Deep­en­ing in­ter­est in jour­neys to the bot­tom of the sea

Su­per-subs her­ald a new age of deep-water tourism

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - HE­LEN HUTCHEON PETER NEED­HAM

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.

Tri­ton’s vice-pres­i­dent,

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

Tri­ton’s deep-sea craft fea­ture big, trans­par­ent view­ing canopies

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