Sunday, May 11, 2014

Glass Bottom Boat launched in Loreto!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to join a preliminary excursion on what will be the next new "on the water" attraction for Loreto - Loreto Coastal Expeditions' "WANTOSEA" Glass Bottom Boat!  This project, which has been in the works for over two years, is the "brainchild" of Tim Yarbrough, with assistance from his son Brandon, who are both "serial entrepreneurs" here in Loreto.  Tim is an experienced stainless steel fabricator, has an organic market garden business supplying local vegetables in season, and a  composting business - as well as a sideline in delicious kettle popcorn, while Brandon supplies Loreto Bay with a wireless internet service as well as providing other computer related services.

But their true love is the Glass Bottom Boat project that started to come together when Tim found a previously owned 26 foot life boat in San Diego and transported it to his fully equipped workshop on the main floor of his custom designed home in Loreto, where he began the transformation that conservatively took over 1,000 hours to complete. 

I met Tim and Brandon and their Skipper Noe at the Marina in Puerto Escondido and we departed the harbor shortly after I boarded the beautifully rebuilt boat.  As we got underway, Tim explained that the whole interior of the boat, except for the original seat bench that ran down both sides, had been newly fabricated out of stainless steel and fiberglass, including the large "bimini", shade structure that covered the entire boat from bow to stern. 

I quickly understood the importance of shading the interior of the boat when I looked into the mate black steel well that filled the center of the boat and through the four laminated glass panels that made up the bottom of the boat.  Without shade from the sun's reflection, it would have been impossible to see through the glass bottom.  I will admit that, to begin with, it was a bit unnerving to be staring at the somewhat murky bottom of the Marina harbor area through the bottom of the boat, but after a brief explanation from Tim I understood the principle behind the design.

In the first place, each of the four glass panels are two 3/8" thick sheets of safety glass laminated together - like a vehicle windshield, more than strong enough to resist breaking under all but the most unlikely direct hits or rocky collisions.  But even in the event of a panel becoming damaged, the rectangular steel well that surrounds the glass panels would contain the water up to the boat's waterline (about 2 feet) after which the boat would continue to float.  This was demonstrated when they did in water test of the hull, without the glass panels installed, and the water rose only about halfway up the surrounding well and the boat continued to float stably  (see video clip).

I have mentioned before in these pages that I am not much of a "water baby" and not a strong swimmer, so although I have snorkeled occasionally I do not really enjoyed the experience - but this was different!  Imagine snorkeling in IMAX with 42 square feet of underwater view, and without worrying about water temperature, currents - or breathing! 

As we made our way out of the Escondido harbor we paused over a few underwater rocky outcrops where I discovered another unique aspect of glass bottom boating - the view of the bottom is magnified, so that a submerged rock that looks a foot or two below the glass is probably more like four or five feet deep.  Comforting to know that while the shallow 2 foot draft of this boat is well above any potential rocky hazards, the view from above is even more dramatic due to this magnification effect.

We lost sight of the bottom in more than about 10 or 15 feet of water, depending on how clear it is in a particular place, as Tim explained that many factors including rising and waning tides, temperatures, currents  etc. can affect the water clarity.  As we picked up speed and made our way across the channel towards Ilsa Danzante, there was a stream of bubble turbulence from the bow running down the center line of the glass bottom, giving a different, almost hypnotic sense of speed that I found hard to look away from, in spite of the beautiful scenery surrounding us above water.

The rest of the morning was spent "gunkholing" around the shore of Danzante checking out underwater features and spotting schools of dozens of tropical fish, dark grey Parrot fish (delicious!), long skinny Trigger fish and Manta Rays "flying" underwater.  Even when there weren't fish to watch there were many large colorful Starfish and plate sized Scallops clinging to the underwater rocks.  I was surprised how these fish tended to congregate in specific areas in large numbers, and then in similar "terrain" 20 or 30 feet away, not a fish to be seen.  The boat was also an ideal viewing platform because we hardly disturbed the marine life as we floated above them and so we were able to hang almost motionless for minutes at a time observing an underwater world that has been the sole preserve of snorkelers and divers previously.       

Meanwhile, for Tim, Brandon and their Skipper Noe, this was a scouting trip to develop the itineraries for their future excursions, finding the best locations for spectacular underwater views and where best to find fish to observe.  Time passed quickly, and after a couple of hours we headed back to Escondido where they dropped me off, and then headed back to the Loreto Marina where they would pull the boat out again until the next trip.  Now that the boat has been successfully tested, work is underway putting the final touches on the marketing plan that will make this venture a going concern and exciting new adventure activity for Loreto.

Brandon is building a website presence under the name, which should be launched (no pun intended) in the near future, and  where they will be accepting reservations for one, two or six hour cruises, probably with a main focus on the islands of Danzante and Carmen.  I am grateful to have been invited along on this early "shakedown" cruise, and, while there are still a few logistical details to be worked out, I have no doubt that this talented and hard-working Father Son partnership will "launch" an exciting new attraction to the waters around Loreto and bring unforgettable memories to their many future passengers!

Getting to know better, two fascinating people, embarking on their long held dream, which will bring the mysteries and secrets of the "best" part of the part of the Sea of Cortez to the eyes of Visitors and Residents alike - this was a special day, "Living Loreto"!