Dive Preparation

My life before Roátan

Five years ago, you could not have paid me to believe that I would be doing what I am about to be doing: deep sea videography. Five years ago, I was a lab jock who was infatuated with the process of scientific investigation. My first job after college was working in a molecular anthropology lab at Yale University. I ran the experiments, I controlled the hours, and I organized the data. I loved this job. There were days in the lab when I would lose all sense of time – what my mother called “the flow.” To me, it was a sign…this was my THING. You know? The thing that we all look for, but some of us never find…A Career! A Future! A Destiny!

Fast-forward to 2011: I’m a first-year Ph.D. student in the Anthropology department at Yale. No need to elaborate on the depressing details, but I had a god-awful time in graduate school. Whether it was feeling intellectually inadequate or desperately lonely, I was a mess about 80% of my time in New Haven. It certainly didn’t help that for the twelve months prior to beginning graduate school, I had spent eight months living a mostly care-free and happy existence on Roátan – a beautiful island off the coast of Honduras.

By the time November rolled around, I was fairly certain that graduate school was not a good fit for me. However, I was determined to stick it out for another semester partially because I wanted to make sure, but partially because I was struggling with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and shame. By April, I had left those feelings in the dust and felt more confident than ever that my decision to leave was the absolute best – and only – choice. In May, I moved from New Haven to Roátan. It was an exhilarating and terrifying experience all at once: never in my life had I strayed from my science-oriented career path, and I felt a kind of intoxicating mental liberation – the kind that takes hold when you knock on the door of endless possibilites.

Karl and his yellow submarine

I met Karl in the summer of 2010 during my first visit to Roátan. Truth be told, I thought he was kind of an asshole when we first met (that is no longer the case). Six months later, he was taking me down in his submarine to feed a dead dog to prehistoric six-gill sharks. When I agreed to this bizarre adventure, I still didn’t know Karl that well. After a couple minutes of irrational thoughts, I decided that I had made a terrible mistake. Who, in their right mind, would willfully consent to dive 1500 feet below the sea to watch a bunch of sharks feed on a dead dog?! This girl.


Not the same shark from our dive, but you get the idea!

There were tears, there were lots of four letter words, there were several refusals of monetary bribes. Hyperventilation set in when Karl spotted the first shark. Deep anger and resentment soon followed when Karl fell asleep and asked me to turn on the oxygen tanks every fifteen minutes (you know, so we could BREATHE). After we resurfaced, I was convinced that our newfound friendship was dead in the water. Humiliated and exhausted, I dragged my feet to my apartment, and entered into an existential stupor. Karl brought me back to reality when he knocked on my door the next day with a bag of gluten-free chips. I took his offering to mean, “Yeah, you were a hot neurotic mess last night, but let’s be friends.”

Karl and Idabel

Karl and Idabel

Since that time, I have become a lot less apprehensive about sub dives (thank you, Xanax!). Like watching airplanes take off and land, seeing Karl come and go from dives has reassured me of the sub’s safety. He also designed, built, and now pilots his sub Idabel – that kind of intimacy with a machine just doesn’t exist anymore. Although he majored in American History, Karl has been “studying” submarines for the past 30 years. His first sub, C-BUG, was the result of a nine-year old’s dream to build his own submarine. Karl began construction when he was fifteen, and by the time he had graduated college, he was doing some of his first dives. Karl came to Roátan in 1998 and began taking tourists down in C-BUG soon thereafter. In 2003, he constructed Idabel and has since completed over 2,000 dives.

What we’re doin’ and why we’re doin it

The great thing about deep sea exploration? There’s only a handful people of doing it, and there’s not much information out there. Virtually everything you come across is unique, undiscovered, and a veritable contribution; it’s scientific discovery without the frenetic pace of investigation that is characteristic of many other fields in science.

After attending the Blue Ocean Film Festival last September, we realized that there is hardly any deepsea footage…anywhere. During the conference, Karl participated in a panel about using submersibles as a filming platform. I put together a highlight reel of all the amateur footage (and professional photos – thanks to Lia Barrett) taken from the sub over the past 10 years (begins at 4:30 in video below) to supplement his presentation. While the reel was rolling, I took a moment to look around at the audience; a sea of enraptured faces confirmed what I already knew: Karl and I had created something rare. For me, creating that experience and watching people’s emotions careen through that auditorium was intoxicating. It gave me a sense of fulfillment that I have not felt in a long time.

Passenger Sphere

The most expensive camera housing…ever. The dome window you see in the passenger sphere is 40 inches wide, 4 inches thick. The camera rig took Karl two full days to perfect! The fluid head must be in the optical center of the dome; otherwise, our footage may be subject to unsightly distortion while panning and tilting.

Karl and I are now prepared to begin shooting footage that will be displayed, marketed, and sold on oceanfootage.com. We are in a unique position to deliver footage of creatures that have likely not been seen by 99.9% of the world’s population. Roátan sits on a knife’s edge on the ocean; the drop-off into the Cayman Trench begins less than 800 feet from the submarine dock. Additionally, the operating costs of the submarine are minimal, and the flexibility of Karl’s dive schedule allows us to dedicate many dives solely to capturing footage.

This blog will be a catalogue of every dive we take
together. Photos and clips of deepsea creatures we encounter on our dives will be posted – some of them may be completely new species….hopefully, there will be no mishaps to report! Check in on Thursday for a recap of our first dive…


Err…maybe I should have taken a few driving lessons.


~ by twonakedapes on April 8, 2013.

One Response to “Dive Preparation”

  1. Great site Annick – looking forward to reading more and seeing what you capture on future dives

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