Yellow Submarine

Posted on November 14, 2018

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I first met Mr Sub three weeks ago. I think it was serendipity. I’d gone out on a date which turned out to be more of a dinner meeting. Maybe I should have stayed home and cooked those prawns in the fridge? Better food and more enjoyable. I left deflated, $20 lighter and not surprised. Bloody European men. I messaged my flatmates and ended up in the local watering hole afterwards.

As I moved to the back of the bar and out onto the beach Mr Flipflop was chatting to a table full of people I’d never met. His good friend The Greek, Mr Real Estate and Mr Sub. I went over to introduce myself. The chance to meet new people – older people, gave me hope I could salvage my evening. I’d been craving adult conversation.

As I exchanged pleasantries it dawned on me that I managed to find the only table (probably on the whole island) where the majority had decided to go on the wagon. I was stunned. I plonked myself down. Could I actually have some stimulating banter this evening?! Yes it turned out!

No one could believe I’d been here four weeks already because they hadn’t seen me out before. I haven’t been going out. I’ve been tucked up in bed everyday at 9pm, because the idea of socialising with heavy drinkers fills me with dread. I don’t wanna pay $2 for water, choking as a passive smoker, watching people reach a level of inebriation that’s no longer an option. So I stay home. I don’t need reminding how hard it is to be sober on party islands.

The guys quizzed me on what brought me to Honduras, my past life as a journalist and primates. Mr Sub, had a particular interest and surprising knowledge of bonobos and cross river gorillas. Who would have thought? I enjoyed our sparring.

Turns out he’s lived on Roatan for 20 years. A yank from Connecticut, he owns and invented the submersible, Idabel, which sits on the dock next to our dive school. It’s named after a town in Oklahoma where he built it. Ironically I’d never seen him in the day even though we were “work” neighbours. The conversation between all of us flowed for a couple of hours. I was happy. But in true Cinderella form I didn’t stay late. I had a student the next day and a wave of tiredness hit me. At 11pm I made an exit minus my chariot and with my footwear firmly attached. Let’s face it no Prince Charming would think about looking for the woman who’d left her flipflop behind.

Mr Sub later told me, “If I hadn’t stopped drinking, we probably never would have met. I would have been drunk and you’d have walked in and out of the bar and not given me the time of day,”.

And he’s right.

We hung out a few times a week later, a kind of friendship developed, and then he dropped the bombshell one evening after a yoga class. Well it felt like a bombshell for an-out-of-work reporter still hungry for news. A story of deep water exploration, involving 3D sonar, drones and all sorts of high tech kit. An historical first which he was part of.

I thought if I pitch this right, it could be the opportunity for me to do what I love doing, almost as much as diving – story telling. The bonus would be get paid, film inside a submarine and dive to a depth I could never ever do on gas! I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

The next day I sat down and thrashed it out with him what exactly his latest expedition involved. Finally I got my top line to sell to an editor. I fired off a few emails and ten days later I got a commission. BBC World has agreed to pay me for two pieces: one news piece for the channel and a self authored piece for digital.

Mr Sub is travelling to Belize next month with his submersible to help map the Blue Hole – it’s never been done before. The site is on every divers’ bucket list. It’s the world’s largest sink hole with a UNESCO heritage status. Spanning 1000feet wide and more than 400feet deep, it was discovered by oceanographer Jacques Yves Cousteau almost fifty years ago. There’s no detailed data on what’s at depth. Not even the national museum has any substantial info.

A few tech divers have carried out some drawings over the years. But divers cannot stay at extreme depth for lengthy periods due to the physiological risks on the human body. So those sketches barely scratch the surface. It’s a huge friggin area.

“It’s a nerd convention. And yeah we’ll geek out on the technology. It’s the first modern scientific exploration since it was discovered. I mean it’s eye candy after all,” he said, the corners of his mouth breaking into a smirk and his eyes lighting up.

“Eye candy is Ocean Ramsey in a wetsuit free-diving with a Great White,” I thought. But that’s where scientists and journalists will differ.

The 3D sonar for this trip alone is so expensive and accurate the team hope to have a precise model by the end of the three week adventure. It’s all being live streamed. That’ll be extremely interesting for scientists but probably less sexy for the general public.

The Blue Hole isn’t famed for its marine life. It’s unlikely any new species will be found. It’s the topography that’s exciting. At around 37m there are stalactites. I’ve dived it. I stayed on the exact liveaboard – The Agressor III – this January that is due to take the media scrum and guests there in December. The aerial shots of the Blue Hole are actually more impressive. It looks like a beautiful blue eye from the skies. But the project has garnered a lot of support and private sponsorship. Sir Richard Branson is on board and so is Cousteau’s grandson, Fabien. Mr Sub and Idabel is one of two submersibles scouring the depths. The brainchild of the project is a man who runs the Canadian company called Aquatica.

So my commission this week has been to film Mr Sub at his home on Roatán and interview him about his role in the project and get inside the submarine of course!!

This happened on Sunday afternoon. It was magical. To be able to dive to 600 feet was incredible. It was like being in space. The life down there is extraordinary and all living things at and below that depth are considered animals not plants as photosynthesis is impossible. I saw beautiful sea lilies, corals, lion fish and the remnants of scuba gear from a suicide diver 30 years ago. Weird and very sad.

I took Lara Croft with me. She could barely contain her excitement. We were weighed in. The sub can only take a max weight of 450lbs. Your weight is subtracted from the total and the rest of that weight is made up of sandbags. At deeper depths there’s a chance to see six gill sharks bigger than the sub. We didn’t get that deep – time, expense. But I was grateful to be below a humanly possibly dive depth. It was a surprisingly smooth journey and the blue of the ocean was hypnotic. The landscape looked like how I imagine the moon to be.

In true reporter style I’ve shot more material than I need and I’m frustrated with poor wifi which is making my edit arduous and an unnecessary nosebleed. It’s been an wonderful way to end my last seven weeks on Roatán. Tick off a bucket list experience and earn some cash.

Right now I’m sat waiting to board a plane to Panama in San Salvador. Now time for another chapter. My next stop: the San Blas Islands and visiting the indigenous Guna people tomorrow.

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