YORK, Maine — The town has reopened the waters at Nubble Light to scuba divers, after the death of a 67-year-old recreational diver prompted a closure earlier this month.
Walter Fabian of Nashua, New Hampshire, was diving with a friend July 7 when the two were separated after surfacing, according to the Maine Marine Patrol. Fabian died in the water and was found on the northeast shore of Cape Neddick Nubble. His death is still under investigation.
Fabian’s death came the day after a 57-year-old diver was rescued from the water on the south side of Sohier Park.
York Parks and Recreation Director Robin Cogger said the decision to reopen the Nubble Light location for diving on July 17 was made after meetings with the York Police Department and local expert Elizabeth Kintzing, diving program officer for the University of New Hampshire School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering.
“Historically, Nubble Light has been a safe place to dive, so we reached out to experts in the field,” said Cogger, who asked Kintzing to help determine what may have occurred at the popular diving spot to contribute to the recent incidents.
Kintzing, a diver herself, was very clear. “This is usually a very safe place to dive,” she said, noting that she brings her beginner diving students to the location for their training.
In a letter to Town Manager Steve Burns, Kintzing advocated for reopening the Nubble for diving access.
“I understand the gravity of the recent incidents and the need to sort these things out,” Kintzing wrote. “However, I do believe that Nubble is so popular because it is a safe place to dive.”
While the south side of the Nubble does not have easy access, the combination of easy entry and exit on the north side of the cove and the diverse marine life has made the location an inviting location for recreational divers, Kintzing said. In addition, the deep water needed for diving is not tide-dependent.
“Even at low tide, you are diving in 30 feet of water,” Kintzing said.
The access point used by virtually all divers is on the north side of the Nubble Light parking lot, Kintzing said. Divers can walk down and enter the water from a protected cove.
“But when the wind is blowing from the northeast (directly into the cove), it is not safe,” Kintzing added. As a diving instructor with more than 5,000 dives at the Nubble Light location alone, Kintzing is well aware of safety considerations.
“We tell our students to look at the conditions and make a common-sense evaluation,” Kintzing said.
In her letter, Kintzing said winds had been blowing from the northeast over the July 4 weekend, causing choppy waters in the cove, plus extra complications from water movement due to the surge of the moon high tide.
Maine Marine Patrol Sgt. Matthew Sinclair said investigators are considering how conditions at the Nubble at the time may have contributed to Fabian’s death. “Surface conditions were not kind,” he said.
With webcams available to observe the cove remotely, Kintzing said it is easier now to take a look at the conditions before driving to a diving location. Although not 100% reliable, the cameras are a “pretty accurate” source of information, she said.
Cogger said her department is preparing new signage to inform and educate divers before they enter the water. Other precautions being considered include installing a wind sock to help divers determine wind velocity and direction, along with placement of safety and rescue devices.
The bottom line, Cogger said, is that “diving is an extreme sport, with risks.”
“It’s hard to know exactly what happened,” Kintzing said, “but I tell my students to look at the conditions and ask yourself if you could haul the biggest guy out of the water in these conditions. If the answer is no, then don’t dive.”