What lies beneath: Exploring Lake Lucerne by submarine

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“Now it’s going to get darkish. Very quick.”

The phrases echoed across the bug-eyed, Sputnik-like capsule as we descended into an afterworld of silence. The feeling – of snowy mountains fading away and daylight draining from the scene, turning it right into a grainy lithograph – set my pulse racing and shortly our tiny craft was floating in slow-motion in an out-of-focus softness, at minus-70m, close to the underside of one of many deepest lakes in Europe.

“You can begin respiration once more,” mentioned the captain, as our untrained eyes peered out into the submerged land of half-invisible creatures. As if to point out us how untethered we now had been from actual life, the pilot switched off the vessel’s 4 exterior electrical motors and the cockpit’s inner lights, plunging our recalibrated world into darkness. Spooky doesn’t cowl it.

Subspirit: a Volkswagen Beetle-sized capsule that may dive to 400m

(Mike MacEacheran)

Consider a submarine and your thoughts’s eye would possibly image a German naval U-Boat, or a Purple October-like hurricane class nuclear battle machine. Should you conceal out in daydreams like me, then possibly the one that implies itself is Nautilus, the pie-in-the-sky vessel skippered by Captain Nemo and magicked up by Jules Verne in Twenty Thousand Leagues Underneath the Sea. Or possibly it’s the equally incredible, coupé-style, shark-proof submarine piloted by Herge’s Tintin.

What you wouldn’t consider is a Volkswagen Beetle-sized capsule, first constructed on Lake Constance in 1987 and refitted to the tune of 1 million Swiss Francs, and now used for perspective-altering passenger excursions on Lake Lucerne. However P-63 Subspirit, the brainchild of pilot and founder Philippe Epelbaum, is ready to be the discuss of Swiss tourism this summer time. And, with a licence to dive to 300m with three passengers onboard (plus the aptitude to go 100m deeper, if vital), it affords a totally unusual journey into the unknown, in a world that’s operating in need of wild, unpredictable adventures.


Our untrained eyes peered out into the submerged land of half-invisible creatures

“You would say that is much like the submarine voyage at Disneyland, however we go a bit deeper,” mentioned Epelbaum, jokingly, because the craft’s searchlight ominously scanned the blackness for shapes and shadows, perch and monster pike.

Our vacation spot was Motor-Naue Portland, a 50m-long ferry that got here down with its captain in 1953 and one among many ghostly tombs preserved in ice-cold stasis on the lakebed. Amongst others at comparable depths are a World Warfare II Swiss military airplane and Vitzanove, which sank 23 years in the past throughout Cyclone Lothar, the worst windstorm to hit Europe in dwelling reminiscence.

However it’s Portland that turns Epelbaum feverish and, in such thrillingly alien territory, it’s the type of factor that might get anybody’s coronary heart pounding.

Submariners uncover the Motor-Naue Portland

(Mike MacEacheran)

Abruptly, exterior the bull’s-eye window, a murky silhouette shortly sharpened to disclose a miniature Titanic, all corroded iron railings and wheelhouse clogged with silt and sand. At almost 50m, the shipwreck is the biggest within the Alps and, lower off by distance, time, ambiance and gravity, goes some option to clarify why Epelbaum devoted three years of his life to bringing P-63 Subspirit again to life. Discovery is screwed into his DNA.

“I really feel the duty of journey like ocean explorers Jacques Cousteau and James Cameron,” mentioned the 59-year-old, a former technical and rescue diver. “If I didn’t really feel this spirit at my age, then I wouldn’t have began such an bold mission. Plus, this sense is the closest I’ll ever get to being an astronaut.”

What can also be gratifying for Epelbaum immediately is how he’s now carrying the torch for the subsequent era of Swiss submariners. Oddly sufficient, there’s a blueprint for deep-sea do-goodery of this sort within the landlocked nation. Rising up in Stansstad, a port suburb of Lucerne from the place Subspirit launches, Epelbaum dreamt of the heroic expeditions of Swiss oceanographic pioneer Jacques Piccard. The primary man to succeed in the deepest level within the ocean, alongside American Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, Piccard plunged 10,916m – or seven miles – beneath the floor of the western Pacific Ocean to the place no human had gone earlier than. You’ll know the spot higher because the Mariana Trench.


This sense is the closest I’ll ever get to being an astronaut

Philippe Epelbaum

Amongst his different feats, Piccard constructed the world’s first vacationer submarine to boost consciousness of lake air pollution. In 1964, he led 33,000 passengers beneath Lake Geneva and the submarine’s hull is now on show in Lucerne’s Transport Museum. And, as if to move the baton on, Piccard’s son Bertrand, the primary to finish a continuous balloon flight across the globe, joined Subspirit lately on one among their first deep dives. “He gave us the seal of approval,” added Epelbaum, as we hovered over Portland like a big drone.

I’d all the time considered submarines as industrial and mechanically propelled, however Subspirit’s environmental credentials have been rigorously checked and it’s inside is clear and hospital-sterile. What the 6.5-tonne sub lacks in area or sci-fi gadgetry, it makes up for with ambient murmurs, the tight ping of the sonar and loads of moments that may ship a claustrophobe cuckoo. The reassurance is that survival time on board is factored to be 96 hours. Fortunately, there’s additionally a dry bathroom for emergencies.

Subspirit is successfully an environmental analysis satellite tv for pc and aquatic classroom

(Mike MacEacheran)

The journey is surreal to the intense, in fact, however it additionally has a extra important function. In addition to taking bucket-list chasers down into the depths of one of many world’s most astonishing lakes, Subspirit is successfully an environmental analysis satellite tv for pc and aquatic classroom to teach passengers in limnology (the research of lakes) and, hopefully, encourage them to be extra ecologically conscious in future.

The seek for “the infinity”, as Epelbaum would have it, is extra than simply the joys of sinking into the shadowy depths of a mirrored Alpine lake in a big sardine can. It’s about stepping by means of the trying glass – the suck of the swell and the measure of the person – to discover a world so shut, however one that is still so unknown and so misunderstood by so many.

Journey necessities

Getting there

Attempting to fly much less?

Take the Eurostar to Paris, earlier than catching a high-speed prepare to Basel. Change for a prepare to Lucerne.

High quality with flying?

British Airways, easyJet and Swiss fly direct from the UK to Zurich. From there catch a prepare to Lucerne.

Extra info

A submarine journey onboard Subspirit prices from CHF490pp. To e-book a visit, go to subspirit.ch.

For additional info on lodging and journey to Lucerne, go to luzern.com and myswitzerland.com.

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