The Million Dollar Dive

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HMHS Britannic at Mudros on 3rd October 1916 (Photo courtesy of the National Maritime Museum).

HMHS Britannic at Mudros on 3rd October 1916 (Photo courtesy of the National Maritime Museum).

By Leigh Bishop. Images by Leigh Bishop, Richard Stevenson and Richie Kohler.

For a team of technical divers, modern technology brings with it a new concept of deep exploration. During its centenary year the iconic deep wreck Britannic sees a new breed of human technology, and possibly the single greatest ever wreck dive!

The wreck was breathtakingly massive, a replica of her sister ship Titanic, but bigger still, and completely intact. A wreck that would become not just an iconic legend but also the Mount Everest amongst technical divers. The legend that is the Britannic, the largest sunken ocean liner on the seabed!

I circumnavigated the entire wreck riding an Aquazepp underwater scooter, breathing mixed gas from huge twin 20 litre cylinders strapped to my back. I cruised along the open and covered promenade decks, under enormous lifeboat davits silhouetted above me against the midday sun and along the seabed debris field between funnels and masts to a depth of 120m. My return from the stern took me alongside ornate teak and brass windows of stately rooms like those in the Verandah Café, built not for me, but for the Edwardian aristocracy, and now lost to the ocean. Often I’d pause to peer through a window into what was perhaps once a first-class cabin or one of the parlour suites on Decks B and C.

A spiral staircase deep inside the wreck that would have been used not by paying passengers but by the firemen who kept the boilers going.

This dive was made back in the 1990s. I had cruised through open doorways penetrating voids of darkness, deep into the wreck. My powerful scooter light illuminating internal rooms such as the first-class lounge, the smoking room and even the remains of the ship’s gymnasium. I’d dropped into what was once the grand staircase, the darkness beckoning me deeper into the depths of the wreck.

The best part of two decades would pass until the centenary of Britannic’s sinking in 2016. In that time I would not even come close to a dive of this calibre; I certainly didn’t expect it to ever be surpassed.

Over the last two decades Britannic had become part of my life. I was a veteran of five expeditions, and the wreck had given me new friends – and one that I would lose to the wreck itself, succumbing to the challenge of her mysteries and taking his own Britannic path of adventure.

Explorer and filmmaker Richie Kohler alongside the view from the submersible of the magnificent port-side propeller.

Explorer and filmmaker Richie Kohler alongside the view from the submersible of the magnificent port-side propeller.

I had been a member of the 2003 expedition, an expedition regarded by many as the most successful in the history of Britannic exploration. The boiler rooms had been penetrated and filmed – the bulkhead watertight doors wide open, proving the historic explanation of why she sank so much faster than Titanic. The minefield laid by the Germans had been discovered, answering the question of why she sank, including the mine in question, detonated but still attached to its seabed anchoring chain.

Check out our latest issue to read the exciting conclusion!

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