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Another of County's Many Surprises Surfaces

November 10, 1994|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Just when you think that you have sized up our county, taken the measure of the place, it does something startling: Its leaves change colors, its sunset over the water becomes a fluorescent shade of vermilion while its hills turn a stately gold.

In the man-made realm, new restaurants open, strip malls and civic centers sprout, and underwater vessels creep around the harbor. Underwater vessels?

"I'm sure our readers will be as surprised as I was to learn that a submarine is operating off our waters," said Jeff Meyers, who wrote this week's Centerpiece story on the Delta, a tiny, locally owned and operated underwater vessel that is rented out for scientific and other research.

"I climbed into the Delta and checked out the instruments, but declined the opportunity to submerge. No, thank you. I get claustrophobic in the shower," Meyers said. "But inside the sub's cramped quarters, I did allow my imagination to shift into high gear, pretending I was 20,000 leagues under the Santa Barbara Channel. 'Up periscope. Ready torpedo tubes. Range 1,000 yards. Fire!' "

Lest you think that this is some Trident-class nuclear submarine Meyers was having a Jules Verne-like fantasy in, the Delta is anything but. In fact, you could fit it in the trunk of the average 20-year-old American-made car, which isn't to say that the sub isn't well-equipped or that its owner / operators aren't expected to perform remarkable feats of daring.

"I was impressed by the casual attitude of the aquamen, Rich Slater and Doug Privett," Meyers said. "Both are blase about their underwater exploits, ignoring the danger accompanying them on every dive. Their lightheartedness is reflected in the bumper sticker on their office wall: 'I brake for rockfish.' "

Mapping underwater faults, taking inventories of various species of marine life, retrieving scientific instruments, searching for sunken treasure--all in an itty-bitty contraption that looks like something that should be in Toon Town. It might seem like a dream job but apparently not. From what Slater said to Meyers, it's just another day, another sand dollar.

"Even though submarining may seem glamorous and romantic, Slater says it gets pretty routine," Meyers said. "What he said to me was, 'It's a job after a while. Whether you're off Santa Barbara or Tahiti, you're on the ocean. I'd much rather work at home. The best thing is meeting a lot of neat people over the years.' "

Elsewhere in Life: Earthwatch columnist Richard Kahlenberg was up to his elbows in locally grown dried beans, Fashion columnist Kathleen Williams examined yard ornaments, and Shop Talk columnist Julie Sawyer went through racks of earth- and wallet-friendly fashions.

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