HMHS Britannic Video

HMHS Britannic, sister ship of RMS Titanic, lies in the Kea Channel in Greece in 119 metres of water. In 1998 I led an expedition to dive the wreck. Here is some video footage I shot of Britannic, and two magazine articles I wrote after the expedition.

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Titanic's Sister HMHS Britannic DVD and video

Titanic's Sister HMHS Britannic - DVD

Built to roam the waters of the Atlantic as one of the most luxurious and prestigious passenger liners ever built, the Britannic was completed at the outset of World War One. She was requisitioned as a hospital ship and was sent to the Mediterranean. She never returned. On 21st November 1916, while voyaging to pick-up the casualties of war she sank, killing 30 people. Most likely the victim of a mine, the major mystery was why she sank so quickly.

In September 1998, a group of technical divers led by Bubble Vision's Nick Hope explored the wreck of HMHS Britannic. She lies in the Aegean Sea in the formidable depth of 120 metres. This was the first expedition to the wreck made by amateur divers and remains to this day, one of the largest, most complex and most successful enterprises of its kind. By the end of the expedition, new light had been shed on the story of the loss of this, most mighty of passenger liners. This film tells the story of the Britannic 98 Expedition and explains how the wreck was reached and the condition she is in. It brings together historical knowledge and new underwater film to recreate the moment Titanic’s sister sank in 1916.

Approximately 30 minutes. © 2000.

Buy Titanic's Sister HMHS Britannic DVD or Video from Periscope Publishing


Euphoric on the Britannic

An edited version of the following article appeared in the UK's Diver magazine, January 1999

Britannic 98 expedition leader Nick Hope describes the experience of diving the World’s largest sunken liner…

She took me by surprise…I had dropped through the shimmering thermocline at 45m, just switched to my bottom mix at 60m, and there she was beneath me, reclining on her starboard side, her port bridge wing shining in the ambient light, reaching for the surface that she so tragically left some 82 years earlier. A few metres deeper and the most incredible sight any wreck diver could wish for emerged. The entire bow section of the World’s largest sunken liner lay before me, separated from the main body of the ship by a vast break just in front of the bridge.

I knew the waters of the Aegean would be clear, but this was ridiculous. 50m visibility would not be an exaggeration on our first two days. Like diving through blue air. Diving HMHS Britannic is how non-divers might imagine a typical wreck dive to be, and how most divers know it never is. She is a fulfilled fantasy of a dive. She was originally to be named “Gigantic”, yet despite her vastness she actually looks like a ship. A rare thrill for one who’s used to the murky depths of the English Channel. And the waters around the wreck dance with great shoals of red cyprinus ambiguus, more than happy to inhabit the huge artificial reef that the Britannic has become.

The first thing I did was give her a good slap, the same slap of achievement and greeting that I had given the Lusitania when we finally reached her some four years earlier. After years of research both ships felt like old friends when I finally reached them.

I set off across the foredeck towards the break, and made a brief examination of the devastation caused presumably by a combination of the mine that probably sank her and the force of the impact as she hit the seabed. Other than this chasm the Britannic is remarkably intact for her age. Quite why she is so well preserved is a little puzzling. Low oxygen levels due to shear depth undoubtedly play their part, though her intactness is no doubt owed in part to the double skin that runs for much of her length, one of the features that distinguish the Britannic from her Olympic Class sisters, Titanic and Olympic.

One of the great mysteries about the Britannic is why she sank so fast. After the Titanic’s demise the Britannic was improved by adding this double skin and by increasing the height of the watertight bulkheads. Yet she sank in just 55 minutes, 3 times faster than the Titanic. This mystery has never been answered. A wide range of well-documented theories exist, but certainly her second skin didn’t help her. In a collision it would surely have provided some protection but was useless against the explosion that sank her.

The array of ropes, poles, weights and tanks that make up our decompression station were in a new, somewhat unproven configuration for this expedition, allowing us the flexibility to either remain on site during our 3 to 4 hour hang, or drift free should the current be intolerable. So we kept our bottom times short for the first couple of dives in order not to clock up a massive decompression penalty that might compound any problems that might arise. So at just 14 minutes total time I began my first ascent, pausing at 84m and 72m for the deepest stops. Such stops have the effect of controlling the early formation of microbubbles in the bloodstream, and in this visibility have the significant side effect of allowing one to continue looking at the wreck and effectively extend the dive. Scale had been impossible to gauge on my descent but now I could watch the divers who had followed me down the line still exploring the wreck, mere plankton against the expanse of the Britannic’s foredeck. I counted twenty sets of their exhaled bubbles rising then being swept away as the current increased towards the surface.

My euphoria by this stage was such that I was rapidly draining my tanks in a mixture of hysterical laughter and the kind of whoops that should only be heard around the green at the US Open. I think the Americans on the team had infected me by then.

In my fixation with the view beneath me as I ascended I almost backed into Dan Crowell, today’s deep support diver who was there on the line, just in sight of the wreck. There were no exhalation bubbles due to the closed loop of Dan’s Atlantis rebreather but I guessed he was excited because his limbs were moving wildly. As I got closer each of his eyes reminded me of the soucoupe that Jacques Cousteau had used in these very special waters some 22 years previously. Without the luxury of such transport the pair of us hung there and convulsed with joy for a while at this, an almost surreal picture, before remembering the hour’s of decompression that awaited us.

My third dive was the highlight. I had hoped to venture out way beyond the bow and then to film the ship looming up. However even the 57% helium in our trimix couldn’t prevent an equivalent narcotic air depth of 45m at this depth, and I had a sudden concern that I might turn and miss the wreck! Not wanting to be the first diver to lose the World’s largest sunken liner in 30m+ visibility I turned a little earlier than planned.

Starting at the distinctive anchor crane, still standing upright near the tip of the bow, I flew over the collection of capstans, chains and winches on the Britannic’s foredeck. The foremast has broken at its base and now points down to the seabed. A few metres up it I found the crow’s nest that the lookout would have reached by climbing up inside the mast and emerging through an oval hole. This guy must have been compact. There is a distinct absence of a bell here, as on the bridge and stern where one might find one. How strange.

I then zipped over to the captain’s bridge to inspect the machinery that others had raved about on previous days. Under the glare of my Custom Divers lights I identified at least four great telegraphs, hanging by their chains and barely recognisable due to the thick marine growth. Surely in time the chains will snap and allow these wonderful artefacts to crash to the seabed below. That’s if they’re not sent the opposite way, as it seems the ship’s bells have been. No markings visible on any of the heads of these telegraphs, but careful study of our photographs should relate the positions of the handles to the captain’s last desperate intentions before he himself finally abandoned ship.

In the middle of the bridge hangs one of the helms, the square spoke holes in its hub the only reminders of where the wheel would have been. Further aft where the wheelhouse once stood is the telemotor, still standing perpendicularly to the deck. Again the wheel has rotted away, although the sharp stubbs of the wheel spokes are left on this one.

Simon Mills, the Britannic’s owner, had asked us to inspect the colour of the attractive tiles that covered the floor of the bridge. A good sample of this floor covering still remains around the base of the telemotor. On close inspection we found it actually to be red and white linoleum, not tiles.

The partition between the bridge and the senior officer’s quarters has also rotted away, and in there, just yards from the bridge itself, we found a large metal bath complete with pipework and taps. If only removing the plug would get rid of a bit of this water and give us more time on the wreck.

Just time to look at the port running light, still sitting in place on the bridge wing, and then I made for the shot line. It had been an intense 20 minutes. How I longed for more, but every minute one stays longer than planned translates to 15 minutes more decompression.

We had intended to drop a second shotline towards the stern of the wreck after the first week so we could explore another area. When we arrived for our final dive on the bow shotline its marker buoy had vanished. Whether acquired by an opportunistic local fisherman, severed by the ferocity of the currents or even by a passing supertanker’s propellers, that shot line had served us well. We were equally lucky with its replacement. Geraint Ffoulkes-Jones’ DGPS installation had allowed us to accurately map the outline of the wreck and so we were able to drop our second grapnel just upstream of the area where the fourth funnel would have been. It drifted perfectly onto one of the Britannic’s characteristic giant lifeboat davits. John Yurga expertly tied in this new line, under the watchful lens of photographer Rob Royle, and the two of them eagerly ventured to explore the new territory around them.

The tall davits were another feature that differentiated the Britannic from her sisters. These huge electrically powered cranes could cope with the Britannic’s extra lifeboats and could launch boats even if the ship was listing severely. They could even take boats from the opposite side if necessary. Their lattice-work has long since been smothered with a mass of marine growth, lending their towering sillouette a solid impression.

In this new position we were also an easy ride by scooter or a challenging swim away from the very stern of the ship, so on my fifth dive I made this journey myself, scootering aft along the port gunwhale of the wreck, past the second class accommodation to the stern docking bridge. The fine framework remains intact but there is no sign of the telegraphs or helm either on the bridge or the seabed below it. Captain Cousteau certainly took some polishing home with him back in the late 70’s.

As I continued aft across the poop deck the motor of my Aquazepp struggled against the light current and the massive drag of a fully-kitted trimix diver, complete with four tanks and a video camera. Finally I hovered over the great sweep of the counter stern. I stopped the scooter and hung there in quiet solitude for a moment, appreciating the scale of the 3 enormous propellers that powered the 48,158 tons of liner in front of me through the water at 21 knots. Yet mourning the 26 poor servicemen who had been so tragically killed when the stern of this mighty ship rose up out of the Aegean and their luckless lifeboats were slashed to matchwood by these merciless blades. I wondered whether the angle of the Britannic’s mighty rudder, pointing slightly to port, held any significance. May it have been part of a desperate strategy by captain Charles Bartlett to beach his sinking ship?

I didn’t bother to look for the letters of the Britannic’s name on the stern. John Chatterton’s extensive efforts to locate the bigger letters on the bow had been in vain. It was the practice of the White Star line to etch the letters no more than ¼” into the plating, and the thick carpet of encrustations that now shrouds the Britannic had made his task too difficult.

On my return I discovered Derekis Palmeros, taking a leisurely and very photogenic saunter along the promenade deck, the ambient light giving him the appearance of being in 30m depth, not 95m. This whole deck is very open and accessible, and provided the access route for those divers whose mission it was to locate the grand 1st class staircase. Finding the correct door to enter was not an easy task, but sadly, once inside the first class entrance, just a great void was found where the staircase itself would have been.

Finally, before making for the surface, I made a brief examination of the touching plaque that the members of Kevin Gurr’s Project Britannic had placed last year expedition in memory of Jacques Cousteau.

Despite the painstaking safety planning it was always a relief to get back to the safety of our decompression station. On every dive we would open the P-valves of our O-Three drysuits and shared our relief with the Kea Channel. 2 bend-inhibiting litres of Greek mineral water before a dive have to go somewhere. On one unfortunate occasion I shared my relief with my own C-bear undersuit. The guys at O-Three tell me I’d been over-ambitious in sheath size selection but I’m just not having it!

Scooters were an undoubted benefit on this wreck, despite the fact that on one dive the propeller of mine tried to eat one of my Scubapro G500 regs that I had stowed clumsily. Kate Winslett might have thought she was flying up there on the bow of the Titanic, but get yourself clipped onto a four-speed Aquazepp, stick it in top gear, and lap the Britannic…that’s flying.

It was a joy and a privilege to witness the majesty of HMHS Britannic like no paying passenger ever did. This is the World’s best wreck and she’s beckoning me back. Anybody got a submarine going spare?

 


How We Dived The Britannic

This is an article I wrote in November 1998 for the UK's 9>90 Technical Diving Magazine

Permissions

What a nightmare! Not only did it take over a year to reach a written agreement with the wreck’s owner Simon Mills that was satisfactory to both sides, but permission was required from 3 separate government ministries, not to mention 2 port police departments. Diving in Greece is very heavily controlled, largely because of the proliferation of underwater archaeological sites. The Britannic has the additional problem of lying in a heavy shipping channel populated by oil tankers and container ships. It was just as well that we did have all the correct licences as we were paid a visit by the port police on the fourth day. They were satisfied once they had seen that all our paperwork was in order but would undoubtedly called the diving off otherwise.

The Team

Choosing a team for a project of this size is not an easy task, but we were lucky to have a core of divers who started mix diving in 1993 and dived the Lusitania in 1994 and 95. Most of these divers do the majority of their diving out of south coast ports such as Weymouth and Brighton. We were fortunate to have John Chatterton and John Yurga over again from the states, this time bringing with them support divers Dan Crowell and Canadian Greg Mossfeldt. Some of the support team were capable of diving to the wreck, and so on the second week they did so, once our systems had been proven and our confidence level was high enough to put an extra pair in the water. The wreck divers then, were: Nick Hope, Rob Royle, Geraint Ffoulkes-Jones, Christina Campbell, Chris Hutchison, Leigh Bishop, John Chatterton, John Yurga, Innes McCartney, Dave Wilkins, Jamie Powell, Bob Hughes. The support team: Dan Crowell, Greg Mossfeldt, Kevin Emans, Greg Buxton, Becky Williams, Andrea Webb. The team from the Greek Diving Center: Kostas Nizamis, Hagen Martin, Marinos Pittas, Gregoris Theodoris.

Transport

We considered shipping all our equipment down to Greece in a container, but opted finally instead for driving it down ourselves in a 7.5 ton truck which was slightly cheaper and gave us more control over our own destiny. The last thing we needed was for our equipment to be impounded somewhere en-route and to miss some diving. The 7.5 tons actually includes the weight of the truck itself, so we were probably over its weight limit, but the truck proved essential on site for moving tanks and equipment around the town of Korissia between the compressor garage, hotel and quay. The Greek Diving Centre’s smaller van would have struggled on its own. Nevertheless, Chris Hutchison and Leigh Bishop didn’t have the easiest time getting the truck down there. Firstly they were turned back from Switzerland and had to drive round it (no lorries on a Sunday!). Later they got trapped up a street in Brindisi by following traffic and had to delicately remove a couple of vehicles in order to clear their path to the Patras ferry. Not to mention the car that drove into them.

Surface Vessels

How many times do you dive in the UK off a 30m 2400HP tugboat with a crew of seven? We were incredibly lucky with our support vessels. During a week’s recce in 1997 I established that almost all diving in Greece is undertaken from inflatables and very unstable local fishing boats known as “kaïki”. Both types of vessel are not really suitable for technical diving. It’s difficult enough to walk around with 4 tanks on, let alone have the deck beneath you pitching 30 degrees each way while you’re doing it. Through the Greek Diving Center we managed to secure an excellent rate from Tsavliris Maritime for one of their tugboats, the “Atlas”, together with crew. The design was certainly stable. It just ploughs through the sea and any waves just crash straight across the deck. The main problem with it was the lack of a gate through the gunwale, which we overcame by building grab rails around the steps using scaffolding that we had taken with us specifically for the task. Then we just climbed up and jumped in from the height of the top of the gunwale. In the hands of a novice such a big vessel might have been a problem, but our skipper Georgios was in perfect control throughout, despite never having put divers in the water before.

In addition to the tugboat and its inflatable tender, we also had a small kaïki and skipper on site each day. The standby support diver was based on this vessel and would be deployed if any delayed SMB’s surfaced, showing that somebody had missed the shotline on their ascent. Thankfully the only time this happened during the expedition was when the very last diver left the wreck. He’d cut the line and was unable to catch it up as it catapulted off into the blue under the tension of divers and equipment hanging on it in the current above.

Gases & Tables

The seabed around the Britannic is at 119m, but the top of the wreck is around 90m, so it was very difficult to predict what the actual depth of our dives would be.

We chose a heliair (helium + air) trimix of 9/57 as our bottom mix, giving us an END of 45m and PPO2 of 1.16 on the bottom. This was carried in a back-mounted twin-set of 15 to 20 litre cylinders. An optimum mix would have contained more oxygen, but would have required the addition of small amounts of oxygen each day, a task that is difficult to do accurately. Using heliair made the compressor operators’ job easier and meant that we were always sure of the exact proportions of nitrogen and helium in the mix, even after several dives. Air was considered as the first decompression gas, but would have had 3 disadvantages for us: 1. The potential for on-gassing dissolved nitrogen. 2. The narcotic shock at the 60m gas switch. 3. The potential for the very high PPN2 increasing the size of any predominantly Helium bubbles already present. 17/19 Heliair was therefore used from 60m to 33m, generally carried in a 12 litre tank on one side, followed by nitrox 40 on the other for use from 30m to 15m. These gases were chosen not just for optimum decompression, but to try to keep the usage of each approximately equal so that equal size tanks could be carried on each side.

At 12m we swapped out the side-mounted tank of 17/19 for another of nitrox 70 which had been staged on the line. This was breathed from 12m to 6m and then switched again for pure oxygen for the 3m stop. Every 25 minutes we took a 5 minute break on nitrox 40 to keep the CNS clock down. Breathing O2 at 6m would have sent the CNS clock through the roof.

John Chatterton successfully used an Aura CCR-2000 closed circuit rebreather for his dives, although he had some problems with the computer control and had to switch to manual control on the bottom. He carried with him a bail-out tank of 17/19 which would have got him safely back to the Nitrox 40 tank at 30m in the event of a complete failure.

We chose Abyss 2.0 software for calculating our decompression, easily the most advanced program available to us for this type of diving. “Real” decompression stops generally began at 60m, but we added short deep stops at 84m and 70m to try to control the formation of micro-bubbles. Chris Parrett of Abysmal software recommends these himself and assures us that these deep stops will be built into a forthcoming version of the software. Dave Wilkins cut programs at 2 minute intervals for all potential depths and we each carried a laminated set of these, saving us the onerous task of programming tables each evening.

The only DCI problem experienced was one shoulder niggle which occurred as soon as the diver broke the surface. The diver affected resolved this with a 20 minute stint on O2 at 6m, tended by one of the support divers. Generally however the gases and tables used were about right, but the warmth of the water (24°C during decompression) undoubtedly assisted the decompression. To stay as hydrated as possible, vast quantities of water were consumed before the dive and during the decompression using water dispensers made from roll-up camping-style PVC water containers hung on the decompression station inside net goody bags. And to let the fluids go, most divers had P-valves fitted in their O-three drysuits. Apart from a couple of dislodged condom catheters these worked perfectly. Christina had to make do with nappies.

Gas Mixing

We were fortunate enough to have the use of a garage adjoining the town hall for mixing our gas. A 380V three-phase power supply was already in place following Kevin Gurr’s expedition in 1997. Haskel loaned us one of their “sat rigs” based around an AGD30 booster pump, and this was supplemented by our own AG75 pump. Both were driven by a Hydrovane 715 low-pressure compressor, it’s quiet operation proving ideal as we needed to keep the noise down in the centre of town. For high pressure air we were loaned a Paramina 15cfm compressor, supplemented by the Greek Diving Center’s Compair Reavell 9cfm portable unit.

Because we were diving on alternate days the mixing operation was not too strenuous as 2 or 3 of the following day’s divers could pump the gas at their leisure during the day. Any calculations were kept to a minimum by having pre-calculated top-off tables up on the wall.

Support

An effective support team is critical to the success of a project of this magnitude. By diving only on alternate days we automatically had half the team available each day for surface support and compressing duties. For decompression purposes we wanted to maximise our surface interval, so it was rare for them to enter the water on an “off-day”. For in-water support we had a very dedicated and hard-working team of divers, some of whom were well capable of diving the wreck. Hence the rota was designed to give them some dives to the wreck during the second week when our confidence level was high enough to put a fourth pair on the wreck at a time. The deep-water support was generally at around 50m. His job was to be in visual contact with the wreck-divers’ switch from 9/57 onto 17/19 and to assist if there were any problems. The mid-water support would help build the decompression station and then support the divers in the 30 – 12m range. Likewise the shallow-water support diver would help build the station and then support the divers from 9m to the surface. Dan Crowell and Greg Mossfeldt successfully used Atlantis semi-closed rebreathers for the support job, but opted for open-circuit when diving to the wreck itself. As big a benefit as any of using the rebreathers was the reduction in the amount of pumping that was required each day. The deep-water support divers logged up a serious decompression penalty themselves, and 2 to 3 hour run-times were typical. The main problem that the support divers had was moving between down-lines to assist divers when the current was running faster than they could swim.

Decompression Station

The waters above the Britannic experience unpredictable and occasionally very strong currents as a result of the wind whipping up the top layer of water and funnelling it into the relatively narrow Kea Channel. On some days the current reaches several knots. Designing a decompression station to cope with these currents was not an easy task. For UK diving we had been used to diving with a station consisting of down-lines with rigid crossbars at around 6m to keep them apart. Our custom in such tidal waters has been to operate a check-in / check-out slate where the station joins the main shotline and to release the station once all the divers are back on it. The support boat then drifts with the station and the decompression is performed in relative comfort.

On the Britannic we wanted a station that would remain stable when tethered into the wreck even in strong currents, but could be released if the current got unbearable. Unclipping was not desirable because we would then be in danger of drifting across the shipping lanes, and also we would move outside the area officially covered by our diving licence, and we did not want to risk upsetting the Port Police. Our conventional design would have been in danger of collapsing and lifting in strong currents if it remained tethered and so we modified it by moving the poles to the surface and hanging concrete-filled buckets on the bottom of the down-lines. Thus we had a series of taught, evenly spaced vertical down-lines onto which we could clip our Jon lines and “fly” in the current. Each line was held up by an enormous pink buoy, which not only gave the line no chance of sinking, but also increased our visibility to approaching shipping.

The station was built up as a series of modules consisting of a buoy, down-line, pole and tanks containing the final 2 deco gases for each pair. When we arrived at the dive site a support diver would clip in the ascent line and spare NX40 bottle to the shotline at 30m. The inflatable crew would then assemble the station by collecting a module at a time from the main boat and clipping them to the ascent line. Each down-line had several brass rings spliced into it at various depths, to which we clipped everything from tanks and scooters to drinks containers and laminated books for easing the boredom.

As it turned out we unclipped the station and drifted approximately 50% of the time.

Safety

For me personally safety was of paramount importance. Even when things are going well and the sun is shining and the water is clear it is so easy to get over-confident and lax and for something to go wrong. As John Chatterton said, “It’s always out to get you”. So it was important for us to stay concentrated and to adhere to the systems that we’d planned so carefully. Every evening in the hotel we held a debriefing of the day’s activities followed by a briefing for the following day. The respective dive marshals would chair this and each person would get a chance to air their views. Such a healthy debate helped improve our systems as the fortnight progressed.

Regarding DCI, all members of the expedition were members of DAN at Master level and both DAN and the Greek Naval chamber were fully briefed on the gases and tables that we were diving. In addition to this we had an Italian one-man chamber on the stern of the boat which could be used in certain circumstances. This chamber could administer a US Navy table 6 or a Comex 30 recompression table, but the pros and cons of using the chamber would have to be weighed up in relation to the severity of the particular incident. For example it was not possible to put an attendant in with the casualty - a big disadvantage in the case of serious neurological DCI - yet the evacuation time to the chamber from our location would probably be longer than is generally the case in the English Channel for example. This would have been a very difficult decision, which thankfully we did not have to make.

DGPS

To enable us to accurately position ourselves over the Britannic, team member Geraint Ffoulkes-Jones provided a differential GPS installation courtesy of his company Navstar Systems. Initially we set up the base station in the gardens of the school next to the beach in Korissia. Unfortunately this was just out of line-of-sight with the dive site and our UHF signal would not consistently bend around the headland. At the suggestion of the town priest we struck a fine deal whereby we strapped the aerial to the large cross at the end of the church yard on the headland itself, in exchange for repairing the cross’s up-lighter at the conclusion of the expedition. Our next difficulty was resolved by repairing a snapped aerial on the tugboat with a hi-tech empty mineral water bottle. We then had a fully functioning DGPS system. This proved invaluable for accurately plotting the outline of the wreck and positioning our grapnel line exactly where we wanted it. In fact on both occasions that we dropped our line it hooked into a near-perfect position first time.

The Wreck

The Britannic is simply the most awe-inspiring wreck that any of the team had ever dived. The wreck is incredibly intact and lying on its starboard side in crystal visibility. During the first week we explored the bow section of the wreck. There is a massive break just forward of the bridge, caused presumably by a combination of the explosion that sank her and the force of the impact as she hit the seabed. Most of the deck equipment is in situ on the foredeck and the crow’s nest still sits partway up the broken mast. Four great Chadburn telegraphs hang by their chains on the captain’s bridge, together with a helm. Just behind these the telemotor still stands perpendicular to the deck on the remains of the patterned linoleum that covered the deck in this area. And nearby we found a bath in the 1st officer’s quarters, toilets, and all sorts of other artefacts. Under the terms of our licences nothing was interfered with, only photographed. Although we looked for the grand staircase from this location, we were only able to find a large void where it would have been. We also made efforts to see if the roll-up door in the watertight bulkhead aft of the break was open, but were hindered in our efforts by obstructions and untimely equipment failure. It is thought that this door may have been open at the time of the sinking during a change of shift.

Our shot-line in the second week was on the giant davits in the area of the fourth funnel. From this position we were able to explore the engines and the middle of the ship, but also to reach right to the propellers and rudder at the stern of the ship. We even photographed a teacup here complete with the White Star flag. Most of the team were using Aquazepps, either the small version or the medium size with the front light, and these made it easier to travel around the wreck in the limited bottom time available. Much has been written elsewhere about the state of the wreck itself, and more information can be gleaned from the expedition website (see below).

Photographs

A variety of video and photographic equipment was used by the team. Four videos were used: one Panasonic DX100 PAL digital video in a Seapro housing from Greenaway Marine specially made to be rated to 150m; two Sony DX1000 NTSC digital videos in Amphibico housings rated to 100m; and one Sony Hi-8 camera in a Dive Buddy housing. All gave good results with no leaks. For stills we used one Nikon F70 in an Aquatica housing and one Canon T70 in a Subal housing. Both these had strobes supplied by Alan James Photography.

The Cost

Despite the equipment sponsorship that we obtained and the assistance that we had with the main support vessel, the cost of the expedition still worked out at £230 per man dive, plus flight and hotel. It is difficult to see how this could be done much cheaper. Technical diving is an expensive sport, and unless financial sponsorship can be obtained, expeditions of this size are always going to cost a lot of money.

The Website

Geraint made a fantastic job of setting up a website for the expedition. This can be found at (edit 2009: link now dead) and will be live for at least another year. It contains loads of information about the Britannic and the expedition and without doubt it helped us gain some of the sponsorship. In the evening, each of that day’s divers would enter a report and these would be uploaded to the “expedition diary” section using a mobile phone so that people could keep up with the progress of the expedition as it happened. The £300 phone bill was just about worth it. Unfortunately pictures posted were limited to stills grabbed off one of the PAL videos, but since our return we have built up a comprehensive photo gallery which is well worth visiting.

Sponsors

The expedition members would like to thank the following companies who assisted in the provision of first class equipment:

O-Three (drysuits); Alexander Tsavliris & Sons Maritime (the tugboat & crew); Custom Divers LTD. (TDB jackets and lighting systems); Scubapro UK (regulators); C-Bear (undersuits); Abysmal Diving (Abyss software); Haskel Energy Systems (booster pump); Navstar Systems (DGPS installation); Compair Hydrovane (low pressure compressor for booster); Undersea (cylinder manifolds and high pressure fittings); Andark Diver Training Centre (components for the decompression station); Forward Diving Services (equipment servicing); Seton Continence Care (condom catheters); Greenaway Marine (Seapro Video Housings); Alan James Photography / Current State Diving (photographic equipment); Underwater Images (photographic equipment).

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society