We were headed for the island of Kefalonia off the western coast of mainland Greece. This would be the starting point of the “Life Amphibious” underwater odyssey. The plan was to pedal a human-powered submarine 15 nautical miles (28 kilometres) through the Ionian Sea to mythical Ithaca, the home of Ulysses. In the spirit of Homer’s epic and Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, we would soon begin our own grand voyage to Ithaca.
Andreas Petalas allowed us to use Fiskardo’s Nautical and Environmental Club as our base. When we arrived, a strong southerly wind was blowing and the sea was a mess of waves and whitecaps. Omer 6, our human-powered submarine, had arrived from Canada in time and was being unloaded from a truck.
The brains behind this machine, four Omer submarine engineers, were on their way from Canada’s École de technologie supérieure in Montreal. Meanwhile, we had been dealt a serious blow by the Ministry of Commercial Shipping’s Port Police Management. At the eleventh hour, they rejected our request for permission to place Omer 6 in the sea.
My wife, Carolina Sarasiti, was glued to her phone as Andreas studied his maritime law books desperately trying to find a solution to our dilemma. It didn’t look good. The weather continued to deteriorate and all flights in and out of Kefalonia were cancelled. The Omer submarine team was stuck in Athens. The bad weather and unexpected red tape had already delayed us by a day.
I took a leisurely walk with my father-in-law and Greek engineer, Vageli Sarasiti, in an attempt to clear my head. We came across a large catamaran getting smashed against jagged rocks and scrambled on board to help. The waves were relentless. We managed to free the boat from the rocks but one of the engines was jammed solid. Vageli and I grabbed a mask, knife and torch and dived into the murky water. It was like being in a washing machine but we eventually managed to cut through the rope that was wrapped around the propeller shaft. After sailing for 29 days across the Atlantic Ocean, we were also left wondering where the calm, warm, sparkling blue water was of which the Ionian Islands were so famous for. At least my head was clear.
When the Omer team arrived we celebrated in true Greek fashion. The project remained blocked, but their high spirits helped us forget the bad news for a while. Surprisingly, after almost two years of planning the world’s first human-powered submarine expedition we had never met before this day. They were happy that I really existed and the whole thing wasn’t just some strange prank played out by a guy in his basement!
Later in the day, continual bad weather and red tape still prevented us from testing Omer 6 in the sea. We desperately needed to get the sub in the water so I could begin my pilot training. With no time to lose, I found a nearby resort that was willing to help us out. When I returned with the good news, drills were screeching as the engineers assemble the submarine.
Into the pool
We carred Omer 6 up the near-vertical stairs and placed it beside the resort pool. A very intrigued crowd started to gather, mostly English tourists, who decided to hang around and watch the spectacle unfold before them. Some looked shocked and some were laughing as the Canadians took turns at splashing them, unintentionally of course, with their elegant pool entries. I’m quite nervous as it was my very fist time inside the wet, free-flooding submarine. It was a good thing I was not claustrophobic as there was not an inch to spare. I clipped my cycling shoes into the pedals and pushed my head fully forward inside the clear polycarbonate window. The door latch was locked into position and my training began.
We spend the next two hours going through safety procedures and trimming the buoyancy as I piloted the submarine from one side of the pool to the other. I finished the day off by pedalling flat-out for half an hour against the pool wall. Based on my gas consumption on the surface, we calculated that I would have about 1.5 hours of air at an average cruising depth of five meters before needing to surface and refill my cylinders. So, apart from the one small detail that we still didn’t have permission to start, the day was a success. The resort crowd applauded our efforts.
Our next challenge was to prepare our support boat, Neptune 3, for the launching and retrieving of Omer 6. Since the boat was on loan to us by Fiskardo’s Nautical and Environmental Centre, we were unable to make any permanent modifications. So, the Omer team had ....