"Breaker, breaker: James and Patricia . . . . I now pronounce you husband and wife."
With those words, the Rev. Cliffert Herring, standing at poolside with headphones and beatific smile, concluded yesterday what may well be a matrimonial first hereabouts -- an underwater wedding.
The lucky couple, Jim Rogers and Patricia Cabral, knelt below Herring, submerged with wetsuits, radio transmitters and scuba gear in eight feet of water at the Wild Wave, the glistening, acre-sized swimming pool at Wild World Amusement Park in Prince George's County.
"Breaker, breaker," intoned Herring again, using citizen band radio jargon to trigger the voice-activated transmission system. "You may kiss the bride and come up for air."
More than 100 wedding guests and curiosity seekers at poolside cheered under a blazing sun. Moments later, the couple popped to the surface, smiling and embracing. More cheers. She wore a white lace garter and lavender bouyancy compensator jacket. He wore a red bow tie. The strains of Diana Ross' and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" wafted through the sticky air.
"We've taken the plunge," Cabral said.
"If you're going to get married, you might as well dive right into it," Rogers added.
Everyone was in the swim. It was major league kitsch, a Wild World promotional brainchild gone happily antic -- like the triple wedding ceremony staged on the park's roller coaster last summer.
"People love bizarre things," said Lyle Wolinsky, Wild World's marketing director and inventor of things offbeat. "It keeps them out of a rut."
He estimated the wedding, which cost Wild World no more than $2,000, will generate the equivalent of $300,000 in free advertising for the amusement park through television news coverage alone.
Jim Rogers and Tricia Cabral, both certified scuba divers who had been trying to get married underwater for some time, went to Wild World after the amusement park publicized the idea on nationwide radio and television this year and solicited interested couples.
"About a half-dozen other people expressed interest," said Wolinsky, but all were disqualified, mostly because they weren't experienced divers.
Rogers and Cabral were perfect. They live nearby (Seabrook), they are qualified and "they look good," Wolinsky said.
Rogers, 36, is a Navy torpedo man who works at the Naval Occupational Development and Analysis Center near Bolling Air Force Base in Southeast Washington. Cabral, 35, is a civilian budget analyst in the same place.
Both are experienced underwater cave explorers and wanted to get married in a popular submerged grotto in Florida called the Blue Room. "But only two or three people could attend," Cabral said, " . . . and it would be hard to televise."
So they went to Wild World. They had plenty of television there yesterday. Camera crews from five stations showed up.
Essential to the nuptials was Herring, an amiable Church of Christ pastor from Howertown, Pa., who is a self-described roller coaster buff and amusement park fan. He officiated at Wild World's triple roller coaster wedding last year and was equally available for yesterday's submarine ceremonies. The church hierarchy does not mind his doing these things, he said, "unless I do something really off the wall."
Asked why he stayed out of the pool yesterday instead of officiating under water, he said, "I only walk on the water."
Starting the ceremonies yesterday, Cabral's father, John Davis of Manomet, Mass., leaned over the poolside and gave his daughter away as she treaded water next to her husband-to-be. Then the couple, accompanied by best man Lauren Troyen, 26, and matron of honor Jo Blais, 32, submerged in the 1 million-gallon pool in their scuba outfits and swam in a slow, dignified procession through an underwater trellis festooned with daisies and football mums. Cabral held a bouquet of silk flowers in her hand.
The bridal group halted at the pool's deepest point, eight feet, near a wall serving as an altar. Underwater photographers closed in for shots. Ed Turney, a reporter for WJLA-TV (Channel 7), did double duty and served as a witness, wearing a business shirt and necktie under his scuba gear to mark the occasion.
Above and safely out of the water at the side of the pool, Herring proceeded to read the 10-minute marriage service, speaking through his two-way electronic transmitter.
"Breaker, breaker: Dearly beloved, we are gathered together to join this man and this woman . . . . "
Reading from laminated copies of the wedding service, Rogers and Cabral recited their vows, audible only to Herring, and exchanged rings. "I give you this ring as a token of the covenant . . . . " Bubbles from the scuba gear periodically surfaced as the wedding crowd at the edge of the pool watched intently.
Said Wolinksy: "I love weddings."