July 23, 2007

Each time Jeff Harris dives, he returns to the surface with buried treasure

By Karrah Anderson
Staff Writer

When thinking of buried treasure, the image of a sunken ship and pirate’s treasure often comes to mind, but for Jeff Harris, those words mean something different – he thinks of the many buried things he’s retrieved while underwater.

Jeff and his wife, Rebecca, live with their two daughters, Miki and Alex, in Delano. Jeff works full time as a manager at Superior Knife, a company specializing in sharpening knives for restaurants; however the free time in his life is devoted to a hobby-inspired vocation.

Jeff’s love for fishing led him to wonder about the waters below, and with the influence and encouragement of his uncle, Dennis Geffre, he decided to become a certified scuba diver to answer some of the questions.

“I was always curious about where my lure was going,” Jeff said.

As with most things, scuba diving has some rules.

“Rule number one in scuba diving is to have a partner,” Jeff said. He explained that with just a license alone, you may never use it, as you always need that partner to go with.

“It’s important to find someone that shares your interests. What fun is it to dive down and see all that you do, and have no one to share your experiences?” Jeff said.

Jeff and Dennis have been partners in discovery for more than 20 years.

“We found we had similar interests, which allowed us to take things further,” Jeff said. “Now we search for things together, as well as purchase equipment.”

Their scuba diving began as a hobby where they would dive and find things, like anchors, without really trying. Through this hobby, Jeff and Dennis decided to make a business out of it. Lake Recovery Diving, run solely by the duo, specializes in retrieving lost items in bodies of water – in every season.

As a certified scuba diver, Jeff has been trained for almost every kind of underwater excursion, including deep dive, rescue, night diving, and ice diving.

With these different specialities, he is able to find items in any condition. In their business, the two will search for anything from a lost diamond ring to a snowmobile.

These partners stay busy year-round, helping people find things they’ve lost. Through careful practice, top of the line equipment, and of course, trial and error, they have become very efficient in underwater retrieval.

“We use underwater cameras to be more efficient. It helps eliminate danger, because that cold water is pressing the envelope with danger,” Jeff explained.

When they are diving, especially in the winter, communication is key.

“You have to know a back-up plan for everything,” Jeff said. “I need to know where the people who are on top of the ice are standing, what to do if my cable breaks, if I have a back-up cable, if the ice is thick enough – those kinds of things.”

Jeff has learned many other things through scuba diving.

“Staying calm is key in every situation; you must conserve your air,” he said.

He has also learned about people. Often people have lost something that is very precious to them, and over the years, Jeff has learned how to be considerate of their state of mind.

“I’ve learned how to approach the situation, because it can be very traumatic for people. They can have a major connection to that item. I just try to remember their feelings,” he said.

Jeff and Dennis work closely with the Minnetonka Water Patrol in keeping everyone informed, and in turn, the water patrol contacts them when someone has lost an item. They have become good investigators as a result.

“Nine times out of 10, the item or vehicle go in at night, and people don’t mark where – they are focused on survival,” Jeff explained.

The most difficult part of their job is to locate the item, but they have developed multiple systems, depending on the nature of the situation, for retrieving the vehicles efficiently and with minimal damage.

Aside from being employed by his diving, Jeff also uses his skills to volunteer. He makes a point to keep Lake Minnetonka, specifically Big Island, as clean as possible.

With a metal detector in hand, Jeff listens to the tone to decide whether to fan for, or dig for, the item below. He carries a mesh bag with him, where he piles bottlecaps, shards of glass, and even bobby pins, to clean up the lake floor.

“You should see all the stuff I bag,” Jeff said enthusiastically. “I have a tree at home I made to hang all the hundreds of sunglasses I find on.”

Jeff cleaned the island meticulously before the Fourth of July, only to return a day after to find a surplus of new trash. He heaped his boat full of the garbage he found, and still wasn’t able to get it all.

“I only brought four bags that day, so I grabbed the dangerous items off the bottom,” Jeff said. “It’s amazing how much went in in one day.”

He doesn’t let the trash discourage him – he continues to dive and clean up, and said volunteering is very important to him.

“If everyone worked for a greater cause, it would be a greater place. I choose to focus on diving, but if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be doing something else,” he said.

Jeff is also involved in Destination Imagination, along with his wife and children, where he serves as a team manager.

Diving is a passion that allows Jeff to give back to his community. Cleaning up Lake Minnetonka is important to him because it allows him to make a place safe for both his family and the others who are using the space.

Jeff and Dennis are clearly motivated year-round to help people find things they have lost that are dear to them. They have found the best of both worlds by getting paid to do something they love.

“The challenge motivates us. Safety is the number one thing on our minds, without question,” Jeff said. “The more difficult, the greater the challenge.”

His many discoveries have kept this hobby alive, making each dive a new experience.

He now knows where his lure has gone, allowing him a peek into a world many have chosen to neglect. Jeff continues to dive often, each time discovering a new piece of buried treasure.

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