Yellow on the Submarine

Linda Burton posting from Honolulu, Hawaii – I had the name for this post the minute we booked the tour. I get claustrophobic in caves, so why on earth would I enjoy a submarine? But it was the one thing on the brochure that Kayla picked out, and who can deny, it would be unique. I decided to be brave; after all, I told myself, I do like being ON TOP of the water. And I’ve always liked the adventures of Jacques Cousteau. It could be a good story to tell, later on. But the wind was blowing hard today; our pickup trolley was late; they didn’t have our names on the manifest, although I held the voucher in my hand. Are these warning signs? Should I listen to the Karma of the Day? Kayla was dancing the excitement jig; the coordinator called ahead; nodded at us both; “Just get on,” she said, “we’ll straighten it out when you get to the boat.” Hop on, ride to another hotel, walk the beach walk to the pier, our yellow tickets were ready, slipped into my hand. Yellow! Yikes, another sign?

On the boat and take a seat; ready for the ride to meet the sub. Away from the pier, invited to go up top; Kayla hopped up the steps while I clung pitifully to every handhold I could find. The boat was tossing side to side but no one seemed to mind but me, my sea legs didn’t show today. “Watch for the marker!” was the shout, and everyone leaned to look; our sub had arrived. On the deck, then down the hole; would I ever see dry earth again? Kayla’s grinning happy ear to ear; I plop down hard and look outside the porthole there in front of me.

We’re on the Atlantis, the “world’s largest recreational submarine” (the concierge had booked us Premium). It is 100 feet long and has room for 64; we have individual seats and our own large viewing area. It feels nice and cozy here; soon we’re zippered in and diving down. Our narrator is a stand-up comic wannabe; “Oh no! We’re going down! How do we get out!” but then explained the safety rules. Twenty-four hours of oxygen on board; should anything on the sub fail, divers waited on the “watch” boat that hovered above; would be deployed to loosen up the ballast tanks; we’d pop right up to the surface; be rescued in a flash. “I’m a certified rescue diver myself,” he claimed; “and John is the other one. Uh, John, what are you doing in here?” Laughter.

But seriously. Kayla and I are on an eco-tour. Waikiki reefs have been disappearing over the last 100 years; Atlantis Submarines’ initiatives have created artificial reefs, hoping to help reverse the situation. They have sites in Maui and Kona too, but the Waikiki site is largest. There are two sunken ships – the US Navy vessel YO-257, and a 111-foot Korean fishing vessel, the St Pedro; there are four reef structures designed in Japan, a series of concrete pyramids built in collaboration with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Program; and there are remnants of two sunken airliners. These man-made reef developments have increased the biomass of fish, coral, and other marine life, and provide valuable information for the University of Hawaii, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Hawaii State’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. Atlantis Submarines are battery powered and release no pollutants into the water or air, they carefully point out; the artificial reefs they have built have created more homes for fish and contributed to the growth of marine life.

Our trip lasts an hour; the tour begins at the Drop Zone where we submerge; at 75-85 feet we pass the University of Hawaii pyramid reefs. The Pali O Pono is next, an ancient lava flow encrusted with coral; at 110 feet we’re at the sandy bottom where we see the remnants of the planes and sunken ships. Kayla marks off fish we spot on her Dive Log, a lot of mackerel scads, a triggerfish? We’re not sure and never see the green sea turtle our narrator claims is sitting on the sunken ship. No dolphins today, no sharks, no humpback whales; it’s murky here and almost colorless. We make faces at each other; “You’re not yellow GMom, you are BLUE!” We read the Color Absorption Depth Chart; the color red breaks down first; then orange. At 60 feet the color yellow begins to break down and appears green; at 90 feet green looks blue.

We read about the history of submarines – the first diving bell in 1590; John Lethbridge’s Diving Machine in 1715; Dr William Beebe’s Bathysphere in 1929, only 4 feet 9 inches in diameter! One of the world’s most famous submersibles was Alvin (1964), which took part in the search for the Titanic. Atlantis launched the world’s first battery-powered passenger submarine in 1985 off the Cayman Islands; today they have locations not only in Hawaii, but in the Caribbean, Mexico and Guam.

The tour is ending; time to surface now. We practice the name of the Hawaii state fish out loud; close your eyes to start: Humu humu nuku nuku apua’a, also known as the painted triggerfish, a stripey, pointy-nosed, stout-looking little guy which we didn’t see today. Feeling educated and adventured, we bop along the pier; giggling and snapping shots of Diamond Head just off to our right.

Then our last laugh for the day. The two guys who sat beside us on the sub are taking pictures of babes on the beach wearing itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie yellow polka-dot bikinis. Would I kid you?