Sounds of Submergence

Sensory deprivation tends to be intolerable for most people. On dives, Karl will sometimes turn off the lights to quickly “flash” schools of fish, who will in turn reply with a bioluminescent wave “hello”. Other times, we just sit there in total darkness. Within ten seconds, it’s already uncomfortable.

Without any visual or auditory stimulation, our minds tend to turn inward, which can be unpleasant or downright terrifying for some people. Karl has told me stories about passengers weeping during dives or declaring their lives are forever changed by the experience. Sensory deprivation, I believe, is partially responsible for these reactions. Aside from the utterly mind-bending experience of diving into an other-wordly landscape with strange creatures, many people encounter absolute silence and darkness – sometimes for the first time in their life.

On our most recent dive on October 3rd, I brought along my audio recorder to capture the clicking, grinding, and bubbling sounds of the sub as we motored out, descended, and ascended. It was the first time I had been in the sub with all of the lights, fans, and motors turned off during submergence. At 6:12 pm, Karl closed the hatch and released air from the ballasts to kickstart our descent. I braced myself against the hull’s interior as Idabel lurched forward and hung awkwardly suspended, resisting the waves as they threatened to overcome her. For me (and my antsy passenger brethren), this is usually the most white-knuckle phase of the dive: the point of no return. I have no doubt that the auditory effects are to blame for this…

As waves thumped the sub, I felt the crescendo of a deep hum intensifying in my chest as the energy of the waves traveled through the sub’s metal hull. After thirty seconds of limbo, Idabel gave way and the reverberating hum dissolved instantly, leaving nothing but the trickling sound of bubbles escaping from the foam exterior. A swell of silence enveloped us as we descended into the dark (0:00 to 0:25 in video – I recommend good earphones).

Within 35 minutes, Karl and I had arrived at 2000 feet. From the passenger viewport (a convex window) the sloping landscape we motored over looked like a globe of sand. A waning moon that night meant extremely low luminance, which usually makes for a good dive – lots of creepy crawlies come alive in the dark. As expected, the first three hours of our dive didn’t disappoint, but the limitations of our camera equipment were immensely frustrating.

We’ve been fortunate in all of our dives thus far to come across a good number of medium to large animals. Due to the fixed focal length of our one and only camera lens (a 50 mm prime), we can’t zoom (I’ve whined about this in several posts). While this lens is great for animals like a large dumbo octopus, jellynose fish, or Spanish dancer, it becomes impossible to curate aesthetically pleasing shots for smaller animals.

For instance, we crossed paths with a small dumbo octopus that was about half the size of the two dumbos filmed on previous dives. Composition-wise, most of our shots should have the subject, or some focal point of the animal, filling the majority of the screen. However, with this small dumbo, only a quarter of the screen could be filled before we got too close and the image blurred. It would have been great to catch this little guy in action, as he was throwing a cephalopod temper tantrum, tossing up his tentacles as he zigzagged across my screen. We hope to have a Canon zoom lens (fixed aperture) within the next month or so to give us greater flexibility during shots.

At the present moment, Karl has the sub apart to modify the foam pieces so they fit more snugly together. On this last dive, he had to blow air into the ballast tanks every few minutes in order to maintain neutral/slightly positive buoyancy. Small shifts in the foam pieces (caused by the expanding and contracting of the foam due to pressure) had caused tiny cracks through which air could escape, so the sub was constantly losing buoyancy on the dive. This wasn’t dangerous, just annoying. Because  of this, Karl’s “fine motor skills” for submarine maneuvering were pretty compromised, making it difficult to keep our mega-sized camera housing steady for shots.

We’ll be back in the water in November with more controlled buoyancy, a zoom lens, and a new gear ring for the follow focus rig. I’m looking forward to getting some fresh lens perspective on subjects we’ve already seen, and more shooting flexibility for animals that we have yet to encounter!


~ by twonakedapes on October 13, 2013.

2 Responses to “Sounds of Submergence”

  1. one of the most magical, mesmerising and moving few minutes of my life!

    thank you so much. keep diving deeper and further – inside and out.

  2. mesmerizing is the word — awesome!

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