By Darren Lum
Teenager Dustyn McCready-DeBruin said having a mentor has been key to the success of his fledgling diving retrieval business, Dusty Dives.
The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School graduate of 2019 has been operating for close to two seasons now, offering dock repair, underwater weeding and retrieval of items such as heirlooms, mobile phones, eye glasses and keys.
A lot of what he has learned and continues to learn is owed to his mentor “Pepe” Humberto Lazcano of Adventure Divers based in Omemee, which is west of Peterborough.
He not only taught him how to dive, but has been an ongoing resource, offering diving and business advice since he restarted this season in June.
“It’s been huge, yeah. There’s been quite a few times if I didn’t know [what to do] and if I went down I wouldn’t have been able to [search] … there were probably four or five [items] I wouldn’t have been able to find,” he said.
This entreprenueral effort is credited in part to the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Business Advisory Centre through the provincial government’s Summer Company program, for which students aged 15 to 29 are eligible. The program provided him some training and $3,000 to start.
When McCready-DeBruin started his company he didn’t anticipate the public’s demand for his services.
He said the pandemic hasn’t hurt his business, as cottagers continue to come up to cottage country. Business is up this year for the 19-year-old, who said he’s diving two or three times a week instead of once a week.
His previous experience working with sled dogs as a dog guide the past five years during the winters with his parents’ dogsled tour company Winterdance Dogsled Tours of Haliburton has prepared him for the unexpected.
“With dogsledding things just get thrown at you. I feel like if something gets thrown at me underwater it’s like I have that mentality that I can keep calm and not panic, which is definitely good in diving,” he said.
Having his parents as a constant source of information for running a small business has been a definite bonus, particularly when it comes to the administrative work such as receiving payment and booking clients.
“I knew what to expect. I knew a lot of the behind-the-scenes things that have to happen kind of thing. Whereas that might surprise a lot of people,” he said.
Much of his work, he said, has been retrieving mobile phones for clients.
When he started last year he thought he’d be doing more dock repairs and retrieving for golf courses.
This business will become a year-round offering since he is deferring his year of university after it decided to hold virtual classes. He plans to purchase a dry suit to enable him to withstand the colder water temperatures during the winter.
Sometimes his searches depend on technical skills acquired from his mentor to overcome challenges such as the limited visibility of murky water.
“It’s hard to see where you’ve been or where you need to go, right? When you get down there you get disoriented sometimes so it’s good to drop a buoy down so you know exactly where you started and kind of do rings around and clip a line to your buoy so you know where you’ve been,” he said.
With his work, he’s been to a variety of bodies of water from the clear rocky bottom of Kennesis Lake to the murky, black depths of Glamor Lake in Gooderham.
The waters of Ontario typically have less visibility compared to the tropics where it could be close to 100 feet of visibility compared to one foot, he said.
Besides the technical challenges of some dives here, there is also challenges of deep water.
He doesn’t love doing the deep water dives where it can be as cold as 30 degrees Fahrenheit in close to 40 feet of water where it might contrast to the 75 degrees Fahrenheit closer to the surface. It’s not just uncomfortable to dive, but it also requires more oxygen and leaves him at risk of hypothermia.
Among the tools he relies on to locate lost items are a waterproof metal detector and lights, and a dive computer he wears on his wrist. His computer is connected to his oxygen tank, providing him information about his oxygen level, temperature of the water and its depth, and includes a compass.
He said clients can help him locate items by providing him details such as depth of the body of water, the type of lake bed and three points of location so he can triangulate the location of the item.
Depth is key because it determines if he’ll need someone to be on the surface. Typically, if it is below 20 feet he wants either someone with him or on the surface.
Triangulation will improve the success rate for a search.
“That’s a huge help because if they don’t then a lake is a big place,” he said. “Or a GPS coordinate.”
Much of his work has been retrieving items off docks, which is a fairly simple search.
He said another detail that helps him is if a person can describe what the conditions of the lake bed are so he can determine the tools he will need.
Metal items, including mobile phones, are much easier to find than plastic objects, as he can employ the use of his metal detector.
One client’s request that stands out from the rest is a great-grandmother’s gold coin dating back to the 1870s from Holland. The heirloom, he said, was an important find because of its sentimental importance to the owner, the great granddaughter, who had it on a necklace on the dock when it came off after a clasp broke.
“Just the sentimental, right? Most of the things I do are phones and stuff. It’s not sentimental. That was really cool to be able to find that for her,” he said, referring to the Muskoka find. “She was ecstatic. She was pretty happy.”
For more information about services in Muskoka and Haliburton County provided by Dusty Dives, call 705-457-0486.