By Michael J Tyzbir
Special to St. John Tradewinds
On the morning of Wednesday, May 15, the 42-foot Blast, one of Cruz Bay Watersports’ fleet of custom vessels, departed from its home on the Weston Resort and Villas dock, heading on a historical journey that may not be duplicated again.
The destination was Lameshur Bay, and the reunion of the guests on Blast was to commemorate the Atlantis Seafloor Colony Project undersea experiments which took place in 1969 and 1970 at the Tektite I and II sites, undersea structures where up to a half dozen aquanauts lived and learned much about the aquatic world and the mysteries it holds.
On board was a dive team that would make Jacques Cousteau envious. Buzz Aldrin, aquanaut and astronaut, and 24 other companions once again explored the remains of the undersea colony established 40 years ago.
Preparing for Space Under the Sea
Astronauts were included in the project because they prepared for their weightlessness in space by scuba diving and simulating tasks under water. Aldrin displayed expert diving skills, as one would expect from the second man to walk on the moon.
Although not diving, Scott Carpenter, another name synonymous with sea and space, was there for the reunion. Carpenter was the first to set a record in the colony’s SEALAB and, for those too young to remember, was one of the original seven astronauts on the Mercury space shuttle.
“Tektite was the first nationally sponsored scientists-in-the-sea program,” said Carpenter. “It was a cooperative government-industry-university effort that took place in Lameshur Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands in 1969-70. One goal of the program was to show that saturation diving from an underwater laboratory could be done efficiently, safely, and at a relatively small cost, using a breathing mixture of nitrogen and oxygen.”
“During Tektite II, General Electric rebreathers were used which greatly extended the time that divers could spend in the water away from the Tektite habitat,” Carpenter said. “Nine studies dealing with various aspects of the ecology of coral-reef fishes were carried out during Tektite I and II.”
Another participant was Craig McLean, the deputy for NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research programs and administration, who was on hand because of similar undersea experiments performed by NOAA. They presently have a site called Aquarius based off the shores of Florida, which is used for ongoing lab experiments.
The members of the crew, Captain Justin Holt, Captain James Gill, Michael Tyzbir, and Adrienne Katz, all PADI dive instructors, said there is no describing the pride and excitement they felt for the opportunity to host the group. They were very grateful to the Westin Villa Resorts and Cruz Bay Watersports for three days of living history.