Story and Photos by Keith Kellett
Normally, I don’t do cruises. But, in 2004, I did, mainly because I was recuperating from an illness, and couldn’t take the more active kind of holiday I’m used to. We cruised the Aegean Sea, and I have to say I was somewhat disappointed with it … the cruise, that is; the Aegean was marvellous as always, but it was never meant to be taken at a rush, as cruises tend to.
Santorini, especially, deserves a leisurely exploration. It didn’t get it. We even sailed in the mid-afternoon, missing the fabled sunset. But, we were able to ride on one of the island’s more recent attractions … a special treat, because most cruise operators like to keep their clients above the sea’s surface!
The Santorini Submarine used to be claimed as a unique tourist attraction, but there are now about 50 tourist submarines around the world. But, the sub remains unique in that, unlike conventional ones, it’s equally at home as a surface craft. In submarine mode, it can take visitors 30 metres below the surface, right into the caldera of the dormant volcano that is Santorini. But, it more usually dives off the southern coast of the island, where there’s more to show the passengers.
Now, although there’s nothing to be seen from a normal military submarine, the Santorini Submarine was purpose-built by Subibor, in Spain, with a bubble for the pilot, and large portholes for the passengers to see out. And, there’s seating for the 30 passengers when the sub is running in the surface, when twin diesels take over from the electric motor it uses while submerged.
When we got down to the sea bed, we saw a few sunken amphorae. They’ve been around, and used for wine storage, ever since Man learned that fermenting grape juice made him fall over, so that was no surprise. But, the columns and statues … allegedly from the old city, but did they have that style of architecture in those days? Maybe they were being taken to ‘recycle’ the marble, and fell from the deck of a ship, for some reason? We discounted the theory that the operators may have ‘salted’ the route – the Greek Government would have had words with them about that!
But, definitely genuine and more recent are the sunken fishing boats. And, occasionally, there’s a diver, feeding the fish to attract them for the visitors.
One thing you don’t see is the volcano, bubbling away on the sea-bed! Nor will you see a sunken city. Archaeologists and vulcanologists say that, had there been a city so close to the eruption, it would have been melted, if not vaporised. The old Minoan city at Akrotiri was only preserved because it was buried in ash and pumice before the main explosion happened.
As far as underwater pictures go, the taking was a bit hit and miss. I disabled all the flashes, because they would just reflect off the windows. I got the best results from my digital camera. About half of the prints were satisfactory, and I only kept one slide.
The trip is surprisingly inexpensive … about fifty dollars will buy a three-quarter hour trip. Our only regret was that it didn’t leave much time to spend on the rest of the island. We had to hang around the Atlantis Bar at Vlichada, where the submarine is based, waiting for the second party, before returning to the main town, Thira.
Most of our time there was spent queuing for the chair-lift down to the harbour, because we didn’t fancy the long, laborious walk down … and, last time I rode a donkey, I got a flea! Nevertheless, the undersea experience made all the inconveniences worthwhile.