Documentary: James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge

James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge
James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge

James Cameron is best known (to people of my *ahem* vintage) as the director of Titanic, or (to those slightly younger) as the director of Avatar. As a result of these multi-billion dollar grossing films, he has more leisure time than most of us. He has used this to excellent effect in recent years, and achieved something that very few others could have done.

Cameron’s interest in deep ocean exploration seems to have been born out of his interest in the Titanic, and he has used tethered ROVs to explore the Titanic as described in Ghosts of the Abyss. He partially funded and spearheaded a project to build a submersible capable of carrying one person down into deepest known part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, between Japan, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.

Deepsea Challenger is that craft, and Cameron ultimately piloted it to nearly 11,000 metres underwater, and returned safely. James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge is the story of the design, construction, and testing of Deepsea Challenger, and of her dive to Challenger Deep. Unlike Robert Ballard, who favours unmanned ROVs, James Cameron is a proponent of manned ocean exploration, and I can identify with his enthusiasm for putting human eyes on the seabed (in a figuratively literal sense).

Fewer people have seen the bottom of Challenger Deep than have been on the moon. The last (and first) manned voyage there was in 1960, when Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh piloted Trieste, a bathyscaphe, there and back. Trieste used gasoline for buoyancy, whereas a special, extremely buoyant foam was developed to do the same job for Deepsea Challenger. The challenges of descending to and ascending from such a depth meant that here and there, seemingly archaic pieces of technology were included in the craft. I was tickled by the release of steel ball bearings to establish initial neutral or slightly positive buoyancy at times.

An aspect of the documentary that I found particularly touching was the presence of Don Walsh on Cameron’s ship, to witness the dive to Challenger Deep. You can read a bit of a review of the documentary here. There is an excellent series of National Geographic articles that will give you a feel for the project: part one, part two, a photo gallery, details of the submersible, and a video.

Get the DVD of James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge here, here or here (South Africa).

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks

If you’re planning a trip to Cape Town and have a love of shipwrecks on shore, you’re in luck. Visiting some of the wrecks that are visible above the water around the Cape Peninsula can be combined with your exploration of the city, and will ensure that you don’t miss any of its outdoor highlights. Some of these visible shipwrecks can be reached by road, and one or two of them will require a short boat ride.

A map showing all these wrecks can be found here. A mini travel guide to Cape Town’s shipwrecks on shore, in the form of an ebook entitled Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks and written by yours truly, is available here.

Table Bay to Oudekraal

What remains of RMS Athens
What remains of RMS Athens

SS Winton and SS Hermes
Commodore II
RMS Athens
MV Antipolis

Maori Bay to Kommetjie

The BOS 400 and Seahorse
The BOS 400 and Seahorse

MFV Harvest Capella
MV BOS 400 (also check out this post and this one) – also a dive site
SS Kakapo

Cape Point Nature Reserve

Ribs of the Nolloth
Ribs of the Nolloth

SS Thomas T Tucker
SS Nolloth
FV Phyllisia

False Bay

The Clan Stuart engine block seen from a stern facing position
The Clan Stuart engine block seen from a stern facing position

SS Clan Stuart – also a dive site

Bonus wreck stuff

Cape Town is well supplied with museums, many of which have maritime history items on display:

In addition to the general shipwreck artefacts on display at the museums listed above, you can check out the following specific wreck remains, some of which are not labelled or take a little bit of finding:

Article: The Atlantic & Reuters on a visit to an Arctic ice station

In autumn (northern hemisphere) 2011, a Reuters photographer spent a few days at a research station built on Arctic sea ice north of Alaska, and documented his time there. Despite the remote location the pictures (to me at least) portray a hive of activity and industry. The landscape of the Arctic does not seem as forbidding and remote as the Antarctic one described by Gavin in Empire Antarctica and the authors of these two articles and seen here – perhaps because it is actually much closer to civilisation and certain parts of it are inhabited by indigenous peoples. The scale seems more human, the light seems gentler, and the dimensions of the landscape seem less terrifying than the Antarctic’s bleak and endless whiteness. (This may be partly by choice of the photographer.)

The photographer wrote a blog post about his trip which is an excellent accompaniment to the photographs:

Who wouldn’t like to go to the Arctic, sleep in a plywood hutch, and go underneath the ice in a nuclear submarine?

You can see the images here and read the article about the trip here. There are even pictures of a submarine surfacing through the ice (on purpose)!

Newsletter: Submarines in the mist

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Saturday: 8.00 am at OPBC, double tank dives along the Atlantic seaboard

Sunday: To be decided, based on weather and conditions.

Text me or reply to this mail to be kept in the loop, or to book dives.

Submarine in the mist
Submarine in the mist

Volvo Ocean Race

I know that not everyone is a sailing fanatic, but there are currently seven world class racing yachts doing battle in the Atlantic Ocean as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet head for Cape Town. Take a look at the website and facebook page if you are interested. These engineering marvels sailed by some of the world’s best crew are due to arrive in Table Bay between the 2nd and the 6th of November. I am going to be out on the boat in Table Bay with my camera. Text me if you want to be on the list to be notified of this. I have strong ties to Denmark so I am rooting for Team Vestas Wind, but it is a 6487 nautical mile leg – they started in Alicante in Spain – so it’s a long, hard haul and anything can happen.

Conditions report

We dived the wreck of the Maori and the Sentinel on Saturday last weekend and had around 10-12 metre visibility with chilly 9 degree water. Sunday was blown out. The weather this week has been all over the place. On Monday we dived False Bay and had really lousy viz with a grumpy easterly swell. Yesterday we were out on a film shoot project and in thick fog we went around Whittle Rock, down to Rocky Bank and then across to Cape Point. The water was dark brown all the way out to the entrance of False Bay, where it cleaned up a bit, and once back inside the Point the darkness returned. We jumped in at Partridge Point for a brief snorkel with seals in around 2 metre or less visibility.

Fishing at Cape Point
Fishing at Cape Point

Dive plans

All this means it will be an Atlantic weekend. The winds are forecast to blow somewhere between 10 and 30 knots depending on which forecast you rate the best. The water does not look very clean in Hout Bay or Table Bay today, but the wind tonight and all day tomorrow should fix that.

I will launch from OPBC on Saturday at 8.00 am for a double tank dive and may do a third launch if the conditions are good. The wind is meant to blow harder in the afternoon but we will play it by ear.

I will wait until Saturday afternoon to plan for Sunday once it’s clearer what the conditions will be. If you want to dive, reply to this mail or text me and I’ll keep you in the loop.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Movie: Men of Honor

Men of Honor
Men of Honor

Men of Honor is a contender for the movie with the most stellar cast that you’ve never heard of. Robert de Niro, Cuba Gooding, Jr, and Charlize Theron star in this ficitonalised account of the life of Carl Brashear, the first US Navy African American master diver.

Brashear grew up in poverty and enlisted in the navy 1948, an era during which race relations in the United States were not that dissimilar to race relations in South Africa. He showed dogged persistence in surmounting obstacles far greater than those placed before his white classmates, and successfully qualified as a navy diver in 1954.

Navy divers performed challenging underwater work, retrieving lost nuclear warheads (this happened more often than you’d like to know, during the dawn of the nuclear era), salvage work, repairs to ships, demolitions, clearing harbours, and maintenance (all underwater, of course). In many respects it is much like commercial diving, but with a combat element to it. The underwater scenes are reasonably convincing (except for one shot with a submarine) – suspiciously clear water being my chief complaint, but realism doesn’t always make for good viewing!

This is a highly simplified account of the life of a complex character, but Tony and I both enjoyed rooting for Brashear to overcome the odds and wipe the smirk off various antagonistic establishment characters’ faces. This always happened (no surprises there). Charlize Theron’s role is quite peripheral and, frankly, somewhat confusing. Robert de Niro is always wonderful.

You can get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here. It wouldn’t be a total waste of an evening, specially if you had popcorn to hand…

Video (TED): Robert Ballard on the deep ocean

Robert Ballard takes us on a whirlwind tour of the deep ocean in this TED talk – from chemosynthetic organisms living at hydrothermal vents, to ancient shipwrecks, perfectly preserved in the Black Sea.

Ballard is the author of many books, the majority concerned with deep ocean exploration using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs): Adventures in Ocean ExplorationMystery of the Ancient SeafarersReturn to Titanic, The Eternal DarknessExplorations, Archaeological OceanographyGraveyards of the Pacific.

Video (TED): Graham Hawkes on undersea flight

Graham Hawkes is a submarine designer and inventor, and was almost singlehandedly responsible for the boom in undersea exploration vehicles during the 1980s and 1990s. He collaborated with Sylvia Earle on many of the deep dives that were achieved in his submarines. If you’ve watched the James Cameron film Aliens of the Deep, you’ve seen some of Hawkes’s submarines in action. He also built and piloted the submarine in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.

His company is called DeepFlight, and in this TED talk he describes the kinds of vessels that he builds. They are mash ups of aircraft and submarines,

Newsletter: Weekend festivities

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Friday: Double tank dives from False Bay Yacht Club

Saturday: Two shallow (maximum depth 18 metres) dives from Hout Bay

Sunday: Two launches if conditions warrant it, from Hout Bay or OPBC

The week’s diving

It has not been a great week of diving as there has been quite a lot of south easterly wind. We launched last Friday and had to hunt around for clean water, ending up at Roman Rock and the Brunswick. There was a huge amount of fish activity close inshore and the phase of the moon wasn’t favourable, so we canned our planned night dive for last Friday evening. We’ll watch the conditions and try again soon. Please enjoy this picture of submarine activity in False Bay, taken on Friday.

Naval activity around the submarine
Naval activity around the submarine

False Bay is currently a pale shade of green whilst the Atlantic is a mixture of clean and green patches. Friday’s wind, surprise surprise, will be south easterly, so it may help to improve the Atlantic viz. Tomorrow’s divers have requested a False Bay launch, hence our planned expedition there.

The Atlantic is the only option for the weekend as the Navy Festival in Simon’s Town will draw a crowd, and this will lunch up all the parking, especially around the yacht club, where we would launch. Miller’s Point is just so far down on my list of nice (and safe and clean) places to launch…

I do think first choice will be out of Hout Bay for Saturday and possibly Sunday, but OPBC will be our second option, depending on how much wind there is tomorrow. On Saturday the boat is primarily students, so both launches will be to sites with a maximum depth of 18 metres. Sunday is wide open and if you have a special request, let me know. As usual, text or email if you’d like to dive this weekend!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Whale watching in False Bay – the scenery

Cape Point in the distance
Cape Point in the distance

It is ridiculously exciting to see whales up close on a whale watching trip. Doing the trip in False Bay, which I am ever more convinced is one of the most spectacular natural wonders on the face of God’s green earth, is the cherry on top (if you like cherries). False Bay is about 1000 square kilometres in extent, and supports a remarkable array of wildlife – from worms to whales, and everything in between.

Roman Rock lighthouse
Roman Rock lighthouse

Please enjoy these photographs I took from the whale watching boat. They are mostly of the False Bay coastline, but there are also a few shots of some of the SA Navy’s military hardware thrown in for good measure. Look out for the SAS Mendi (F148) frigate, and one of our Heroine class submarines – not sure which of the three this is, but I’d be surprised if it was the SAS Charlotte Maxeke because I’m not sure if she’s been fixed after her 2012 collision with the seabed.

You can see the big swell in evidence around the base of Roman Rock lighthouse. But I digress. Here are some pretty pictures.

Article: Business Week on sunken Spanish treasure

It’s not often that an article in the business pages dovetails with my interest in the ocean, but once in a long while there is a connection. A 2012 Business Week article about Odyssey Marine Exploration, the company featured in Treasure Quest and the Treasure Quest – HMS Victory Special, relates the outcome of a protracted battle between Odyssey and the Spanish government over 17 tons of silver coins, retrieved from a shipwreck off the coast of Portugal. Odyssey spent $2.6 million retrieving the coins; the only compensation it received from the Spanish government was $20 apiece for the white plastic buckets in which the coins were transported to Spain.

Yesterday’s article (written in 2008) describes in more detail the events that led to the conflict between Spain and Odyssey, and profiles both the company and its founder and CEO, Greg Stemm. Today’s one provides a good introduction to what the company does (if you’re not in the mood for a long New Yorker read), and fills in what happened since 2008 – and things did not turn out particularly well for Odyssey.

The Odyssey share price (OMEX US Equity) hasn’t really gone anywhere since the company listed, which suggests to me that they still haven’t had their big break yet. That said, it must be remarkably interesting work, finding and researching long forgotten wrecks. Plundering them… not so much.

Read the full article here.