Not seeing the Titanic

Robert Ballard ended decades of speculation by discovering the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, using technology he'd developed to locate and inspect the two lost US nuclear submarines, Thresher and Scorpion. James Cameron, the filmmaker, went down several times to inspect it while making his 1998 blockbuster movie about it.

Shortly afterwards a commercial firm hired a Russian submersible, with crew, and began offering tourist trips to see the wreck. This immediately attracted my interest. It involved flying by helicopter from Newfoundland to a support ship, and spending a few days on the ship preparing for the descent. The preparations included a special diet. The submersible would then take the passengers, two at a time, down to the depths to spend a couple of hours inspecting the wreck and the debris field.

I booked a place, and paid my fare, being the first person from the UK to do so. The anticipation was thrilling as the big day approached, but the let-down was very disappointing. Ten days before my trip was scheduled, the Russians re-requisitioned the submersible to work on pipelines under the Baltic. My fare was refunded in full, but I never made the trip. I did, however, in the run-up, learn almost everything there was to know about the ill-fated ship.

There's an epilogue, in that a new firm, OceanGate, has a submersible capable of making the dive, and is offering inspection trips to paying customers, starting this year. Their ticket prices are, unfortunately, over 6 times higher than mine was all those years ago. And I am somewhat older.