“It’s perfect for me, because I don’t dive and I don’t swim,” said West End businesswoman Wendy Mineff after her third ride on a BOSS underwater scooter.
“It was absolutely great,” said Jessica Eaton, 19, of Stratford, Ontario, although she said the “rocking back and forth and turning” gave her a headache.
Ocean Connections in West End has been operating 12 of the Breathing Observation Submersible Scooters since October, running two tours a day on cruise ship days and taking out as many as 60 passengers a day. Amanda Watkins, operations manager, said Ocean Connections was the only one offering this experience in the region, although she said a shop in Cozumel, Mexico, had something similar.
OC takes out divers and snorkelers on the same boat, which Watkins said was a great advantage for families and groups that have both divers and non-divers. “They split up at 7:30 in the morning and don’t come back together until the afternoon,” she said. “It’s good that we have this option where they can all do something together.”
On the day we tried the BOSS out, Wendy’s husband Joe went diving, Jessica’s two companions went snorkeling and our camera assistant just had a swim.
The scooter hovers at a constant depth of eight feet, kept stable by a float at the surface and a weight below. Compressed air forced into the head space keeps the water out. A small electric motor provides propulsion. Safety divers swim alongside in case of equipment problems and to keep the scooters off the reef.
Steering the BOSS takes some getting used to. Experienced divers used to free mobility and silence under the water may be disappointed. I felt less less like I was diving than floating through space like the fetus at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
My face shield kept fogging up, but the safety divers quickly showed me how to splash water on the inside to clear it. The gurgling of the water around the head piece got a bit noisy, and the curvature of the face shield magnifies and distorts the view so the reef appeared much closer. I kept thinking I was going to hit it. But the safety divers make sure you don’t.
That said, the scooter is a great way for the uninitiated to immerse themselves in the underwater world with minimal effort and preparation.
“It was definitely a good experience to have,” said Eaton, who wants to one day be SCUBA-certified, like her uncle and grandfather in Canada. “I’d probably recommend it to my friends. But I probably might not do it again.”