Tourists will soon be able to dive in a submersible to visit the wreck of the Titanic, 3,800 metres beneath the North Atlantic. But what will they actually experience?
A first-class cabin on the Titanic cost £870 back in 1912. In today’s prices that equates to US$105,000. Which just happens to be what it would cost you to dive 3,800 metres below the North Atlantic in a tiny submersible to visit the wreck of the Titanic.
$105,129, to be precise. The price includes one dive, a week’s accommodation aboard the support ship, plus equipment and training. Only this time, since the missions are taking place in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, there’s presumably little risk of icebergs.
Stockton Rush is head of Seattle-based OceanGate Inc, the expedition organisers. He says several intrepid travellers have already signed up for the first dives, including future astronauts on the Virgin Galactic space programme.
After travelling to the wreck site from Newfoundland, each passenger (or “mission specialist”, as OceanGate rather dramatically calls them) will spend up to six hours below the surface, viewing the wreck but, more importantly, helping survey it and the debris field around it using sonar, laser and photography. It’s hoped that, once the series of week-long missions is complete, scientists will be able to produce a 3D model of the shipwreck, and assess the condition of the wreck’s structure, and the flora and fauna living around it.
The submersible they will be using is a Cyclops II. Just under seven metres long, with a top speed of three knots, it has a carbon-fibre hull more than 12-cm thick, designed to dive to 4,000 metres – 200 metres deeper than the Titanic herself. It is armed with four LED lights powered to 20,000 lumen each – useful since of course no sunlight penetrates this far down.
While those on board will be encouraged to engage with the scientific side of the mission, it’s the deep-sea money shots of the decaying ship that they’re paying for. “In the past, submersibles have gone right next to the ship, come up on the bow, and then hit the lights,” Rush explains. “That’s going to be a very impressive moment. That’s the image most people expect to see.” There will be a certain poignancy too, no doubt, when those in the submersible remember that more than 1,500 passengers went down with this mighty ship.
56-year-old Rush hasn’t yet visited the Titanic himself. He has a background in the aerospace industry, but is also a lifelong scuba diver, and now wants to encourage more people to explore the oceans. “People don’t think twice about getting into a thin-walled aluminium tube, and flying at minus 40 degrees centigrade at the edge of space,” he says of aviation. “It doesn’t seem to throw anybody these days. I wondered why there wasn’t that sort of extreme access to the ocean.”