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Atlantis IX Electric Submarine

The focus of this website is on alternative fuels for road vehicles; however, I recently rode in an "off-off-road" electric vehicle that meets any sane definition of "insanely cool." Its realm of operations is about a mile offshore from Lahaina, on the west coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui, and 120 feet straight down: the Atlantis IX, an all-electric submarine.

Atlantis IX electric submarine

Atlantis Adventures operates submarine tours off several islands worldwide; Atlantis IX is one of their bigger subs, with 48-passenger capacity. When I told some friends that I was going to ride a submarine, they were sure I would be disappointed--it'd just be a gussied-up glass-bottom boat or fancy motorless tethered diving bell. But no, Atlantis IX is a real, free-swimming submarine; "Roxie" in the photo is the surface tender that tows her out to station (conserving the batteries--it takes a lot of power to shove water out of your path, even at a speed of 2.5 knots!) and maintains a traffic watch above while she's submerged (in lieu of a periscope).

Inside the sub

Inside the sub, in a cylinder that's below the waterline in the surfaced photo at top, normal atmospheric pressure is maintained. Passengers look out 13 two-foot portholes on each side, and the pilot has a four-foot "bay window" up front. We had less than a half-capacity crowd, so we all sat on one side (which doubles the amount of time you can spend looking at a reef or other point of interest, since the pilot doesn't have to turn the sub around to face the other bank of portholes toward it); but as you can see, even with a full load of passengers it wouldn't be the least bit claustrophobic. This photo was shot on the surface with a flash (note the depth meter reading 4 feet to the left of the pilot), but the water is so clear that even at 120 feet there is plenty of light to see by, though unfortunately the film in my camera was a bit too slow to get decent photos of the constellations of tropical fish above the reefs. You'll just have to check out the Atlantis website, or go see for yourself!

Even non-nuclear military submarines with diesel engines have a "silent running" ability, whereby they can run on electric power alone; the reasons Atlantis submarines are all-electric are the same as the reasons for "silent running", and for electric automobiles. Electric power is quiet, whether for sneaking up on reef fish or enemy ships or for reducing road noise; and it's clean, whether to avoid polluting the air inside a submarine or the air we all breathe on land.

Off the west coast of Maui

I rode to and from the Lahaina harbor (where you catch the boat for a quick trip out to the submarine) in a van operated by Maui Island Tours. There is plenty to see above the ocean surface, whether up 10,000 feet to the summit of the dormant volcano Haleakala or along the Hana Highway through the rainforest; certainly there was more than I had time to explore in the breaks during and after the meetings I was attending (this year and last, and annually into the future if I'm lucky!). All that environmental beauty in need of protection (not to mention gasoline prices 40 cents higher than in California, and lots of sun and wind for renewable energy!) is a good reason for electric vehicles to proliferate on the island; research is ongoing there, and I saw at least a couple of electric utility vehicles on the roads during my stay. Natural-gas vehicles like my van wouldn't be practical there, since it's uneconomical to import the fuel (or make methane locally from biomass--yet); but I'd like to bring an EV1 electric car (with the new advanced batteries) over from California and be the first person to drive one up Haleakala... And of course, all that sugarcane would make a fine source for ethanol!

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new 19 January 2000