Many people always ask me the same question over and over: “What brought you here?”. For us, it was the right time at the right moment to totally change it up in our lives. Scuba diving has always been one of my biggest passions and I would always try to make two diving holidays a year. Now every day when I look out of my window I see the beautiful sunny Half Moon Bay in front of me. That makes me happy, and I get even more excited that I can scuba dive right here in my back yard. So my mind was made up pretty quick and after working in the publishing business for many years I changed my hobby to my work. I have been a dive instructor and underwater photographer for well over nine years.
Karl Stanley “Go Deeper”
Right next door to us lives Karl Stanley, who’s childhood dream was to build his own submarine. He made that dream come true. Whilst he was studying he started building his first submarine the Cbug (controlled by Buoyancy). He had hundreds of dives with her, before he started making his second submarine Idabel, in which he can take tourists to a maximum depth of 610 meters/2000 ft.
The submarine is called Idabel, the honor of the city of Oklahoma where she was built and who’s citizens were very helpful in the process of the build. Karl has a whole photo scrapbook of the construction, and he happily shows you before you go down to the bottom of the ocean. There are only two other operators worldwide that take tourists down that deep in the ocean, but they only go to a maximum depth of 350 meters. Karl has been in the business the longest, goes the deepest and is the most affordable deep sea explorer.
He is a 42 year old American, eccentric and genius who walks all day long barefoot with his dogs through our village West End. Karl: “You want to put 2000 foot of water between you and the surface of the ocean? I’m the only person in the world who can do it for you.” If you would try to organize this in any other way the costs would be exceeding around 17,000 euros!
Whenever I go snorkeling with my son, we always go over Karl’s submarine’s platform from where we plunge into Half Moon bay. The Cbug (his first homemade submarine) he put to rest a stone throw away from his dock and is now a small wreck at 5 meters of depth. As my son loves to free dive. The wreck is a perfect place to practice and play, even more so for there is a huge green moray eel that lives in the wreck. It is always fun to go and say hello.
On the way back we walk back over the dock and are greeted by thousands of flies. Karl’s girlfriend is just finished tying a pigs head to the front of the submarine. It kind of looks like a piece of art. Next to the head she has tied up all other kinds of bait; it is bloody and gory. It looks like she’s done this before. My son is fascinated by all this, and she explains him that this is the best way to attract six-gill sharks down in the deep. She says that they are ready to go and Max is daydreaming of a trip on the Idabel.
In Discovery Channel River Monsters (season 9), killers from the abyss, you can see how a six-gill shark is thrashing and bashing into the bait bound on Karl’s submarine. When Jeremy Wade was here last year for the recordings, he told us it took five days to shoot this unique reportage on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RQvaRve6yk
About a month later my Dutch friend Eva and I are offered a trip in the submarine, for our birthdays.
He can take a maximum weight of 200 kg/ 440 lbs aside from himself, so he thought it would be a nice idea to take my son and her daughter along on the trip. Her daughter and my son are both 10 years old at the time. Eva has been living here for over 12 years now and we have become good friends over the years. Max is totally excited and can’t wait to go! What an amazing present!
The big day has arrived and Max eagerly jumps in the submarine to check out how everything looks on the inside. It’s all super interesting, he checks out where Karl stands during his trips to navigate the sub and then goes down a little deeper where you enter the passengers bubble. The glass in the dome window to look through outside, is 10 cm thick, and Max is a little surprised on how tight the quarters are. Before we all get in, Karl holds a small briefing, we are all not to move to much and everybody needs to go to the bathroom now if needed. We were prepared for this so we all hadn’t drank to much before we went down. We brought socks and sweaters for it can get pretty cold and damp down deep.
Next everybody has to go stand on the scales, so Karl knows how many bags of sand to add to the submarine to get to the needed 200 kg.
Our adventure starts
The four of us are seated in the front, each with a child in our lap. Its a little tight fit but that shouldn’t be a problem. Through the window I take a couple of pictures of my husband Edmond, who is on the dock waving us goodbye. For a second the thought of “what if” goes through my mind, but I quickly get rid of that. Karl’s submarine is not registered with any authority and you get on board at your own risk.
He has more than twenty years of experience and over 2000 safe dives logged. He hasn’t lost a passenger and that’s what I keep reminding my self!
Slowly the submarine is submerged of the platform into the water via a steel cable. The dome window is now half under water and a half above. Karl still has his head out the top of the submarine, it’s always funny to see, we see him come and go a lot like this in the bay. Whilst still on the surface the submarine feels kind of wobbly and my son is already starting to complain about how tight it is, so I try to distract him.
As we pass over his old sunken submarine we see the big green moray eel swim away underneath us. That was a cool moment; Zoë my friends’ daughter is all wound up and can’t wait to start to descend. I’m not so sure about Max. I can see he is starting to get claustrophobic and I have a little of the feeling too. It’s all a little uncomfortable and is totally different than having a tank strapped to your back and swimming through a cave. At that moment Max tells us he has made up his mind and really doesn’t want to go down, I can see the panic in his eyes. I tell him its alright and think to myself better now than later when we are at 330 meters/1000 ft down under, that panic would then pass over to me to.
I ask Karl to go back and we drop Max off at the dock, “maybe next time with dad.”
Poor Max he’s so close to shedding tears. Edmond tells him that he is definitely not the only one to who has this overcome. Meanwhile, Karl is busy compensating, Max his weight with extra bags of sand and then off to the reef.
As soon as we are above the reef, (which is not even a 5-minute ride) Karl pulls a leaver which fills the ballast tanks and down we go. My heart misses a couple of beats, we are going down fast, not what I expected. The feeling of claustrophobia slowly fades away and everything seems to become more abstract. It kind of feels like being in an airplane but way more packed up than in tourist class.
Zoë’s enthusiasm quickly gets my mind distracted. We descend along the wall, where I dive on a regular basis but only to a max depth of 40 meters/133 ft. Quickly, we descend past 60 meters into a world of gloominess. Karl leaves the strobes off for a while but then suddenly flashes them on and says; “Look! There is the old BCD from the guy from New York named Bugsy. He came here to commit suicide!”. Nice way to start the trip Karl. I have heard about this story. Bugsy went on a dive with his girlfriend and eventually started going deeper and deeper to never be seen again. I think to myself what a horrific moment that must have been for his girlfriend.
After 90 meters/300 ft we see there is no more plant life, sunlight can penetrate to a depth of 60 meters/ 200 ft but it is not intense enough anymore for plant life, except for one sort of red algae.
Meanwhile, I have the feeling we are going down as fast as a brick. Looking next to me, I check the depth on the depth gauge, wow we are only halfway down 150 meters. It looks like we are going to land on the wall. Every now and then I look down and get a weird feeling of being scared of heights. Also looking upwards and hoping no chunk of stone or coral comes shooting down from the surface. Looking around though there isn’t much marine life to be seen yet. Every now and then Karl lets a few cubic feet of oxygen into the sub. The same principle of a rebreather, very efficient.
Its amazing to see how this self made engineer navigate his submarine past all these walls and shelves.
Suddenly we see some deep sea jellyfish and squid, but they are too fast for us to be able to take a picture. I am hoping to see a ‘dumbo octopus’, but Karl tells me that we have to go way deeper to encounter one. The animals at these depths have made miraculous adjustments for life at these depths. Some have a blood red color, with red light being totally absorbed in these depths, others are then totally transparent, or shimmer like a mirror. There are even creatures down here who make there own light and certain corals and sponges glow in there own bioluminescence.
We are now nearing the maximum depth for our trip 330 meters or 1000 feet. This is pretty unique, only 5 minutes away from my home and I am at this depth under the ocean.
We are so intrigued by everything I forget the light cramp in my leg, its not as if you can go stretch your legs here. We see all sorts of soft waving corals and a something that resembles a white flower (sea-lilies or stalked crinoids) I have never seen anything like it. These lilies can walk and can walk up to 5cm per second they have long stalks and waving feathers on top. The yellow crinoids that can swim!
Every now and then Karl will just stop the sub in the middle of nowhere just to look around. We spot a fish Walking in the sand, it is one type of the Robin fish, and scattered around are some sea urchins.
These creatures give a rare site back in time. Karl tells us that the sea lilies, (the ones we see on every dive, but only past 150 meters) is stable in this environment. They have lived unchanged for more or less than 230 million years. That is more than half the time that life has existed on our planet.
I get distracted by drips of water rolling down on the inside of the window. “Don’t worry, that’s just the O-ring.” says Karl. At these depths everything closes itself tight. It sounds like Karl is more worried about the damage the salt can do, than the chance of a catastrophic implosion.
We take a memorable photo once we reach our depth of 330 meters/ 1000 ft and stand still at the fact that we are as deep down as a tall skyscraper. Karl also makes two other trips with tourists to 460 meters and 610 meters with each having its own price tag. My husband and a good friend of mine went to 610 meters, something they wanted on their bucket list. That was $900,- per person and takes up to four and a half hours to complete the trip. We thought two and a half hours was good enough for our first trip. Saying that though, we will be saving up to do another trip to a greater depth.
Ascending goes way quicker. I remember an encounter with Karl. I was diving alongside Halfmoon Bay wall at 30 meters depth and heard a weird noise. I looked up and down and suddenly saw the Idabel coming up making its way to the surface. Quickly I informed my divers and they were totally flabbergasted, they hadn’t ever seen anything like this on any previous dive before. The sub came by quickly, but I had enough time to capture this moment on camera! (see photos)
After exploring the depths at around 330 meter/1000 ft, it is time for our ascend. Round 250 meters/ 825 ft depth you can start to see a tiny bit of daylight. This is where Karl stops the sub and switches of the strobes, it is still very dark but you can just make out some light above you. Then “pop” we shoot to the surface like a cork out of a champagne bottle. Karl offered us this unique trip to the dark depths which have been untouched by man. I hope it stays this way. Best birthday present ever!
Less than 3 percent of deep ocean waters have been explored.
Nearly all deep sea exploration has been done by a small group of developed countries in their own waters; the U.S., Russia, New Zealand, Japan, the U.K., and France.
There is very little known about the deep waters of less developed countries, in my case the coast of Central Amerika. It is not for nothing that National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and many others have featured about this unique submarine the Idabel.
Karl’s next adventure; the Blue Hole in Belize this coming November
During a submarine conference in the U.S. Karl met two other colleges that are going there. The trip from Roatan to Belize is 90 miles. Karl has made a hull that resembles the front of a boat that connects the front of the submarine to give it a more streamlined line so he can transport Idabel more easily. The idea is to bring the Blue Hole into chart with these three submarines. There are limited amount of seats to be bought at $10.000,- Who’s in for the ride of a lifetime?
In Dutch published in magazine Duiken