The Yellow Submarine is an icon of Lanzarote tourism. Owner Paul Bunce estimates that 3-5% of all visitors to the island take a trip in the Puerto Calero attraction.
Recently, we took advantage of the rare opportunity to see the submarine in dry dock, and get an idea of the challenges that are facing tourism businesses like Submarine Safaris as they prepare to live in the age of coronavirus.
What effect did the lockdown have on the business, Paul?
We closed everything down. It’s been four months, now, and we’ve decided to give the submarine the refit of a lifetime. Everything’s being inspected, renewed if necessary, repainted and we’ve added a few changes, too, such as replacing the fish-feeding system for a much more effective one.
For an example, we have replaced one of the passenger view ports and sent it to Germany for testing, which has to be carried out after 10,000 dives. If the test is successive, then they will certify the view ports for a further 10,000 dives. If not, then we would need to replace all the view ports at a cost of €150,000. This is stuff we do anyway, but to a much tighter schedule.
How are things going to change in relation to Coronavirus?
It’s a big challenge, and we started addressing it the minute lockdown began. A lot will have to change in the sub – we’ll be installing screens so that passengers are separated, and mask-wearing will be compulsory; there’ll be hyper filters for air that will circulate and disinfect air with UV rays every seven minutes; we’ll have to disinfect after every outing and do a deep clean at the end of each day; and boarding and disembarking will have to be much more organised, with paper boarding passes and passengers entering so that they cross over as little as possible. Passengers’ health is paramount, but so is that of our crew and staff, who spend all day in the submarine.
That will come with a cost, surely?
Of course. The protocols will mean that, whereas before we used to be able to do an excursion every hour, I’m currently estimating a time of 90 minutes, which we’ll hopefully get down to 75 minutes with patience.
It’s quite surprising to discover that the yellow submarine ins’t all that yellow at all.
That’s because you usually only see the bit above the water. Below the water level we have to use special anti-fouling paint, which does not come in yellow, unfortunately. Also, a lot of the yellow deck fittings have been removed, but will be replaced prior to placing here back in the water.
How difficult was it to get a 100 tonne vessel into dry dock?
Not difficult at all, as we are lucky to have a travel lift in Puerto Calero. Once they start to lift, then it takes about 40 minutes to complete.
The submarine is one of those Lanzarote tourists trips everyone knows about, and it would be a great boost for the island to see it up-and-running again. When do you think you’ll be resuming trips?
Currently, I’m pencilling in a restart in August. We’ll be putting her back in the water soon, but there’ll still be a lot of work to do. Dry dock is necessary for some jobs but others, such as interior work, are easier in the water where you don’t need ladders.
Thanks Paul, and the very best of luck.