“Would you be interested in joining the OceanGate team on a training dive to 250 feet off Everett, in our five person submersible, the Antipodes?” the email read. My calendar was clear for the day. There was only one possible answer: YES!
After filling out a few liability waiver forms—basically signing my life away—I was set to meet OceanGate’s CEO, Stockton Rush, the next day. Rush would act as mission leader and captain the high-speed boat out to the mother ship Kraken (named after the legendary giant squid like sea monster, not the rum), and the submersible, Antipodes.
Within minutes of arriving at OceanGate headquarters in the Port of Everett Marina, we were on our way out to the dive site. A few minutes later we stepped off the swim platform of Kraken, onto the deck of Antipodes, and then down the hatch into the bright yellow submersible. The pilot of the submersible greeted me as I came aboard. .
Antipodes is 15 feet long and about 5 feet in diameter. It ships easily all over the world in a standard shipping container, yet even with five people aboard it was surprisingly roomy. Two sit in the forward dome and two sit in the rear observation dome. The fifth person sits in the center area. Twin 58-inch acrylic half dome port-lights, on both ends, provide light and excellent viewing.
I was fortunate to sit next to the pilot in the forward observation dome. My feet rested on the bottom edge of the clear bubble. The top edge of the dome towered a foot and a half over my head and about two feet in front of my nose.
A typical dive ranges from three to eight hours, with life support for 72 hours if the sub encounters problems. Standard dive protocol calls for alerting Global Diving & Salvage in Puget Sound in advance of each dive so they can have divers standing by in the unlikely event of a problem. Our dive would be about three hours long.
Once we were all aboard, we descended quickly in search of a sunken 336′ fish processing ship. Using the Teledyne BlueView 2D scanning sonar, we found the boat and proceeded towards it, coming up under the bow area and circling the sunken vessel. Visibility was only a few feet as we progressed to the hull, which was full of white sea anemones. Surprisingly, we saw little sea life on this dive, just a cuttlefish scooting by and several very small fish close to the lights. I would love to take the submersible down in an area with good visibility and sea life. The Bahamas and the Caribbean come to mind…
I couldn’t pass up an invitation to pilot the sub. It is a bit like flying an airplane or a helicopter, but slower: cruise speed is about two knots. The first thing to do is reach neutral buoyancy. Once neutral buoyancy is reached, all maneuvering is done with thrusters. The controls are like a helicopter, with a switch for up and down, and a rotating stick for heading
The biggest challenge is momentum—both too much, and not enough. When starting a turn, for instance, it’s easy to “overthrust” and shoot right through your desired heading. Not enough thrust, though, and the turn never happens.
After three hours underwater it was time to return to the surface. A radio call to the mother ship Kraken confirmed that the surface in our area was clear. We blew air into the tanks and Antipodes ascended quickly to the surface. Since the sub maintained the same pressure as the surface throughout the dive, there was no ear popping as we ascended.
What did I think of the experience? It is an incredible new dimension for travel at sea, or in this case, under the sea. While there was very little sea life on the bottom of this area of Possession Sound, I can’t help but imagine trips to areas where the water is clear and full of sea life.
Antipodes is rated to dive to 1000 feet. She is stout and capable. OceanGate also operates Cyclops 1, a contemporary design capable of dives to 1,600 feet. Cyclops 2 is in the process of being built of carbon fiber for dives down to over 9,000 feet.
“OceanGate is committed to utilizing our growing fleet of submersibles for research, commercial and even expedition dives. Our subs and their support systems can be shipped or flown anywhere in the world to allow underwater exploration, soon to over 9,000 feet deep. We can go places now that historically have been limited to military submersibles or government owned research subs.” said Stockton Rush as we headed back to the dock. For me, it was an exceptional opportunity to see what undersea boating was like.
Mark Bunzel is the Editor and Publisher of the Waggoner Cruising Guide, an annual cruising guide covering all the great marinas and anchorages in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia Coast, from Olympia to Ketchikan.