Down The Hatch – Literally

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As long as Mike and I have been visiting the Cayman Islands, the one thing we never thought we’d do was take the Atlantis submarine tour.  I figured that, as a diver, I get to see (in a more interactive way) the same things the submarine passengers see anyway.

Heck, one time I was almost a human bug on the windshield of the darn thing when we were scuba diving at Sunset House!  It happened just as we’d found the underwater mermaid statue. Mike had taken a picture of me next to it and then let me know with some gesturing that he wanted to switch places so I could take a picture of him.  I swam to him and then waited and watched as he swam to the mermaid to pose for me.  When he turned around he began gesturing and pointing behind me like he was in the final big money round on some game show featuring pantomime.  I finally turned to look behind me (hoping I wasn’t going to be suddenly in a real-life sequel to Jaws) and there was the submarine tootling along about 15 feet behind me!  I have always imagined the captain saying… “Just a moment folks, I have to run the wipers to squeegee this scuba diver off my windshield.”

So when Jo (who was visiting last week) said she might like to try the submarine, my first thought was to do what I’ve done in the past- drop her off and find something to do while she was gone.  As we made our way into Georgetown to shop and get her a ticket on the Atlantis, I started thinking “why not?”

We decided to take the first tour of the day.  The submarine has an attending safety tug boat, which tows it out to the area where they run their tours and stays more or less in that area to warn other boaters that the submarine is in operation and assist with managing the loading and unloading of passengers. The passengers are brought to the site on a larger, two-level, tourist type boat.  They use the two levels to manage the arriving and departing passengers.

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On the way out to the submarine they do a safety demonstration.  It was with some mild alarm that I began wondering what I was getting myself into as they demonstrated both a life vest AND a smoke mask!  Of course they reassure the passengers by saying that they’ve done thousands of dives and never had an incident….yet.

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At the submarine, once the departing passengers have disembarked and been seated on the lower level, the arriving passengers are brought down from the upper level to board the submarine.  At first you stand right on top of it. They have two hatches and the crew more or less splits the group into two and lines them up facing the hatch they’ll be using.

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When it was my turn to go down the hatch, I had a moment of hesitation -Did I really want to do this crazy thing?  There’s sort of a point of no return feeling at that point, so not being a quitter down I went.

In the belly of the beast was a wide bench down the middle with pre-formed plastic “seats” indicating where to sit.  Passengers walk along a narrow space between the side of the sub and the bench and fill in the seats.  Once seated, your feet are in the aisle and you are facing the portholes.

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The crew begins their tour spiel as the submarine begins to descend.  They explain about the submarine and identify any fish or other sea life that appears in front of the portholes. The thing I found interesting is that the submarine is somewhat noisy inside as different things are happening.  I didn’t expect that because it had barely made a sound the day we saw it while scuba diving.  The ride, however is very smooth.  Even though you’re in this vessel, there’s a feeling of flying through the water.

Unfortunately, the pictures I tried to take through the porthole did not turn out good.  The visibility was good -but we were a bit too far removed.  Pictures taken through a window are usually not the greatest and I’m sure this window was quite a bit thicker than your average window!

Basically, the sub just cruises around trying to show the passengers some sea life, different coral formations and a peek at the wall.  The Caymans are basically the exposed tops of an underwater mountain range.  Not very far from shore, the “wall” starts.  There’s no gradual drop off – it simply drops off.  And it is very, very deep.  The Cayman Trough is not all that far off the island of Grand Cayman.  It is the deepest part of the Caribbean and has been measured at 25,000 feet deep.

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I can’t remember how far down they said the submarine can go before it would be crushed like a beer can on a frat boy’s head, but 110 feet is about the deepest we went went that day.  When Mike and I did a wall dive some years ago -we were at 100 feet in scuba gear.  This time I was dry and didn’t have to worry about decompression.

We did see some sea life.  A turtle, a stingray and many other types of fish.  I saw several lionfish.  Lionfish are an invasive species.  They are normally found in the Pacific.  No one knows exactly how they got loose in the Caribbean/Atlantic, but one theory is that several years ago when a hurricane hit Florida some lionfish escaped from an aquarium and the rest is history.  They have no predators to keep them in check and according to what I’ve heard they simply eat everything in sight and wreak havoc on the underwater eco-system.  The Caymans have a bounty on them.  The dive shops run lionfish hunting dives and the local restaurants are inventing new lionfish recipes regularly.

They’re quite dramatic looking.  http://flylifemagazine.com/tag/lionfish/#!prettyPhoto/0/

After about an hour or so, it was time to surface.  We disembarked the submarine and got on the transport boat.  They stayed at the site until the next group submerged, so I was able to get some pictures of that.

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As suspected, I would prefer to be underwater with tanks on my back.  But, for someone who isn’t interested in getting certified, it is a great way to get a glimpse of what it’s like below the surface – There’s another whole world down there to explore!

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Categories: Cayman Islands 2014

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