We joined Scott Cassell and the Undersea Voyager Project during their kickoff expedition near Lake Tahoe. The team was exploring Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake for one month in the SEAMobile submersible. The mission included training and orientation with the submersibles and conducting underwater surveys of the lake bottom.
I’d worked on plenty of projects with submersibles such as the Titanic and the Bismarck shipwrecks and the hydrothermal vents, but I hadn’t dived in a fresh water lake or in a spherical submersible before.
As I took off my shoes and crawled into my seat, I couldn’t help but think of my old mentor, Ralph, who had more dives to the Titanic than anyone. He always said, “May your ascents equal your descents,” and I certainly hoped that was the case here. Soon after the crew locked the canopy, effectively locking us in, we started our descent. We could see everyone on the dock wave goodbye.
The sphere allows for amazing views since you’re basically in encased in a transparent bubble.
It’s exciting and kind of eerie at the same time when you start your descent in a sphere. You can still see the sky above clearly. Waves splash over the top of you. It seems like you should be soaked, but you’re not. That’s how clear is is when you look out the sphere.
We were about two feet down when we discovered an accidental hitchhiker.
A bee had gotten locked into the submersible with us! The poor thing glued itself to top of the sphere in a desperate attempt to cling to the sunlight as we dove deeper and deeper into the lake.
They say bees navigate by using a solar compass. The bee’s ability to see polarized light lets it determine where the sun is regardless of whether it is obscured by clouds. Bees also use their internal time clock to tell how far they’ve flow in relation to the sun. This is how bees navigate back to their hives and then communicate where the food is to the rest of the hive in relation to the current position of the sun. I wondered how diving under 113 feet of water would affect it.
As it grew darker the bee began to fly around the small cabin as if completely disoriented, finally landing on my leg. I like bees, however, I don’t like them on me – mainly because I’ve been stung a couple times. I particularly don’t like them on me in a confined area with no escape. I couldn’t exactly roll down the window and wave it out of the vehicle.
We could have tried to capture it or smash it, but what if that didn’t go so well?
It settled in for the ride perched on my leg. It seemed docile enough, so I let it sit.
Being in a submersible 100 feet underwater with a docile bee is one thing. Being in a submersible 100 feet underwater with an angry bee would be quite another!
I finally turned my full attention to our task at hand, which was diving to 113 feet and flying around the beautiful ancient forest that lay at the bottom of the lake. Scott was finishing up his work surveying and mapping the locations of the ancient trees. A school of trout swam in and out of the trees.
A old wooden rowboat lay at the bottom of the lake intact. I could practically see the ghostly images of people fishing from it in days-gone-by.
It’s easy to lose yourself, caught up in the tranquility and silence under the lake. Before I knew it, it was time to return to the surface and the world above. As we got closer to the surface, we could see the sunlight peeking through the water and the people on the dock waiting for our return.
Our third “crew mate” stirred and flew up to the canopy again as if the sun beckoned it home.
We popped out of the water into the full daylight and our submarine cowboy wrangled us back to the dock. The crew let us out of our little yellow submersible and our bee flew off into the daylight as quickly as possible. Unlike it, I wasn’t ready for this adventure to end.
Scott and his team are continuing their expeditions. You can keep up with their latest adventures at the Undersea Voyager Project.