#humansofyachting – Charles Kohnen

Charles Kohnen in a submarine

The president of SEAmagine submarines recalls some of his most memorable dives.

“Yacht owners tend to divide into two camps when it comes to submarines. They are either absolutely fascinated by sea life or they want to find shipwrecks. I’ve been lucky enough to experience both types of dives.

One of the best dives I’ve done was off an island called Cocos on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Very few deep dives had been done there, so it was pure exploration – we had no idea what we were going to find. When we got down to about 1500 metres, we saw deep below us what we thought was a big shark – it was grey and shiny and about three metres long. As we got closer though, we realised all wasn’t as it had seemed; this was a completely different type of creature, with big green eyes and white tentacles on its belly. It looked like it was from a different planet! We actually took some pictures of it and sent the images to a few universities, but it still hasn’t been identified. The whole encounter was completely thrilling. Even better, as we were coming back up the surface, 12 huge manta rays came flying over us with their big wings. They looked like angels welcoming us back into the light. It was totally surreal.

Another memorable dive was in Australia. We were about 150 metres down and the water clarity was amazing – it felt as though we were flying. At one point, we had this huge band of yellow fin tuna that completely surrounded us. When they finally swam away, we could see what was going on below us and all of a sudden this amazing shipwreck appears. It was a schooner from 1878 lying on its side and it looked like something straight out of a Disney movie. Because it had been there for so long, it had become an artificial reef so it was packed with sea life. There were massive lobsters hiding underneath it and two sharks patrolling both sides of the ship.

I must tell you about one more dive in the Bahamas, too. We were about 150 metres down, and the sonar was telling us there was something big ahead of us. Sure enough, this massive sea mount appeared in front of us – it looked like something from the Alps! Down the face of it, there were two big waterfalls of fish swimming down – in one stream all the fish were red and in the other, they were all white. We were just dumbfounded by those colours and how beautiful it all looked. It wasn’t even that far offshore, but the regular commercial scuba divers never knew this place existed.

The reality of submarine diving is that sometimes you go underwater and all you find is mud. It’s not like there’s a road map telling you where all the action is. But other times, it is absolute magic, and when you do have those magical dives, it’s completely unforgettable.

I have a long list of locations that I still want to explore by submarine. The whole area around Papua New Guinea is probably first on that list as it’s so undiscovered. Ultimately, submarines are about exploring – going to places you couldn’t get to before.”

Dominique Afacan
Dominique Afacan
Dominique writes about all things luxury for Forbes.com, Condé Nast Traveller, Boat International and many more. Since joining the superyachting world, she's raced at the St Barths Bucket, kissed the America's Cup in Bermuda and taken a polar plunge in Antarctica.