With ongoing angry seas in December, there wasn’t a window of calmness long enough to put the Christmas Tree out on the water at Nubble Light. For those not familiar with “the Tree dive”, it’s a tradition that began in 1979 by the late Gary Thullier, a member of the United Divers of New Hampshire Dive Club. The tradition brought together dive club members to participate with the York Parks department’s Annual lighting of the Nubble festivities.
The “Lighting of the Nubble” event was held every Saturday after Thanksgiving. Divers would show up the afternoon of the event to assemble the tree, attach the tree to the base, secure floats to the base and rig the LED lights and then everyone pitched in to “trim the tree”, which also involved adorning with glow sticks.
The tradition was to raise the Christmas tree, complete with lights, out of the water just after the countdown to light up the lighthouse.
York Parks would allot several parking spots closest to the water allowing us room for the tree but more importantly room for a tent canopy with walls to shelter us from the elements. We did this right, complete with space heaters and propane stoves to boil water cups-o-soup, cocoa and to have warm water to warm up gloves, and wetsuits before going back in. Not all divers were diving in dry suits. Some of the divers, including my daughter, participated in the dive in wet suits. In between the dives, we would grill stuff (Roz’s BBQ Ribs!!), feast on holiday goodies and play holiday music while trying to stay warm. After bringing the tree out of the water, kids and families would line up to get pictures with the scuba divers and lit up tree. We would hand out glow sticks off the tree to the kids.
It always takes a small village to organize and execute the tree dive event. The tree needs to be assembled and trimmed before being hauled down to the water. We then rely on divers to tow the tree out over to the mooring and submerge it in anticipation of the countdown. Divers need to reenter the water once again before the lighting to pop the glow sticks underwater and ready the tree for the raising as the lighthouse was lit up.
With the passing of Gary Thullier, who was integral in coordinating the tree dive, others were only too glad to pitch in to help. Members from the former Finatics Dive Club, and NH dive shops Aquatic Escapes of Londonderry and Aquatic Specialties in Merrimack all helped to keep the tradition going. The original base that Gary had made was crafted of steel rebar. As you can imagine, over time it would rust and corrode due to the salt water, and this was amplified by being stored outside. The base eventually needed to be replaced, and Erika Parsons stepped up and used her pipefitter skills to build a new stainless-steel base. The original LED lighting Gary had fashioned also needed to be upgraded. David Hubelbank, an RPI Electrical Engineer, upgraded the LED Lights with a proper LED lighting system which was a more reliable system than in past years. We also switched to a much bigger winch that significantly simplified the process of submerging the tree. David Coyle of Aquatic Specialties donated the current tree. (We’re on our 3rd “neutrally buoyant” tree).
We had our share of problems over the years, including years where we needed to scrub the tree dive all together. The conditions had just been too rough, windy, and not safe to be on the water or topside. One year, the lights flashed on the lighthouse after the countdown only to go out immediately. Another year the tree toppled over as it surfaced only to have the tree becoming separated from the base and promptly ending up ending up on the bottom of the ocean. The following morning, Mike Nalen of Aquatic Escapes had to do a “tree recovery”.
I first became involved in the tree dive in 2010 and have looked forward to participating every year with my wife and kids. As we raised the tree from the water, it was a rush to hear the crowds cheering and see the flashing lights. I would also enjoyed towing the tree around for a “victory lap” before towing it back to shore for the photo op. I remember divers being greeted to the warmest thank you’s (and sometimes even hugs from the younger kids)
A few of the years, there were challenges getting divers to help as many longtime supporters had family commitments. One especially quiet year, it was just myself and Ben Tong as divers and Matt Rosenburg, the Nubble Lighthouse Keeper, to help topside on his dinghy. We managed to successfully submerge and raise the tree with bystanders pitching in and help bring the tree down to the water and back up afterwards. The Town and the public had always looked forward to the tree being there, so we just made it work. That was until the event had become a victim of its own success.
The holiday festivities would draw over 1,000 people into quite a small area. The Town of York and York Parks Department made the decision to do away with the countdown over safety concerns, such as access for first responders. While there is no longer a large gathering with an annual countdown, divers still make an effort to keep the tradition of the Nubble tree everlasting. Last winter, we were blessed with calm seas, so Dave Coyle from Aquatic Specialties and a few divers pitched in to put the tree out for the first time since the Pandemic. A local diver, Bobby Joe, stepped up to take some spectacular drone footage.
While Mother Nature didn’t allow us to bring out the this year, I’m looking forward to putting the tree out on the water for Christmas in July 2023. We hope that you will join in the event.
Let’s continue to keep our traditions going strong.