National Geographic Britannic Expedition

 In memorium for my friend and mentor Carl Spencer who tragically died while exploring Britannic on this expedtion.

In memorium for my friend and mentor Carl Spencer who tragically died while exploring Britannic on this expedtion.

I joined two different expeditions to the wreck of the HMS Britannic. In both expeditions the call went out some of the top technical divers and underwater imaging experts in the world, and I was honored to work and dive alongside such talented people.

In 2009 I was invited by friend and mentor Carl Spencer to be an exploration diver for a project he was leading for National Geographic. It was an even larger undertaking than what we had done in 2006 and was to be the most detailed and thorough exploration ever done on the wreck. Tragically on the third day of dive operations Carl lost his life while diving the wreck, the first diver to die on Britannic.

2009 National Geographic Britannic Expedition

Britannic Courtesy of Ken Marschall

Britannic Courtesy of Ken Marschall

Carl Spencer’s phone call is the kind that wreck divers like me LOVE to get; “hey mate, I’m heading up a dive team back to Britannic in 2009, you in?” He had to be smiling like the Cheshire cat on the other end of that transatlantic phone call cause he knew there was no way I was going to let this pass. This is what I do, and the Britannic is the simply the best wreck dive in the world. That by itself would be enough but Carl knew better. Back in 2006, the expedition I led along with John Chatterton to the Britannic had been cut short by a permitting gaff with the Greek Government, just as I was a dive away from pushing further into the wreck and answering a question that was never clearly answered; why did Britannic sink even faster than Titanic? I HAD to get back to the wreck and figure this out.

As Carl laid out the details I realized this project was larger and even more ambitious than the one he and his pal Leigh Bishop had help mentor me with back in 2006. For starters the dive vessel we would be using was like something out of a wrecks divers dream; a 200 foot long ship from Belgium called the Cmdt Fourcault. The vessel was totally geared for technical diving with multiple compressors, inflatable chase boats, tenders and even an onboard decompression chamber. The vessel operated regularly as a diving and salvage vessel and would also provide the all the support staff we would need, both topside and in water. The Fourcault would even pick up all the dive gear, sofnalime, dozens of helium/oxygen cylinders and camera equipment in the UK prior to steaming to the Aegean Sea, so all the logistics issues that had plagued us in 2006 was removed in one fell swoop! And as if to add a cherry to the top, the Fourcault included an onboard helicopter for aerial filming!

2009 Britannic Our Dive platform the CmDt Forcualt

Our Dive platform the CmDt Forcualt

Not only was this the best platform you could ask for, but the team Carl assembled was also some of the best technical divers and U/W cameramen in the world. Carl planned to field up to four dive teams per day, each team operating on various missions throughout the wreck at the same time, so the team would be equally split between veteran Britannic divers and new guys. The roster included; Carl Spencer, Leigh Bishop and Richie Stevenson (UK),  Evan Kovacs, Jarrod Jablonski, Casey McKinlay and me (USA), Eduardo Pavio (Italy), Danny Huyge (BE) and Pete Measly (NZ). Just like the 2006 expedition, the Lone Wolf Documentary Group would be aboard for topside filming along with the techs from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), who would be providing not only hi-definition fiber optic controlled AND 3-D camera systems, but two ROV’s that would be in the water not only with the divers, but around the clock for unmanned filming and exploration of the wreck.