By Dan Colton
WEST RUTLAND — Above, it looks like a rocky hole full of water.
Below the surface of the quarry off Marble Street is a 1,200-foot network of underwater caves, with depths going below 120 feet.
Nate Garret, one of three divers who came from Massachusetts to explore the quarry in mid-April, described West Rutland’s dive as “top-notch,” and said the network even has a renowned location called “The Crystal Room.”
“You can’t tell you’re diving until you see a bubble, it’s that clear back there,” he said. “It used to be called ‘The Florida Room’ because of the color of the water.”
The three of them looked like a mix between black-clad astronauts and the Ghostbusters, carrying bulky equipment packs, oxygen tanks and coiled wires through the forest. They passed a trailhead littered with Marlboro Light packs and cellophane wrappers, as if someone spent a day sitting on the rocks chain-smoking through half a carton. Smashed televisions and computer monitors looked wrecked by gunshots; spent bullet casings and shotgun shells rusted on the ground.
Josh Cummings, an underwater photographer from Cape Cod, said the quarry’s average depth is about 90 feet.
“If you go down, it drops to about 130 (feet),” Cummings said, and pointed across the narrow quarry channel. “Must’ve been for mining reasons.”
Cummings said there is more than just abandoned tunnels below the water — pointing to one spot, he said a Jeep had been rusting below the surface for years.
“There’s an old (Ford) T-bird over there,” he said, pointing anew. “There’s quite a number of old cars down there.”
Garrett, who lives in Westminster, said the West Rutland quarry offers pristine diving conditions — if you can get past the temperature, which can chill bone-deep.
The professionals knew the spot well, and have come here for years. Their checklist of equipment included their dry suits, electric warming vests and “re-breather” tanks, which Garrett said recycle breath and are more efficient than standard scuba-diving tanks.
Marissa Marcoux, captain of the Day Breaker charter boat out of Gloucester, Mass., trekked down the trail with her dry suit and gear attached.
Walking in from the trailhead, Marcoux was already tired — it was bright and warm, with temperatures reaching 70 degrees. She stepped into the frigid water to cool off.
She made the drive to Rutland County after a scheduled scallop harvest was thwarted by poor ocean conditions. The West Rutland quarry is a safe bet, she said, explaining it has little water movement and good visibility, creating a dependably stable environment.
But Garrett, the diving instructor, warned that diving anywhere is dangerous, even in West Rutland, and he knows how harrowing a dive can become. Last year, Garrett said, one member of his group was lost during a dive off Nantucket, Mass.
“We never found him,” Garrett said. “(All diving) is dangerous. You get lost in a cave here (in West Rutland), you’ll die. It’s all very serious.”
Standing around and talking, the sheen of sweat across the divers’ foreheads increased. Then they pulled the dry suit hoods over their hair, and attached the re-breather mechanisms. One by one, Garrett, Marcoux and Cummings stepped off the quarry ledge and plummeted into the water.
“I’d chat more, but we’ve got to get in that water at some point,” Cummings said.