| Johannes Schmitt-Tegge |
Key Largo, Florida (dpa) – Bruce Cantrell and Jessica Fain were, paradoxically, didn’t touch a drop while spending two and a half months underwater in pursuit of a world record. On safety grounds no alcohol was allowed to the “Aquanauts” and the small fridge in their kitchen contained just lemonade and water.
“Can we get a big bottle of margarita and champagne?” Cantrell used to joke as the team on land contacted the couple by phone every day to arrange the delivery of dinner by diver.
The two biology lecturers spent 73 days living underwater in a former research laboratory in a lagoon in Florida, breaking the previous record of 69 days set in 1992.
It’s a strange feeling to dive for two or three minutes through the darkness and suddenly enter a dry chamber where two people in t-shirts and jogging pants are standing.
The underwater world is not only wet but also practically soundless except for the wheezing and bubbling of one’s regulator. Communication with others is mostly by hand signals.
Cantrell and Fain hand you a towel and a dive courier brings dry clothes. Then you enter the common room to carry out an interview. Through the porthole you can see fish and manatees swimming by.
There’s the constant hum of the life support systems as well as three telephones, an intercom and – in case all the technology fails – an emergency telephone line to the surface. It’s a small space but cosy. For US$675 (552 euros) one can spend a night in the Jules’ Undersea Lodge.
The 28-square-metre under-water habitat is not only a survival capsule but also has the comforts of a motorhome. Even so, the record set by Fain and Cantrell was not easy to achieve. Rescuers had practised how to get someone to the surface in minutes in an emergency and the lodge was monitored around the clock by experts on land.
In the event of all systems failing and no more air being pumped through the so-called umbilical cord running from the surface down to the lodge, the structure could quickly fill with water and drown the inhabitants.
Even 14 months of preparation did not protect the two record-breakers from things going wrong. The 63-year-old Cantrell suffered an infection so a doctor dived through the bay in Key Largo to visit the patient.
Then Cantrell’s computer, which he was using for emails and video chats with journalists, school classes and acquaintances, broke down. The hard drive could not withstand the pressure and had to be replaced on land.
As well as giving weekly lessons in which they sought to inspire students about biology, the pair had some underwater fun. Fain dressed as a mermaid and put small toy figures outside the portholes to attract fish. For Halloween the two got sweets delivered by courier and made a short horror film in which Cantrell played a monster who came to a dramatic end. The famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin even paid them a visit.
When asked if he’d do it again, biology professor Cantrell says he would “in the twinkling of an eye”. Fein, 25, says she missed her dog most of all as the animal couldn’t visit the capsule unlike her partner and family.
And what pleased Cantrell the most? “Diving to the surface to see the sky and feel the wind and the sun and then realising that we did it.”