How Was Your Day … Submarine Pilot?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Libby Coleman
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Vero Beach, Florida
Today we’re working on making submarines: a Triton 3300/1 MD and a Triton 1650/3 LP. I’m the president of Triton Submarines. We manufacture subs to private individuals who use them with their yachts. Our most expensive sub is $3 million, cheapest is $1.8 million. The idea is to get lots of folks out there diving, exploring this part of the planet no one’s really explored.
I love my job. My first time piloting a submarine, I was 21. It was just off the coast of California. I plunged 1,400 feet in a one-person machine and followed it to the seafloor. The water was cobalt blue. I was entirely in command — and by myself.
People’s perception of submersibles are principally drawn from movies where people are drowning, but that’s so far from the reality. If the submarine’s being used for recreation, it’s the difference between being in a tank during the Normandy invasion and someone driving around a small town on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t know if I ever feel scared. Really, I’m more excited than anything. Thrilled. There’s always a chance you’ll see something no one’s ever seen before. A shipwreck. A rare fish species.
I feel entirely at home in the sea.
I’ve piloted one-person submarines and 46-person ones. It’s like driving a bus underwater, navigating around reefs and coral heads. I’ve been to Japan to film deep-sea sharks. I was on the team that recovered the Challenger in 1986, off the coast of Florida. It was tragic and sad but [also] a great honor.
Sometimes I’m down 12 to 14 hours in a single dive. I think about a lot down there: how lucky I am to be seeing the things I’m seeing, experiencing what I’m experiencing. The idea of living underwater is something anybody who is passionate about diving understands and has felt. I’m not sure if I feel safer underwater than above, but I always enjoy the peace and tranquillity. I feel entirely at home in the sea.
There is no question a submersible has the power to connect people to the ocean in a real and visceral way. Most people don’t know how to dive or even snorkel. But everyone should have the opportunity to see the beauty and wonder of the underwater world.
I’ve taken my wife and 12-year-old daughter out on several excursions, 650 feet deep looking at sponges, coral, turtles. I would love my daughter to dive, though I’d never try to influence her into what she does with her life. I was born in Canada, about as far from the ocean as you could get, but my father’s work took us to Barbados when we were kids. I’d never seen the ocean until then, and I fell in love.
I get such a charge every time. As long as I’ve got a pulse and breath in my lungs, I’ll get in the subs and go underwater.