Ted Schlueter thought he was about to have a very bad day when he felt his cell phone slip out of his pocket, fall overboard from his boat and sink to the ocean floor in Salem Harbor over Labor Day weekend.
“My heart was crushed,” said the Marblehead marketing executive. “I knew, ‘That thing’s gone.’ I said ‘crap’ — or worse words that I can’t repeat.”
Schlueter asked friends on a nearby boat if he could borrow a mask and then jumped in the water, hoping against hope to find the phone, which also held his license and credit cards.
“I got 10 feet down and knew there was no chance,” he said. “The water was frigid, and I couldn’t see anything.”
When he got back to his boat, his friends offered to call “a guy.” That guy is Chris Ruhnke, who moved to Marblehead in February and took over ABC Diving.
“When people drop their phones, I get a call,” Ruhnke said. “I like to come out. It’s a fun treasure hunt.”
His greatest prize so far? A $3,000 tuna fishing rod that someone had dropped overboard, which he recovered. Ruhnke also does underwater boat cleaning and repair work.
He works out of a 22-foot Eastern with the word “DIVE” in red duct tape on one side.
In the case of Schlueter’s phone, he arrived within 45 minutes and put on his scuba gear but no wetsuit.
“I typically dive down, put an anchor in the bottom with a spool of string and search in circle patterns,” Ruhnke explained. “This phone was about 25 feet down in the mud.”
Schlueter remembers the moment Ruhnke surfaced.
“He came back up in about 20 minutes and hands me my phone,” he said. “It illuminates and shows me my favorite picture of my two children. I told him, ‘For the rest of my life, I’m in your debt.’”
Schlueter swiped to his Venmo app, which worked perfectly, and paid Ruhnke his $150 fee.
“He was shivering like a leaf, like he had hypothermia, so I gave him a towel and we started talking,” Schlueter said.
He offered to help Ruhnke with marketing advice to promote his business.
Ruhnke, who has a computer science degree, has been diving professionally since 2008 and has always loved the water.
“The water has been my oasis my whole life,” he said. “It’s definitely my happy place.”
Ruhnke is about to wrap up for the season, and his plans are a bit up in the air. He might do some work for the Coast Guard, go diving in Florida or “ski bum it” for the winter, he said. But he’ll be back in Marblehead next spring.
You can learn more about Ruhnke’s business at ABCDivingBoston.com or call him at 978-473-7969.