Here's a review from someone who did the 'deep dive.'
A Really DEEP Dive
On a recent Cruise through the Panama Canal and up into the Caribbean we had an opportunity few can experience. We stopped for a short visit at Georgetown, Grand Cayman and went aboard the Atlantis Deep Submersible Research Sub to a depth of over 800 feet!
The two deep submersible research subs Atlantis operates were originally built to seek oil and mineral deposits on the sea floor. They were built in the early to mid-eighties (and weren't expected to become accommodations for adventure trips for the common person). Thankfully, Atlantis saw the possibilities and purchased the submarines so you and I and anyone interested could experience the deep sea and all its wonders. They have been in operation now for over a decade and many many people of modest means (like us) have ventured to depths exceeding 800 feet to view creatures of the deep sea not seen at shallower depths.
The subs accommodate two passengers only - in a viewing cabin less than eight feet across (cozy, yes, but not uncomfortable). The Captain/Navigator/Pilot sits directly behind the passengers, steering and giving a valuable commentary on what you see out the huge 36" viewing port, directly in front of your wondering and wandering eyes. The decent from the surface, through a clear ocean realm, to a maximum depth of approximately 800 feet is tranquil and silent, as you fall through floating plankton - watching the color change from majestic blue to a darkening deep navy - not entirely black, but nearly so. Within 15 or 16 minutes you settle gently on an ocean shelf with the silt billowing up in front of the viewing port. The silt appears finer than gray powdered sugar - and soon after your landing, settles on the shelf as if it knew you were coming and wants to clear your vision for what's to come.
Your Captain explains to the uninitiated what is going to happen and off you go, slowly ascending in front of submerged haystacks covered with silt. No life is noticeable, until you really concentrate and look closely at the underwater terrain. Then you see trails in the powdery covering... caused by underwater life of several types... seastars, seashells, moving crinoids, searching fishes, any number of sea creatures. Perched and clinging on outcroppings of the haystacks we found the glorious Great West Indian sea lilies (Cenocrinus asterius) - sometimes called Stalked Crinoids, which only appear at depths of 600 to 900 feet - so we were viewing creatures found no where else (for the first time). These lovely deep sea creatures actually crawl along leaving some of those trails we'd viewed earlier. They have been studied only a short time (since the early seventies) but scientists believe these lilies are older than dinosaurs - truly immortal(?)- showing no signs of aging whatever. Featherstars are in abundance here, too, in the 800 to 700 ft depth area, with small black corals, fan corals, brittlestars, glass sponges, and an occasional solitary cup coral. The lights on the sub bring out the colors not visible without illumination. Occasionally the Captain will turn off the lights so you can observe the scene as other fish and predators see it. It is easy to see how the creatures protect themselves with camouflage - as they become almost invisible in natural light. With the lights beaming on them, their colors brighten and amaze the casual human visitor.
Ascending slowly you watch as the life forms increase in depths ranging from 700-600-500 feet. Sponges become more prevalent, orange sea fans come into view, abundant black coral whips accumulate in bunches. Fish life becomes visible outside the caves and crevasses, darting in and out as you pass by... some even come over for a closer inspection of this awkward, noisy one-eyed-yellow-monster creeping past their underwater abode. They don't seem alarmed, really, just curious. We can relate, that's for sure! The sponge's coloration becomes brighter, oranges, reds, yellows, some speckled, some smooth, many colors and surfaces indescribably lovely, others rough and harsh appearing. But, all highly interesting. Seeking out the 'little things' is my forte' and I'm not disappointed. Minute cup sponges and lithistid corals resembling teeny-tiny golf tees grow at depths exceeding 600-700 feet. Rising higher you discover encrusting demosponges, sclerosponges and algae appearing in ridges of the haystacks.
When you reach 500-400 feet sea life increases (or seems to) and more sponges appear. You are now rising along a steep cliff face filled with holes and crevasses and the silt is less apparent, simply because it has less slope to adhere to. The face of the cliff is pocked with small outcroppings and below each outcropping fish peek out - and scurry back to (presumed) safety. Rising higher the cliff face is deeply terraced and coral shows up ever more predominately. At the 300-200 ft level giant barrel sponges come into view, gorgonians and algae are found in abundance. You start to notice, also, the natural light is increasing rapidly. No more dark deep-water-blue, but a milder marine blue, and you see there is light at the end of this tunnel. It reminds you, sadly, the dive is coming to a close and you wish this exciting underwater experience would last forever.
Soon you are recognizing fish you've seen before, like Spanish flag fish, French butterflyfish, what we call menpachi (squirrel fish) and Blackjack's (related to our Hawaiian ulua), hovering gobies, and an occasional Blackcap basslet. Fish are not everywhere, but their presence is noticeable... but again, it was the 'little things' that intrigued me - and knowing many of the deep-sea critters we'd seen had not been seen by too many people before us. The area from 200 ft to the surface was not 'old hat' but did appear recognizable and on ascending through that area we were able to reflect on what we had just experienced. On climbing out of this dive we didn't have to rinse off our masks, fins and snorkel, or wash off our wetsuits and dive gear - we were dry as a bone and didn't need a shower! We had adventured into a realm a very small percentage of humans have enjoyed and that made the trip worth it. What's it worth? Well, it ain't cheap (nearly $300 per person) but, like the old adage, "You get what you pay for!" - and no price could have kept us from this deep dive adventure. I feel blessed, too, by having a wife who would experience it with me. Phyllis, now counting her years in the 70s, is as much an adventurer as I am... always has been, always will be... and I'm so lucky to have her by my side when something like this Deep Dive comes along. She was thrilled by the spectacle and will be bragging about this one for years to come.
If you would like to give this exciting experience a try, contact Atlantis in Grand Cayman... but make your reservations early. They have only two deep submersibles available at Grand Cayman, and the seating capacity is just two passengers. They don't go every day, due to sea and current conditions, etc., so sign up early and hope for the best. The best is what you will receive, guaranteed. Call Bud Johnson or Stuart Mailer at Atlantis: (809) 949-8383. They, or one on their staff, will confirm your reservations. Ask for Gary Montemayor to be your Deep Sub Pilot - he used to work in Hawaii so knows what we like - and if he's available he will see to it you don't miss anything! Enjoy! You will be glad you did - and that's a promise.
Oh, by the way, I'm writing to Dennis Hurd, the CEO at Atlantis, to put in a plug for a Deep Submersible being placed off the Kona Coast (here in Hawaii). We have some deep water along our coast needing exploration... and I wanna be the first one on board!
........Oh yeah, Phyl will be sitting beside me!
"Dick the Diver"