Explore the Ocean Depths in a Homemade Submarine

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Lia Barett

There are plenty of people with a fascination for exploring the ocean depths. It takes an extraordinary — and quite possibly eccentric — person to actually do so in a submarine they built themselves. American Karl Stanley is that individual. He began building his first sub, the C-BUG (Controlled by Buoyancy Underwater Glider), while still in college, tracking down parts from dusty warehouses and phoning experts for advice.

He made hundreds of dives in C-BUG before completing his second sub, the Idabel, on Roátan island, Honduras. It's in the Idabel that he now takes plucky tourists down to a maximum of 610 m. The depth is unprecedented for nonprofessionals, but as a sign on Stanley's shed reads: GO DEEPER.

There is a caveat. Stanley's sub has not been certified by any authority. You board at your own risk. But he's had two decades of experience in submarines and hasn't lost a passenger yet.

If you're game, you can expect Stanley to make a grand entrance — he zip-lines from his home to the pier — before firing up the Idabel. There might be a horse carcass strapped to it as bait for gill sharks, which are spotted only below 300 m. "Any time I can get my hands on a large dead animal, I take it," Stanley says.

Sharks are one thing, but it's down in the depths where no light penetrates that the real payoff begins. You'll see bizarre marine life, from tripod fish to stalked crinoids (which have fossil records over 500 million years old) and creatures that can't even be identified.

Dives start at $400 (see stanleysubmarines.com). Scuba diving in these waters is far cheaper of course — but you'd have to bring your own horse carcass.