“Life support is functional,” says pilot Tym Catterson into the hydrophone.
“We are ready to dive, dive, dive. Over.”
The message travels through the water as sound waves from the little yellow submarine Antipodes to the support vessel Kraken, the same way whales communicate with each other.
Catterson opens a bank of valves, and water floods the ballast tanks as air blows out, escaping to the surface in bubbles the size of jellyfish. Antipodes plunges downward.
It reaches the sea floor, a depth of 60 feet, in two minutes. It will remain submerged for nearly two hours.
“It’s primal,” Catterson says. “You are going back to the sea. It’s kinda where we came from such a long time ago.”
He’s also going back to a shipwreck covered by starfish, spider crabs and the occasional octopus. Sealife thrives around this artificial reef off of San Carlos Beach, known to local underwater explorers only as the “barge,” 600 feet from the breakwater.
So does a marine mystery: What is a barge doing there ? When did it sink ? Why did it sink ? Was it even a barge ?
By diving where the sun’s rays hardly penetrate, though, things get a little clearer.
Normally a favorite destination of local scuba drivers, the sunken barge received a number of visits this fall from a less common kind of swimmer: Antipodes, a 7-ton, 15-foot-long leviathan carrying as many as five submariners at a time, uses six electric motors to cruise along the seafloor.
Antipodes is like a giant tube with 5-foot wide viewing domes capping off each end.
Looking outside is like watching from inside a fishbowl. When a fish swims at it head-on, then stops right in front of the dome I’m in, it stares straight at me with bulging eyes. Its face seems to read, “What the heck are you and what the heck are you doing here?”
Powerful LED floodlights illuminate an area within 15 feet of the submersible. As a result, not much of the wreckage can be seen at any one time. Scuba divers get even less of a view since they are more limited by lesser lights.