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Carpathia 2007 Dive Expedition

By Tim Cashman

Carpathia

Carpathia

Carpathia

Carpathia

In 1999 the news that author Clive Cussler’s marine research organisation, National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) had located the wreck of RMS Carpathia in 150m of water, 200 miles off the coast of the British Isles in the North Atlantic was very exciting news for a number of divers in the UK.

Ric Waring, a fireman from Manchester, was one of the first divers to dive the wreck during an expedition in 2002 led by Richie Stevenson.

In 2004 Ric decided to plan for an expedition in August 2007. He invited Richie along with a group of divers who had the experience to attempt such a dive in what can sometimes be challenging diving conditions.


The Expedition Objectives:


• To explore the wreck, and to record what we find to our best ability

• To locate and recover artefacts from the wreck that will be of historical interest

• To be self-funded

• To conduct a safe and competent dive expedition

We soon discovered that we were going to have company above the wreck site. Titanic Inc, which was the company that controversially removed artefacts from the

Titanic

, are the owners of the

Carpathia

wreck and they informed Ric that they would be deploying a Remote Controlled Vehicle (ROV) from

Janus II

to look for artefacts and that they would be very interested in any artefacts that the divers brought to the surface. They would decide what artefacts, if any could be kept by the divers.


Planning:


Decompression sickness: Our planning and preparation had to cover numerous bases, not the least of which was to have in place a solid plan in case we had a serious bends case.

The wreck site is 214 miles from St Mary’s which is 30 hours steaming by trawler.

Sea conditions can change dramatically: Wave heights can build from 3m to 10m in less than 12 hours!

It would take us at least 30 hours to reach any shelter.

We needed a boat that could handle a North Atlantic gale!

Also the practicality of a diver being airlifted from the wreck site by the Sea King helicopters based at RNAS Culdrose had to be checked.

We were informed that the Sea Kings have a range of 200 miles.

Carpathia

is some 250 miles from their base!

This meant we would need to plan a rendezvous point at least a minimum of 50 miles closer to shore if they were to assist us.

We realized we needed to have in place decompression treatment procedures during the ‘golden hour of trauma treatment’ and that we would need to continue treatment for at least a minimum of five hours before we could expect any external assistance.

We needed a boat with a recompression chamber and a trained operator.


The right boat:


After scouring the UK and Netherlands, Ric finally chartered

Ocean Dancer

.

She is very seaworthy and would provide a safe and relatively comfortable platform for us to stay offshore for up to a week. She also came with a recompression chamber and operator.

Her crew had an interest in the wreck as

Ocean Dancer

was the boat that Clive Cussler used to locate the wreck. The importance of the dive boat and crew cannot be underestimated during a dive expedition of this kind.

Ocean Dancer’s

magnificent crew were skilled in deep water salvage and underwater work and being divers they understood our needs.


The Dive Plan:


The wreck lies at 150m. Divers would be doing long in-water decompression stops. It was decided to limit run times to a maximum of six hours to avoid hypothermia.

At 150m trimix decompression tables are unreliable. There is always a high risk of a bends hit when diving to these depths.

Ric split the 10 divers arbitrarily into two teams of five.

One team dives while the second supports.

The bottom divers would descend the shot line, explore the wreck, then ascend to the lazy shot at 80m where they disconnect the decompression station from the shot line and drift with the tide. (refer to sketch)

If a diver fails to return to the shot line or decompression station, or needs help of any kind he deploys a yellow Surface Marker Buoy (SMB).

The chase boat is manned by a driver with a radio and a shallow support diver. First they will deploy the decompression station and check it hangs correctly. After the bottom divers descend the chase boat patrols the site.

If a yellow SMB surfaces, the chase boat drops a line to the diver with gas stages. This connects the diver to the surface, provides an alternative gas source and enables support divers to assist him if required.

A deep support diver is always fully kitted up to assist the diver at depth.

The other two divers take turns as shallow support divers as the decompression phase enters high Central Nervous System (CNS) toxicity levels.

We had three practise dives off the Scillies.

As usual the first dive was a disastrous. It is amazing, but every expedition I have been on the first dive always highlights problems no matter how experienced the divers are.


On site / diving:


The

Janus II

was on site and using her Dynamic Positioning computer co-ordinated thrusters to hold her position within one m etre while their ROV explored the wreck.

We tied our shot line into the bow of the wreck leaving

Janus II

free to move up and down the wreck’s length.

There was a healthy dose of apprehension as team one kitted up. Two HID cameras were meticulously prepared. The footage these would capture was an important part of the expedition.

Team two set up the decompression station.

The divers jumped in, one by one they disappeared.

There was nothing for the support crew to do now but wait. The chase boat crew were on tenterhooks in case a yellow sausage should surface indicating a problem!

Suddenly a yellow bag breached the surface! Our hearts were in our mouths until we recognised it as a lift bag. Phew…. not a bail out scenario but a salvaged artefact!

The chase boat hauled aboard a double headed telegraph!

Some 30 minutes later a red sausage was sighted.

This was the signal that all divers had returned to the decompression station and detached it from the shot line. Things were going well, but there was a long decompression to complete so it wasn’t over for another five hours!

A very successful first dive, a telegraph and some dinner plates were recovered.

After supper that night we got our first ‘limper’. Andrea had a sore leg and couldn’t get comfortable, he breathed oxygen all night and by the morning was okay.

During the morning Titanic Inc sent over a boarding party. They were very exited about the telegraph and handled it with surgical gloves as they carefully wrapped it in bubble wrap before taking it back to

Janus II

for conservation. Jeff, who salvaged the telegraph, was gutted!

The following day was my turn to dive with team two.

As Carl’s video housing had imploded yesterday he kindly lent me his video lights. I had spent several hours constructing a ‘structure’ to hold them onto my home made video housing.

The water was blue and clear, but the slight current was an encumbrance. As I descended I found myself working hard to pull myself against the flow. I reduced my pace to control my exertion and breathing rate and checked my depth 50m, is that all! I plodded on and the light began to dim. I passed 100m thinking ‘Hell there’s still another 50m to go!’

Eventually I saw the wreck. There was faint ambient light even at this depth. I was at 153m. Boy it felt deep. The marine growth was completely alien to anything I’d seen before. We really were in a different world on this dive. I checked my setpoint, all was well. Any problems down here would be serious. I clipped my reel to the shot line, no heroics today. After setting up the video lights I scanned the area around the shot line. I saw collapsed hull plates, portholes and a winch. This was where the

Titanic’s

survivors had huddled 95 years before! I swam astern over twisted and broken wreckage. The ship has severely collapsed and it was difficult to orientate. There was a mast lying across the wreck and out onto the sand. Perhaps there was a bell out there somewhere? I stuck with the task of trying to capture some video. I hadn’t seen anything outstanding to film and clearly needed to travel further to discover any more. Not having my scooter I decided to return to the shot line.

As my bottom time reached 23 minutes I began my ascent. Wow what a dive!

With the help of my underwater MP3 player and drinks I found my five hour decompression quite comfortable!

At the end of day six Ric asked the team if we’re all happy to call it a day.

On balance we agree to end the expedition.

We’ve had the opportunity to do three dives each on the

Carpathia

.

We’ve had four limpers out of 10 but no serious incidents.

We’ve been offshore for a total of eight days.

Ironic my cheap video housing ($99) made from a condemned aluminium dive cylinder was the only one to survive the depth to record the wreck.

Will I dive

Carpathia

again?

If the organization and divers are of the calibre of this expedition, count me in!


Glossary: Shot line: A strong line running from a large surface buoy to the wreck. Setpoint: The partial pressure of oxygen the rebreather maintains throughout the dives.


Fact File


  • RMS Carpathia

    was built by Swan Hunter in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK in 1903. 169 metres (555 ft) long, 13,000 tonnes. Top speed 14 knots.

    Transatlantic passenger service between North America and Europe.

  • Carpathia

    was 58 miles from the

    Titanic

    on 15 April 1912, when

    Carpathia

    picked up the

    Titanic’s

    SOS signal.

    Carpathia

    picked up 712 survivors.


    SS Californian

    continued the search for any remaining survivors as

    Carpathia

    set course for New York.
  • The following day,

    Carpathia’s

    Captain Rostron testified at the first day of a US Senate inquiry into the disaster, a loss 1,503 passengers and crew including the captain.
  • On 17 July 1918 during World War One,

    Carpathia

    was in a convoy out of Liverpool UK, bound for Boston, USA when she was struck by three torpedoes from the German submarine U55 some 120 miles west of Fastnet.

    Five crew were killed. The remaining crew and 57 passengers were rescued and brought back to Liverpool.
  • In 1999 author Clive Cussler’s marine research organisation, National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) found the wreck in 150m of water, 200 miles offshore.
  • Richie Stevenson led the first successful dive expedition in 2002. After one dive they were driven home by deteriorating weather.
  • The wreck of

    Carpathia

    is owned by the company Titanic Inc who controversially salvaged artefacts from the

    Titanic

    at a depth of two and a half miles. (4000m).
  • The

    Titanic

    exhibition including

    Carpathia

    artefacts is due in London during 2008
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