Voyage Down to the Wreck Site of the Titanic
A story sponsored by Austin Lehman Family Adventures Vacation.
With the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic approaching, I thought I’d recapture one of my greatest adventures to date, my voyage down to the wrecksite of the RMS Titanic. To put this adventure in perspective let me start by saying that more people have been to outer space than down to the wreck site of the Titanic. (yup only 180 people have been down to the site, a fact I learned while on board the Kelydysh.
Below is a journal of what transpired in ths once in a lifetime adventure. Hope you enjoy it!
“The RV Akademik Mstislav Keldysh was designed and built as the largest working research vessel in the world for use with the Deep Water Submersibles, Mir 1 and 2. It is by special arrangement that we are able to use this vessel for deep diving expeditions.” We received a daily program on board that was left in our door pockets. It would tell us all the things that were happening for the day, most which focused around food. Sample sheet: Breakfast, lecture, lunch, lecture, tea & goodies, lecture, dinner, lecture then movie.
Time for events were given in Military time. Example of events:
Afternoon tea. Which by the way was a lavish spread prepared by Austrian and Russian cooks. It was their first time working together, but they managed very nicely.
Kelydish departs port of St. Johns for Titanic wreck site.
380 miles Southeast of New foundland.
Site of Titanic wreck:
41 , 44.0 N 49 degrees, 46.0 West
12, 465 feet/3,790 meters depth.
It will take us approximately, depending on weather, 38 hours to reach the wreck site.
Dinner served, four course meal. The art of dining!
Every night there was a movie.
Getting use to movement of boat. The seas were calm, even though two hurricanes were brewing on the sides of us and the land was getting pelted. Knew my mom was worrying, had no way of reaching her. I’m sure she said a thousand novenas.
Friday – En route to wreck site in North Atlantic
Introduction of Mir Program by the “father of the program” and man who designed the submersibles. Dr. Anatoly Sagalevitch. Anatoly is in all James Cameron’s movies. He is the one you see at the beginning of the movie Titanic when they open the safe and the papers fall out…he says, “No diamonds”. He is also the one piloting the Mir in all of Cameron’s movies. He tells us the Mirs are the only submersibles that can go to any depth in the ocean and stay for 24 hours. (The Alvin can go but only stay for 3-4 hours.)
He explains these are submersibles, not submarines.
- The Mir could cover 98% of the ocean floor.
- It would cost 50-60 million dollars to build another submersible to get to that other inaccessible 2% of the ocean.
- Man however has only explored to date 2% of the ocean floor – but takes samplings.
- Each Mir cost about 1 million dollars. If built today it would cost $50 million.The Mir’s have also gone to the hydrothermal vents. 50 new species were discovered upon first look. Now they have found close to 1000 new animals.
Mir Orientation visit. The first chance for me to actually go inside the Mir 1 submersible to familiarize myself and see just how small it really is. The actual sub is 25 feet long.
But inside it is only 7 feet, (not 17 like I originally thought) and that is for 3 people, two passengers and the pilot!
The seats are shaped in a U fashion and when you all sit, your knees touch. There are two side seats and one center seat for the pilot with the console directly in front of him.
It’s very cozy. I decided at that point there is no way I’m going to the bathroom in here. You’d have to stand on the seat and squat with some kind of shower curtain contraption wrapped around your waist as you maneuver the toilet packet.
The toilet packet fits up against your body, and when you pee, it turns into gel. It’s the same thing they use on small airplanes. This is when the male advantage comes in.
Okay enough bathroom talk.
There are three windows. One center one which is about 12 inches wide and two side windows, one for each passenger, which is about six inches wide. The Plexiglas is 18 inches thick. Anatoly was very specific and said nothing is to touch the glass, no camera lens, etc, because it can easily scratch the windows and is hard and expensive to replace.
Tons of buttons and gadgets all around inside. Pure oxygen is pumped into the sub. There is a co2 filter which takes the carbon dioxide out of the air and will be changed during the dive if needed.
After the Mir visit you are briefed on your dive. It was at that point that I was told I would be the first diver in the first Mir of this expedition.
I found out my dive partner was not going to be Brian Day O’Connor (the one who got me into this in the first place) but instead a Japanese woman named Masayo who wanted to become famous and set a world record for being the #1 Japanese women to visit the Titanic.
She was very outspoken and aggressive. She went around saying, “Me number one Japanese. I be number one. I want to be very famous.” It became the running joke on the ship. And yes, she took pictures of EVERTHING…I mean everything…of all our meals, of the crew people, of menus, and pictures of pictures. If we waited on line for food, she’d cut the line and say, me eat first…me number one! At one point later in the trip, the 12 civilian passengers were invited to Rob’s office to buy t-shirts etc. She literally grabbed them out of people’s hands and said, “Me need that shirt. Me take now.” We all debated about making her the anchor.
The rest of the afternoon is spent going to lectures by Don Walsh and Ralph White. Another lecturer, Peter Batson (deep sea biologist) also gave lectures. He showed us photographs not only of a giant squid (dead of course since no one has seen a live one, but of a newly found, Collosal squid which is estimated can grow to between 30-50 feet. He is one of the few people to ever see a dead one…we were able to see the photos…something that has not been released to the public yet.)
Safety instructions and abandon ship drill…we had to wait in our room till seven short blasts and one long emergency alarm was sounded. Then we had to get our life jackets and go to the nearest life boat. These days the lifeboats are fully enclosed, come with food rations and water, and protect you from the elements. Each one could hold up to 66 people. Couldn’t help but think how these drills came about because of disaster of Titanic, when there weren’t enough life boats. If there were, the Titanic sank slow enough that all the people aboard could have been saved. Felt a little strange.
Saturday – Arrival at RMS Titanic Site. RMS = (Royal Mail Service)
The Mir navigation team places four navigational transponders around the wreck site.
Watch movie, “Ghosts of the Abyss” a James Cameron movie…thought…”Oh my God tomorrow I will be doing exactly what I am watching in this film.” I wanted the images of overlay of the today shots of the staircase with the actual staircase burned in my mind. So when I look at the wreck, I could envision how it was.”
One passenger, Boris, a flamboyant Russian car dealer (actually the biggest in Moscow) says he is staying in James Cameron’s room. He shows us a picture in his camera with James Cameron’s name on the desk.
Spend the day doing lectures. Realize everyone of passengers around me (outside of Bridgette, and two other passengers are millionaires many times over..this trip is pocket change to them.) Yet the common bond is we all love adventure and are about to be come part of a very small unique club – those who visited the Titanic. We are told that more people have gone to outer space than have visited the Titanic.
The styrofoam cups:
At this point a bunch of styrofoam cups are brought out along with markers. We are told that we can paint them. They will be put in a mesh bag and then placed in sliding draw baskets which are outside the Mir.
These regular size coffee cups will be compressed down, (all the air taken out) to the size of a thimble by the pressure in the ocean at that depth. Instant, unique souvenirs, that can only be produced in the ocean depths.
We are given a sheet of instructions for diving.
One thing stressed to us in NOT to wear any alcohol or Vaseline based makeup. Since there is pure oxygen pumped into subs. that stuff can ignite easily. I debate since I know this film footage will be shown on TV. Then Ralph tells a story about one guy whose face blew up because he wore lip balm…my debate and vanity is ended. (Although I still think about cheating just a little.)
Lunch is my last big meal. I will not eat again till after my dive tomorrow. Going number 1 (and we’re not talking the Japanese women here) is hard enough, but #2 would be horrible. I’m told no one ever did do #2 in the sub, and I certainly don’t want to set a world record by being the first. Nope, I don’t want to be the one with the stinky diaper.
We are also reminded not to eat gassy or greasy foods. It would be bad enough getting a stomach ache down there, but the last thing you want is excessive flatulence. First you can’t blame it on anyone, but second…its not like you can open a window down there. I figure it’s safer not to eat…besides, better for my waistline, and other parts south.
Lydia, the oldest Russian woman on the ship, who is about 4 feet high, is in charge of issuing us our NOMEX suits to wear during our dives. She looks me over, measures me through her one good eye, winks and hands me a suit. I try it on, it fits tight but I realize that I need a bigger one since I will have to wear layers of clothes for the dive to stay warm. I ask for bigger suit. Well I don’t ask since I can’t speak Russian, I basically motion that my butt can’t bend. She laughs, strips me down and issues me another suit.
At midnight I start limiting my water consumption.
I check to make sure my bags are packed for the next day’s dive. I have two full bags.
List of things to bring down in submarine to Titanic. Belinda told me I could bring down whatever I need as long as I kept it on my side of the sub. This is the first time I’m glad I’m short, in a seven foot sub, every inch counts.
- AA books – 6
- Ripley’s books-6
- Goldenpalace t-shirt
- Authorhouse t- shirt
- Ripley’s t shirt
- Two rolls of pennies
- Things of Nickels
- Covers of books that where at top of Kilimanjaro
- Prayer to say
- Necklace -Heart of the ocean
- Two still cameras
- 1 video camera
- 1 back up digital camera
- extra batteries
- extra rolls of film
- Decide to bring down 50 Goldenpalace.com keychains.
Went to sleep early but feeling very anxious. Excited but anxious. Feel as if I’m on a roller coaster ride going up and I know soon I will peak at the hill and come zooming down. Love the feeling, but at the same time you have that white knuckled grip.
One fact that I remember from lecture, the pressure of the sub is six tons of pressure on each square inch of the sub…thus why the windows are so small. Anyway, if a pinhole pierced the sub somehow, you’d be literally sliced in half as the lazer beam of water would jet in with all that pressure. Not really worried about this fact though…more worried about peeing in the sub.
DAY OF MY TITANIC DIVE (EXACTLY ONE YEAR LATER!)
I realize through a pure chance of fate that I am diving on July 10th…exactly one year from the day I submitted Kilimanjaro and did my book signing. I submitted the mountain at 10 AM according to my certificate…and now my dive time here is 9 Am. Estimated time to hit the water…10 AM.
From the top of the world to the depths of the sea, is almost happening at the same exact time!
Fate, whose to say! But does make a cool fact.
Up, can’t sleep.
Go to breakfast just to hang with others.
Triple check my bags.
Try to go to bathroom one more time.
Rob comes and gets us. Feels imminent…we aquanauts are ready for our mission.
Rob takes us into lab.
The entire Mir crew is there.
They cheer us.
Lydia presents a log book to us and we sign in. It is now official. We are down in history and entered into the scientific log books.
The steel garage like housing for the Mir’s are lifted, exposing the Mir’s to day light.
Their photographer snaps a picture of us.
Anatoly goes in first, then Masayo.
We are one level down for the other passengers. They are all gathered around a rail with their cameras taking pictures. Masayo is being nudged by crew to go inside Mir 1. Instead she is standing around with her hands in the air…”Me #1 Japanese!” She keeps raising her hands…the crew nudges her in.
Then I climb up the ladder. The passengers ask me if I plan on talking 12 hours non-stop. I can’t promise anything…but I know enough not to disturb the pilot when he is driving…last thing I want is to hit into the Titanic…can see the headlines now…”Fast talker, talks pilot into wreck.”
Anatoly is our pilot. So you have a Japanese women, a Russian pilot and a fast talking New Yorker. It is going to be an interesting 12 hours.
At the top near the hatch, a crew member greets us with a yellow tool box. We take off our shoes and hand it to him. We are now just in thick warm socks.
Inside the submersible there are extra booties, and another suit that we can wear as the temperature drops.
After we are in, our bags are handed inside.
Anatoly’s wife comments in a heavy Russian accent, “Figures, two women…four bags.”
Mine are filled with books etc. Japanese women…four bags of cameras – not to stereotype, but hey, facts are facts.
Once we are inside, Anatoly presses some switches. The hatch is closed and locked. I could hear the echo from those prison movies when the door slams shut. This is it.
Now, since I had never seen a Mir launch I had no idea what was happening at this point. It wasn’t until the next day when I watched another Mir Launch that I saw all that transpired. Since you feel little movement inside, I simply thought the crane lifted us and dropped us in the water…but no, turns out it’s much more complicated than that.
What actually happens is two small boats, one called the Koresh, and the other a rubber raft- the Zodiac, are lowered by crane into the water.
They wait for the eight ton Mir to be hooked and lifted into the water.
Once in the water, this handsome Russian guy in a frog suit, known simply as “The cowboy” leaps from the rubber raft onto the Mir. He hooks a rope to the Mir and throws it to the Koresh. The Koresh then pulls the Mir away from the boat while the cowboy is standing on top, riding it.
Once the Mir is far enough away, the cowboy unhooks the Mir, and leaps into the rubber boat. Both the Koresh and the rubber boat pull away.
(I could feel none of this by the way. There is absolutely no sensation inside of being pulled, tugged, ridden…nada.) We just see that we are bouncing in the water.
“Okay, Now we go down.” Says Anatoly.
We drop 90 feet per minute.
It was at this point that I realized I might have some competition in the talking department. Even though we were warned NOT to talk to the pilot the first half hour of our trip so he could concentrate, Miss #1 Japanese started in.
“Can I take picture now? How fast are we going? Will you turn on the lights? Are we going to see the bow first? You know I number one Japanese to go down.” I wanted to smack her. Anatoly looked at me incredulously. I shrugged. No way in hell was I going to get the pilot mad, besides she was doing a good job herself.
I could tell we were in for a long journey.
After 800 feet it was darkness, all you heard were the sounds of the submarine. Occasionally some Russian commands came over the radio. There were plot points on a graph that represented the bow and stern of the ship. There was another moving point that represented us.
A compass told us that we were slowly spiraling down, although you didn’t feel any of it.
At one point in the total darkness of the water Anatoly turned on the lights. I saw this bizarre translucent donut shaped creature come up to the window. It was about an inch in diameter. As I pressed my face closer to the window it opened up and red tentacles speared out, making the creature about seven inches wide. I felt I was in a Star Trek episode, better yet, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
Anatoly was plotting the points and making notations in his log book. He was making sure we were on course for coming into the bow of the ship. The transponders were helping with location.
He checked our oxygen levels (a good thing) etc.
I still found it hard to believe I was in a submersible. It seems like a dream.
The decent took three and a half hours. The walls on the inside of the submersible had condensation. A small puddle of water formed at the base of each window. Good thing I knew it was condensation or I would have thought the Mir was leaking.
Finally Anatoly announced we were close to the Titanic.
He said we came in near the stern but wanted us to see the bow first so he maneuvered around.
We looked out the window…albino starfish with long skinny legs were sprawled along the ocean floor.
Then we saw it. The bow of the ship. Just like in the movies. It was surreal. Here I was less than 15 feet from the bow with all it’s rusticles, and yet all I could think was, “wow, wow, wow…this was the ship of dreams.
A ship that the first class passengers paid an equivalent of $52,000 to ride on, and now here it lays, the death bed of all those victims of
man’s stupidity- the stupidity of pushing a ship too hard, of not having enough life boats, of not seeing a iceberg in time. This is the famed Titanic.”
I laid on my stomach on my bench so I could get close to the window. I snapped pictures. It was hard to put the realities together, those of the passengers, visions seen in movies, and what my real eyes were seeing. It was an immense feeling.
The trance was broken when Masayo began her photo session. “I cannot see, I need to get closer. Too difficult.”
Anatoly said, “Nothings to difficult.” Immediately I liked him.
Masayo repeats, “Too difficult to see.” (I’m thinking maybe if we put her outside the sub she can see better.)
Then she leans over the console, onto the controls and starts snapping pictures through Anatoly’s pilot window. We exchanged glances. He shrugs.
I choose to try to ignore her and looked out my window. Then I saw Mir 2 from the distance. The lights from the Mir cast an eerie glow on the bow. Made for great film footage.
She kept complaining, “I only 80% happy, I cannot see.” This is not something you say to the inventor of the sub. I could see Mir 2 was waiting patiently for it’s turn to take pictures at the bow.
For the next 45 minutes, Masayo kept saying I need more pictures. Finally Anatoly said, “We can stay here, whole dive by bow…if you like.” I piped up, “I would like to see another part of the ship.
She said, “Okay, but then we come back.”
I asked her, “Masayo are you married?” She said, “No, never had a date!”
I wonder why!
We glided over the ship. Rusticles are everywhere outside the ship, very few inside I’m told. Rusticles are the products of bacteria that eat iron.
It is estimated it eats 1000 – 2000 pounds per day of iron. When you see the bacteria hanging down from the anchor it is a river of rust in liquid form.
We saw the downed funnel #1, it fell on top of the quarters and crushed it. (It contradicts Ballard’s claim that the Mir’s damaged the quarters by landing on it…the crushed quarters are the identical outline of the funnel).
We silently (except for the cry of “Can I take more pictures”), glided over the grand staircase.
You could see a chandelier handing down from the electrical wires. It was more of an open hole, as the first thing to be eaten by sea worms are wood. All the exposed wood has been gone for decades. Also all human bones in this calcium deficient environment are long gone.
It was later at this spot when we circled back around that I did the prayer in my capacity as a new ordained minister.
But back to the present, Masayo said, “I want to see stain glass windows down inside.”
Now the Mir’s are not meant to go inside the Titanic. For that task, small remote operated bots do that.
But she insists. “I want to go inside”.
Anatoly says, ” Okay, we go down inside and never come back up.”
She says, “Okay”.
I say, “Masayo, he’s kidding with you.”
Then I realized how funny is this? A New Yorker interpreting a Russian joke for a Japanese women.
We continued to glide over the ship. We see the promenade deck, Captain Smiths quarters where you could see the bathtub and the plumbing pipes.
We see the engines, the Marconi room where the men desperately tried to get help from another ship when they were sinking. We see deck A and a crushed deck b. tons of windows covered with rusticles. Closed windows, open windows, windows you could see through inside and get a glimpse of the ship.
At one point I did my book signing.
It was interesting trying to maneuver getting 12 books out of a bag, changing sponsor shirts, trying to get pictures of me in the forefront and the Titanic in the back…didn’t work. Windows are too small, if you use a flash, you only get the inside of sub and the window is blurred. If you don’t use a flash you get the outside, but can’t see the person near the window. I did my best with video, and propping up shirts by the window.
Signed books to Masayo, Anatoly, for Ripley’s, Authorhouse and Golden Palace.
Showed the 1912 pennies and nickels I brought down, the 50 Goldenpalace keychains, and the “heart of the ocean” pendant replica from the movie Titanic that my mom bought me.
All books signed were recorded on video.
Anatoly said, “Thank you very nice book, can’t believe I’m with fastest talking women.”
At one point to shut Masayo up he said, “Talk more, talk faster.” Then he looked at me and said, “but she can’t talk faster than you. I’m in trouble.”
We stayed by the site for five hours. Some images were so ghostly, especially when the other Mir would light it up. At one point we were dangerously close to the other Mir…why? Because Masayo was in the window blocking Anatoly’s view and he couldn’t pilot the Mir. He had to push her out of the way and say…”Now you cause danger, sit back.” She pouted.
It took a while to get to the stern, since when the ship broke they landed apart.
Anatoly offered us a bagged lunch, but we turned it down…the old bathroom worry again. Ate chocolate though…heard it is a good plug.
When we got to the stern all we saw was a tangled mess. It was hard to distinguish things. But we did see the port propeller embedded in the sand.
Then we went over the debris field. We saw bottles, third class soup cups, a wash basin, another cup with the words “White Star” on them.
Seeing personal items like this had a huge impact on me. It was not just a hunk of steel, it was the small everyday items that got me.
There was also a pirate cage. A cage left by someone stealing artifacts…but who?
Finally we circled around to the front of the Titanic again. Then I said the prayer over the staircase.
I figured this is where most of the souls on the ship passed, it would be a good place to do it. It was when I said the prayer, that the hugeness of this all hit me. As I said the prayer images of the passengers that night flashed through my head. Everyone, even Masayo was quiet then and to her credit, she did video tape me doing the prayer.
Then Anatoly announced it was time to go up. Masayo said, “Can you back up so we can take picture of whole ship?”
Anatoly looked at me. We couldn’t believe she asked that.
He said, “No one has ever seen whole ship down here at one time, too big, not enough light.”:
She insisted, “Yes, yes you back up I use my flash.”
Man if I didn’t have to spend another four hours with her going up, I would have given her a fast-talking chewing out. But I held my tongue, and figured…”Calm down Capo…just more material for my comedy act.”
Anatoly must have wanted to get out badly since he got us back to the surface in record time.
On the way up he mentioned that next year he was going to the North Pole with the Mir and an ice breaker ship. “It’s never been done before and unexplored region” Wow is all I could think, I am with true explorers…those who pave the way. Those who discover what other people later come and look at as tourist at
tractions. I asked him if he was worried about finding the hole in the ice to come out of…he said, “I find the hole, no worries.” I love that attitude.
The ride up I was thinking…this has got to be my greatest adventure. I was two and a half miles down in the North Atlantic ocean, a place few have gone. I did the first ever prayer down there. I did a book signing, I saw creatures that I didn’t even know existed and I visited one of the most talked about ships of all time, and I didn’t have to go to the bathroom!
It was truly awesome.
At the surface we bounced around for a while. It was cold there at the top, colder than I had been all throughout the dive. Masayo was nausea and had a bag ready just in case. Pilot whales were attracted by our sonar, and were all around the Mir. I couldn’t see them but am told later.
For now I just focus on a fixed point. I debate whether to snap a picture of Masayo with the vomit bag, good black mail. Plus it’s the only time she shut up. I decide, okay, one quick shot. (Yes, it’s in my scrap book.)
We came up at 9 p.m.
The Koresh towed us back to the ship and then the crane lifted us on board.
The hatch opened and my ears popped.
I climbed out and was greeted by the entire crew and passengers cheering.
And guess what, Fran is #1 out of sub. We all laughed. I was handed my shoes back and climbed down the ladder.
Bridgette took videos. The photographer snapped pictures, and we were offered a glass of champagne. When I went back to my room on my bed was a certificate and a present of two champagne glasses with “White Star” on it.
Gifts, memories, laughs, and an experience of a lifetime.
The ultimate day.
Post note: The rest of the trip was spent taking photos, playing ping-pong, volleyball and giving the Russians the shirts. They were thrilled. They actually cheered. These people cannot afford T-shirts so to them it was a special treat.
Thanks so much to my major sponsors, GoldenPalace, Authorhouse and Ripley’s. And thanks to all my friends and family who also sponsored me and for believing in me and helping me make history. WE DID it! Another Capo first!
I will continue to search for more incredible adventures as long as I live.
Certificates were mailed out to all the sponsors with a 1912 penny that was down by the wreck site!
DVD OF MY TITANIC ADVENTURE, PLUS SPECIAL INDEPTH INTERVIEWS WITH TITANIC SPECIALISTS WILL BE AVAILABLE SHORTLY.