January 1, 1995

Passenger Submarine Offers Undersea Fantasy In Mexico

Syd Kearney Houston Chronicle
 

The crowd on the 20-minute ride to the submarine is abuzz with anticipation. Some passengers are chatting nervously. Others are lost deep in thought. About 20,000 leagues deep.

Captain Nemo, giant octopuses, shipwrecked treasure … it’s all part of the fantasy that comes with a submarine adventure.

Atlantis Submarines has been taking people on underwater tours for about a decade. But in September, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company’s newest submersible celebrated its grand opening, giving visitors to this Mexican resort a unique way to explore the crystal Caribbean waters.

On the way to the submarine, the crew offers a brief safety demonstration, including an introduction to the plastic bag for seasick passengers. No takers.

“Our diving depth today will be about 50 feet,” explains a tanned young crewman. His lecture is interrupted when a passenger - in his best crow’s-nest voice - shouts, “There she is.”

And there it is - all 65 feet and 80 tons of it - a submarine. Battery-powered and pollution-free, the silver sub is an amazing sight.But it’s slow-going down the hatch, a hole that was never designed for the beefy or uncoordinated.

Once inside, passengers can go to either side of a long bench that divides the air-conditioned, pressure-controlled cabin. They sit back-to-back, allowing all to face large portholes that run the length of the submarine.

This sub can accommodate 48 passengers. Spotters (crew members) are positioned fore and aft - that’s sea lingo you pick up during the adventure. The next terms passengers hear are port and starboard, referring, respectively, to the left and right sides of the vessel.

It’s important to learn the distinction, because spotters use these terms to identify marine life during the tour. Also, laminated cards in front of each porthole offer picture IDs of fish and corals.

The submarine’s descent is eerily quiet. First in view are a few solitary fish, then a small school. And before long, the sea is teeming with life. Currents keep the coral swaying rhythmically so that the porthole becomes a movie screen showing a marine-themed Fantasia. It’s unreal.

The fantasy is interrupted - or some may argue enhanced - by the appearance of a handful of divers with neon-pink flippers. They wave at the sub and float out of sight in a cloud of bubbles.

The Atlantis moves on. The narrator explains that the pilot is steering toward a reef known for its marine life. The destination this morning is really a staging area for the Atlantis’ underwater dive show, heralded by a swarm of yellowtail snapper that know the routine and expect to be fed. Two Atlantis divers - one port, one starboard - swim in to hold up crustaceans and feed fish at each porthole for photo ops.

A stingray elicits some excitement during the 45-minute undersea tour. And the return to the water’s surface is magical as the sun filters brilliantly through the sea’s layers.

A lack of sharks or giant octopuses doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of passengers, several of whom admit they can’t swim and would never dream of going the scuba route.


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