It's like 'Huckleberry Finn' for the modern man...It stays on my nightstand," he says.
At Vineyard Scuba and Snorkel, it was instructor David Caseau who gave Mr. Tucy his advanced test more than 80 feet down off Cedar Tree Neck. "He taught me one thing I've always used: Stop and think. That phrase has helped me in a few tough situations."
Treasure hunters are a secretive bunch, Mr. Tucy explains, adding that even treasure search films on Discovery or National Geographic channels try to hide specific locations, "but sometimes you see a rock formation or a mountain range that tells you where they are."
Describing diving as "a quest," Mr. Tucy says, "I've developed a Zen thing in my head. There are things I've been unable to find and I return every year to look for them. I've got a metal detector that will find metal buried under 18 inches of mud."
When he first experienced finding gold on the ocean floor, Mr. Tucy understood the obsession that treasure hunters have for their work. "It's hard to describe the effect," he says. "Somehow the water magnifies the clarity and power of the color of gold. It goes, 'Bling!'
"And it isn't the amount. It was a gold bracelet that was lost. It's the finding of it. What's the saying? It's the journey, not the destination."
Mr. Tucy smiles when asked whether he has a shark story. "Just one...but it was enough for me," he replies, telling of his diving experience in Montego Bay in Jamaica in about 75 feet of water. His dive leader, about 20 feet above, pointed to his right and made an odd, vertical salute in the middle of his forehead. He didn't understand the signal until he sighted a 15- or 20-foot shark.
"I was about 15 feet away and its dead black eye was staring at me," Mr. Tucy recalls. "I remember clearly that my thought was, 'He knows what I taste like.'" Then the vertical salute he'd been getting made sense: it was the sign for a dorsal fin. "That's why communicating before you get in the water is so important."
While he continues to search for undersea treasures, it is clear where he continually finds rewards for his spirit.
Jack Shea is a frequent contributor to The Times.