I’ve been chewed up and spit out by a number of woman in my life, but in terms of sheer nastiness, what Idabel did to me off the coast of Roatán on August 20, 2006, was flat unconscionable. It’s not that I was unaware of the threat she posed. What’s a relationship without a whiff of danger? I knew Idabel could take me places I’d never been, that we could plumb seemingly boundless depths together. But I never could have predicted the pain.
To be clear, Idabel is a submarine—a yellow submarine, actually, the size of a VW Bug. She was built by the deep-sea explorer Karl Stanley, an American-born resident of Roatan, one of Honduras’s Bay Islands. The island sits on the edge of the Cayman Trench, which means any time Stanley wants to take Idabel out for a spin, he only has to putter a few hundred feet from his dock before the seafloor plunges more than 7,000 feet. As it happened, I was in Roatan for some underwater exploration myself, albeit with a mask and tank. But scuba can take you only so deep. Stanley was ferrying tourists to 2,000 feet—20 times deeper than the recreational scuba limit. His Web site promised a magical world seldom seen by human eyes, a world of bioluminescent sea goblins, of strange corals that require no sunlight, of fish that stand on their heads.
I called him to schedule a ride.