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Curaçao: What makes this small Caribbean island the ultimate submarine diving spot?

5 September 2022• Written by Georgia Boscawen

A couple of decades ago, submersibles belonged to the worlds of oceanography and James Bond, but the latest models have been designed so that anyone can take the helm. Georgia Boscawen ventures beneath the surface in Curaçao to determine if manning a submersible is really that simple…

At 100 metres below the surface, I can just about decipher the flecks of sunlight dancing off the waves above from my seat inside U-Boat Worx’s NEMO 2, one of the world’s most compact submersibles. There’s not much marine life at such great depths, but the feeling of the sea floor falling away into the abyss of blue is a peculiar and invigorating sensation that is exclusive to a submersible. Not even scuba diving could provide such an absorption into the ocean – it is a thalassophile’s dream – and few places on earth could provide a more perfect environment than the gin-clear waters of Curaçao.

Netherlands-based submersible builder U-Boat Worx maintains a training centre in Curaçao, which offers many intriguing dive sites to explore

A submersible is the ultimate superyacht accessory. This is no secret, but we’re used to associating these ultra-cool toys with heaps of tech that take over the aft deck and drive systems that only the pilots themselves can comprehend. But this isn’t the case; instructors at U-Boat Worx have assured me that the Dutch company’s latest submersible – the NEMO 2 – is quite easily manned by owners themselves after just a couple of weeks’ training and certification at the Sub Center, here on the powder-white sands of Curaçao. So, feeling apprehensive and with zero submersible manning experience, I find myself putting that claim to the test.

Read More/11 of the coolest submarine-carrying superyachts

Gently ascending back to 50 metres deep, we levitate before the drop off, an overhanging outcrop of rock covered in coral fans and tubes, where schools of tropical fish mingle before the submarine’s headlights. “These lionfish aren’t native to Curaçao,” says Arthur Klootwijk, my pilot for the dive, pointing to the small gathering of distinctive spiny fish clinging to the rocks below. “They are brought here as a fishing by-product and cast overboard.” They may be beautiful to look at, but the spiny venomous fish are infamous on the reefs, with the invasive species pressurising the health of the ecosystem. Fortunately, only a few pepper the ocean floor, and the coral here remains a blooming kaleidoscopic mass.

The NEMO 2’s perfectly spherical dome has effectively disappeared in the water, to the extent that one would be forgiven for thinking you could reach out and touch the passing fish, which seem unfazed by the 1.5-metre submersible looming before them. “Here you go, the depth is on the left and you control the thrusters with the right,” says Klootwijk, plonking the surprisingly compact control system in my lap, “just steer clear of that rock there.” Clearly this man has a death wish,  I think, as surely this technical marvel, which is currently gliding though the water, is far more complex. As I gently twist the joystick, the NEMO 2 begins to pivot on a steady axis.

The NEMO 2 includes a Manta controller that can be handed from pilot to passenger for supervised steering and control

After a few minutes of getting to grips with the Manta controller, I have the sub skimming the rocks towards a wreck of a boat that was deliberately scuttled for coral conservation. The NEMO 2 glides smoothly under my control – no technical jargon or complex drive systems to be found– and with a fair amount of grace for heavy handlers. Illuminated in the submersible’s headlights, the wreck is embellished with bright reds and blues, thanks to the thriving coral colonies here, and we gently mingle with the schools of bright tropical fish and a couple of barracudas, who are also scoping out the wreck.

The experience is exhilarating and breathtaking but this is just one of numerous spectacular dive sites that Curaçao has to offer. Sitting at the south of the Caribbean Sea alongside neighbouring islands Aruba and Bonaire – often referred to as the ABCs – the Dutch island of Curaçao is a diver’s dream. Fringed by more than seven square miles of thriving coral reefs, the waters here are immaculate, thanks to protective mangroves and seagrass and the absence of overdevelopment.

The environment is just as impressive above the surface.  One of the nicest spots is Mambo Beach towards the island’s south coast, which is strewn with thatched parasols and buzzing beach bars along its impeccable white sands. A favourite stop-off for those in the know is Hemingway, a laid-back barefoot beach restaurant serving up Asian beef salads, fresh poke bowls and the Dutch meaty snack bitterballen, which seems like a strange choice in the Caribbean, but a welcome addition nonetheless.

Hemingway Beach Bar & Restaurant

Despite the island’s natural credentials and charming relaxed atmosphere, there isn’t exactly an established superyacht community here, but in the past five years the likes of 92 metre Tatoosh and 83.5 metre Savannah have been spotted along its coastline. And, while you’ll find plenty of typically Caribbean laid-back beach bars, resorts such as Baoase cater  to the upper echelons of luxury travel with its high-end beach restaurant serving lobster croquette and tempura black tiger shrimp in front of a  private lagoon.

From my table on the deck of Hemingway that hangs over a gleaming blue inlet, I can spy the NEMO 2 being launched at Sub Center Curaçao – home to the U-Boat Worx training centre – perched on the small island opposite. There is something extra-terrestrial about the glossy white sub dangling over the water from one of the Sub Center’s cranes. A crowd has gathered on the beach below, arms outstretched to take photos of this curious creature being lowered to the water. I’d be down there too if I didn’t know what it was, as this ultra-contemporary looking submersible looks mesmerising against the laid-back Caribbean backdrop. And having been inside the sub, I can confirm that it’s just as mesmerising as the crowd on the beach might imagine.

Read More/U-Boat Worx reveals world-first 35m submarine concept
Baoase Luxury Resort Curaçao

When I finished my dive, the NEMO 2 leapt to the surface, and a rush of hot Caribbean air filled the sub. I didn’t have an urge to jump out to dry land but wished to remain inside my enthralling spaceship, even under my control. If anything, I wanted to close the hatch and dive once more, which thankfully is the plan for the afternoon.

Looking like it belongs in a Bond film, the NEMO 2 would undoubtedly cause quite the spectacle on the aft deck, confirming that this really could be the ultimate superyacht accessory. And why have a pilot when you can get behind the controls and explore the depths yourself?

First published in the October 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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