Here’s what it’s like to take a submersible for a scuba dive – Robb Report


What a thing, being in a submersible for the first time, separated from reef fish and gin-clear water by nothing more than a few inches of acrylic. Inside the three-person Triton 3300/3, there is a full 360-degree line of sight, making it difficult to discern where the transparent sphere ends and the ocean begins. It’s surprisingly spacious, not to mention the comfy seats and clean air, with stunning views up front, underfoot, overhead, even through the pilot’s seat in the back.

A few minutes earlier, I was on board the U Boat Navigator, a dedicated dive vessel, bouncing in the busy seas off Malta. A pair of submersibles – a single-seater Triton 3300/1 alongside the three-seater – sat on the foredeck. “A submarine is not a toy,” said Tom Hutton, COO of Cookson Adventures. “It’s a way to explore an alien environment.” Capable of diving to 3,300 feet, the Triton is a popular choice among researchers and documentary makers, including the crews who made the BBC Blue planet II and Great Barrier Reef with Sir David Attenborough.

As we descend to the hull of a German patrol boat sunk in WWII, Hutton’s term “alien environment” comes to life. The feeling is from another world, both exciting and peaceful. At 82 feet deep, the sun’s rays sparkle on the seabed and the wreck is teeming with fish and divers. It’s surprisingly quiet inside the submarine, nothing but a gentle mechanical purr as pilot Dmitry Tomashov alternates between cruising around the ship and hovering over the ocean floor. . On the foredeck, the nearly 18,000-pound sphere seemed large and bulky, but the Triton is at home underwater, gliding with precision as Tomashov steers from a center console. The claustrophobia, which I feared, never materialized. After 45 minutes, we come back from the dreamlike state to the surface.

After such an incomparable experience, it is no surprise that the demand for private submersibles is exploding. Yacht owners build boats with enough space to store a mini-submarine, sometimes two, and they are present on many cruise ships. But these are expensive machines: the 3300/3 costs around $ 3.8 million, while the Super Yacht Sub 3, from competitor U-Boat Worx (which I tested diving two weeks before) is closer to $ 2.9 million. Many owners keep them not only for fun, but as research vehicles for archaeological dives and for the discovery of new marine species.

On the deck, a submersible (U-Boat Worx model in the photo) seems bulky.

U-Boat Worx

Barbara van Bebber, one of the few female submarine pilots in the world, has spent hours underwater with scientists. Near the U-Boat Worx Pilot Training Center in Curacao, she took me for a 90 minute dive at 500 feet in the Super Yacht Sub 3. Like in Malta, visibility in the clear Caribbean waters was excellent, although the Sub 3 fighter-like cockpit restricted rear views. At 500 feet, we were only approaching half of the submarine’s nominal depth.

The sun’s rays were still visible at a depth of 130 feet; at 230 feet we passed through volcanic lava reefs inundated with vibrant coral whips. A barracuda appeared before disappearing into the darkness in pursuit of a large school of fish. “Too fast for us,” said van Bebber, noting that the sub is peaking at three knots. She was navigating with joystick controls, a feature the Triton does not have, which allows her to cede steering to the passengers.

At 574 feet, the ocean floor looked like a barren, tranquil and eerie desert. In this dark expanse, lit only by our lights, we maintained constant radio communication with the surface. Van Bebber’s extensive experience helped to avoid any concerns, as did the Sub 3’s Deadman’s Switch, a safety system that automatically triggers the climb unless the pilot recognizes it every 10 minutes.

My day with U Boat Navigator‘s Triton 3300/3 was born under the Cookson charter on board Lady in blue, although the company may set up custom charters on other superyachts around the world with submersibles. For around $ 41,000, based in Malta U Boat Navigator also coordinates under-piloted day trips to other rental yachts. But there are other ways to experience submersibles besides having access to a very large boat. U-Boat Worx offers several courses at its pilot training center, ranging from a one-day course at $ 4,700 with classroom work and three dives to a 16-day chief pilot course for approximately $ 35,000. .

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