Deepening interest in journeys to the bottom of the sea
Super-subs herald a new age of deep-water tourism
THE cruise industry is a staunch supporter of charities, with many lines, such as Silversea, holding shipboard fundraisers.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia is providing fun experiences for the children of Camp Quality.
About 15,000 children up to the age of 18 are living with cancer in Australia. Another 900 are diagnosed each year; about three under the age of 15 die each week.
These chilling statistics come from Camp Quality, the national charity that supports children with cancer and their families. The good news is that seven out of 10 youngsters survive, although the majority will have health problems as a result of treatment.
Camp Quality also reports 37 per cent of families borrow money to cope with the financial burden, and for many a short break to rejuvenate would be unaffordable.
That’s where Camp Quality’s story begins. English-born Vera Entwistle, who immigrated to Australia from the US with her husband, opened the first camp to take time out from cancer in 1983 in Vision Valley, about an hour’s drive from Sydney.
A doctor gave her the name when he told her, ‘‘No one can do anything about the quantity of anyone’s life, but all of us can do something about the quality.’’ There are now camps and outings for children and their families across Australia, and the program has been extended to other countries.
On Good Friday last year, Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia held a fun day in Sydney Harbour aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas. ‘‘We invited not just the children who were unwell and TOURISTS are about to cross new frontiers and dive to unprecedented depths. A new generation of super-submarines, with ultrastrong hulls and space-age guidance systems, will soon take paying passengers to the deepest parts of the world’s oceans.
While not cheap, these trips will be vastly less expensive than comparable j ourneys into suborbital space. They will also use a lot less fuel.
American tour company Deep Ocean Expeditions is charging $US59,680 for a dive next year that will spend about three hours exploring the resting place of the Titanic. In comparison, Virgin Galactic plans to charge $US200,000 for a suborbital space flight.
The ocean deep is a more exclusive domain than space. While 12 men have walked on the moon and about 500 people have ventured into space, only two explorers, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, have dived to the deepest part of the sea.
They descended, in 1960, to the bottom of the Challenger Deep section of the Mariana Trench north of Papua New Guinea. The sea there is about 10.9km deep; if you dropped Mt Everest into it, the peak’s summit would be covered by 2km of water.
The race to return to Challen- ger Deep involves more modern, user-friendly craft than Piccard and Walsh’s 1960 bathyscaphe. Hawkes Ocean Technologies of California plans to take its experimental prototype submersible DeepFlight Challenger there, while film director James Cameron (a long-time submarine enthusiast) is working on a similar project. Others reportedly interested in funding or buying supersubmersibles include Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and British entrepreneur Richard Branson of Virgin Group fame.
The difference between submersibles and submarines is that submersibles are designed for diving rather than lengthy cruising and are typically transported by a surface vessel. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
From a tourism standpoint, some of the most amazing deepdiving craft are being produced by Triton Submarines of Florida. Forget any idea of peering into the abyssal deep through tiny portholes — these subs have big, transparent viewing canopies that make deep-sea cruising like an aquatic helicopter ride.
Two other factors make the Triton models exceptional. They are light enough to be carried on yachts and they are relatively inexpensive (in submarine terms, anyway). The Triton 3300/3, a model that can carry three people to depths of 1km, costs $US3 million while another model that will dive to the bottom of the ocean, and is expected to be available in two to three years, will cost about $US15 million.
sales and marketing, Marc Deppe, reveals that the company is building two Triton 3300/3s for a customer in Perth.
‘‘We are also building for him the support vessel, which is a 65ft catamaran with a custom lift system that will pick up the sub, which he will be operating out of Perth. He will operate the other Triton (3300/3) from a catamaran that we are building for him, and that one will be based in Belize. It’s for his private use. He owns islands in both locations.’’
While not everyone can afford that sort of outlay, the cost of the Triton models, and the fact they can be used repeatedly for many years, makes them suitable for mounting tourist dives at competitive rates.
The Triton 3300/3 can move in any direction at the touch of a j oystick and is powered by two large battery banks. Its pressure hull, the largest acrylic sphere ever made for a manned submersible, is transparent, giving allround vision.
Deppe says the technology represents the outer limits of what you can do with acrylic.
‘‘Casting acrylic any thicker
is very difficult and right now the technology doesn’t exist to make a sphere any larger than that.’’
Triton’s upcoming deep-diving craft, built to descend to 11,000m, will use glass instead of Perspex.
‘‘Glass under compression is stronger than titanium,’’ Deppe says, ‘‘so when you have a sphere, it can take tremendous pressure.’’
The sphere is actually two halfspheres, coming together like a clamshell to provide entry. Fibreoptic controls mean that the glass has no holes.
‘‘Our partner, Deep Ocean Expeditions, takes people to dive on their parents, but their siblings, who also share the stress of living with someone with cancer,’’ says Gail D’Arcy of The D’Arcy Partnership, RCC’s public relations consultancy.
‘‘The staff at Adventure Ocean kids’ club were on hand to welcome our young guests, who spent the morning there and at the rock-climbing wall. Everyone had lunch in the main dining room and spent the afternoon in the swimming pool. It was such a great success, we did it again in Sydney in December that year.
‘‘This year we held Camp Quality family days on board the Titanic and the [German battleship] Bismarck,’’ Deppe adds. ‘‘They will be using our submersibles to take tourists to the bottom of the Challenger Deep and to some other pretty amazing dive sites.’’
Next year, Deep Ocean Expeditions will take tourists to black smokers (hydrothermal vents) on the ocean floor off the coast of Portugal, inhabited by animals so strange that biologists consider them the best example of how life might exist on other planets. tritonsubs.com deepoceanexpeditions.com Rhapsody in Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle and Adelaide. We are planning to hold similar functions around Australia aboard the 2114-passenger Radiance of the Seas when it joins Rhapsody on an extended season here from October until April 2012.
‘‘As well as the signature rockclimbing wall, it has a basketball court which we think the children will enjoy.’’
D’Arcy says Royal Caribbean will donate a nine-night South Pacific cruise aboard Rhapsody of the Seas again this November. Last November it gave Camp Quality a cruise to Noumea and Isle of Pines, to go to a family that deserved a holiday.
That family was Peter and Kate Kelly of Penrith, their son Jesse, who was 11, and seven-year-old daughter Shelby. Jesse was diagnosed with cancer when he was almost five and is now in remission.
‘‘It was absolutely fantastic,’’ Kate says.
‘‘We had never had a holiday and there was no way in the world we could have done this. Jesse played all day and loved it.’’
More: 1300 662 267; campquality.org.au.
Children from Camp Quality on board Rhapsody of the Seas
Triton’s deep-sea craft feature big, transparent viewing canopies