There were a flurry of events that happened last April that led to my time on Castaway Cay being truly remarkable. For starters, the missus and I decided that we would take a cruise for our 10th wedding anniversary. After so many years of dodging cruises due to some fears and phobias, we decided to take to sea and decide if cruising was for us. The cruise we selected, a Halloween on the High Seas during our anniversary week, meant that on our actual anniversary we would be soaking up the sun at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
April also happened to be the month that a personal hero of mine, George McGinnis, passed away at the age of 87. George was known for many projects, not the least of which were Horizons, the ride vehicles for the Indiana Jones Adventure (and Dinosaur by default), and even the robots on the cult classic film, The Black Hole. His resume is incredible, and many times on the Main Street Gazette we petitioned for George to be bestowed with the honor of Disney Legend. While he was best known for Horizons, which was in truth my first introduction to him, the project for which I will always remember George is the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage.
It was this project for which I was able to interview George several years ago. His stories of modifying Harper Goff’s Nautilus designs from the 1954 film for the attraction, including removing the attach rowboat and pointed prow, the submarines’ construction at Tampa Ship, and their eventual placement in Walt Disney World were incredible to listen to and a privilege to write about. It turned a childhood favorite film into something more for me, something tangible, and it was humbling to know I had spoken with one of the individuals responsible for bringing it to life.
After 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage was permanently shuttered, many of the Nautilus submarines in the fleet were given unceremonious entombments on land. Two of these vessels, however, were given proper sea burials. Their windows and hatches were removed, as were the “eye” section at the top of the submarine, metal mesh was placed over all windows and openings to ensure guests wouldn’t find their way inside, but that fish could, and they were sunk along the snorkeling section of Castaway Cay. Knowing that I would be visiting the island a mere six months after George’s passing, confirmed for me that I would be finding my way out to a Nautilus to pay my respects.
This wouldn’t be an easy feat for me, snorkeling and I don’t get along. Due to some oral variations in my mouth, the mouthpieces required to snorkel cause a violent gagging problem for me whenever I’ve tried to put one in my mouth. In fact, it was this very problem that kept me from every taking part in Typhoon Lagoon’s Shark Reef, no matter how much I wished I could. Nonetheless, we rented the snorkeling gear and entered the lagoon after our Castaway Cay 5K a couple of Fridays ago.
While my wife took to the water like a guppy, I sat there just trying to figure out how I was going to make it all the way out to the Nautilus. I had hoped that tide would be low and I could almost walk out to the submarine or that I could not use the mouthpiece and simply swim out to the vessel. Neither of these turned out to be options. After many attempts, and choking multiple times over the course of almost 30 minutes I made the decision that I was going and no one was going to stop me. I shoved the mouthpiece in my mouth, pushed out into the deep water, and kept going. I literally kept telling myself that if I resisted the mouthpiece the lifeguards were going to have to pull me out of the ocean, and I didn’t want to be that guy. Whether it was pure force of will or terror at the embarrassment, I just kept swimming.
I learned, very quickly, that my directional sense is impaired under water. I’d try going in a straight line and end up doing something of a semicircle or going in a straight line, straight to the left or right, but not forward. I imagine I was a sight to behold, but I was determined. Many of the other sunken treasures of the snorkeling trail came and went, basins, rock outcroppings, a small boat, but still I kept scouring the water for my beloved Nautilus.
Eventually it came into view through the murky, sun-drenched blue waters. From its stunted nose to the gorgeous curve of its tailfin, this Nautilus was sight to behold. I swam around the vessel, taking it all in. The memories of boarding the attraction with my father swept back over me as I peered down the stairwells, the conversations with George about their construction came to me as I made my way along the top and towards the tail section (where the rowboat would have been), and the realization that I had overcome something in myself just to be there in that moment, there were a plethora of thoughts racing through my head in those few moments.
It was then, as I looked over the entire Nautilus from the aft section of the submarine, that I took a moment to reach out and touch the fin. I thanked George for all he created over the years and his willingness to always be open and generous with his time to any who asked it of him. I then turned back to the shore and swam back to the island, one wrong turn or semicircle at a time.
This journey was an important one for me to undertake, not just to provide readers with a story or a few photos of a Nautilus’ final resting place or to speak up once more for the life and work of George McGinnis, but so that I could, in some small way, pay my respects to the legend himself. To connect with him one more time over a topic that I will forever feel a bond to him with.
The next time, or the first time, you each find yourself snorkeling around Castaway Cay, I hope you’ll remember George yourself when you come upon that beautiful submarine of his. In the meantime, maybe these photographs from my journey will hold you over.