R.M.S. Lusitania

1993 Expedition


AUGUST 1:  Beautiful day again today.  Weather crisp and clear.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed because, if we have two straight weeks of uninterrupted exploration, the locals say we’ll be very lucky indeed.  So far so good.  Went down below mid-morning to look through the hundreds of still photos that the Geographic photographer has taken of the wreck so far.  Although it was very slow going because of the poor condition of the wreck, Ken and I were able to identify a number of items, including two of the decorative windows to cabins A-18 and A-20, and the windows to the first-class pantry and the ladies’ bathroom midships on Shelter Deck—all of which are still embedded in corroded sections of superstructure.

Jason was launched a bit later, and upon arriving at the stern area, he imaged a telemotor, the remains of the now-upside-down docking bridge, telegraphs, a decorative vent grill from the second-class Lounge, and miscellaneous fittings from the starboard side of the fantail.

Having seen the two waste steam pipes from the aft end of the fourth funnel, we then looked through the crumbs next to the pipes, which is all that remains of the shell plating of the funnels, and could clearly see the angle flanges (or “rings”) which held the shackles for the funnel stays.  The shackles themselves are still there. As Jason moved forward, the single pipe from the forward end of the No. 4 funnel came into view.

As we explored further forward, Ken and I pointed out and identified a number of features, perhaps the most exciting of which were the three still-standing water tanks just abaft the No.1 funnel.  As Jason moved forward searching for the remains of the bridge, the deck suddenly dropped dozens of feet down.  This means that the entire forward end of the superstructure has disappeared onto the ocean floor.  Down in the darkness below, Ken thought he glimpsed part of a sink still attached to a bulkhead.  A few people in the control van scoffed at and made fun of Ken, asking what he had been drinking, but Ken ignored the taunting and asked Martin Bowen to steer Jason a little lower to take a look.  Sure enough, there was a metal drain cover and the remains of a sink bowl.  The sweet taste of vindication!

It was our impression that the sink emerged from a fore and aft bulkhead, but the plans don’t seem to bear this out. We’ll have to examine the tape more closely later.  [N.B. After later study of the expedition video, we determined that this sink is all that remains of cabin A-16 on Boat Deck forward, port side, based on the remains of the steelwork surrounding the sink.]


AUGUST 2: Not too much new was seen today.  A great deal of time was spent retaking “beauty shots” for the magazine and documentary of parts of the ship that had already been filmed yesterday.  Apparently, there were too many fish in the way or the light wasn’t just right for some of the shots.  In terms of exploration, it was a mostly wasted day.

As the days pass, it is becoming more and more apparent that this expedition isn’t so much about historical research and documenting the wreck as it is about getting nice photos for a magazine and book and taking some decent video footage for a documentary.  Talk about frustrating!  It seems to me that if they were really serious about solving the mystery of what sank the ship (or at the very least documenting the condition of the wreck), the historians would be informed about what was going on, especially when the wreck is being examined.

After Jason had been retrieved for the day, the captain of the Northern Horizon decided that he would take the ship in closer to shore because the weather had been so rough last night.  We finally stopped about a mile off shore, just in time to watch the sun set.


AUGUST 3: Early this morning Ken and I were awakened by Ballard (after having been up until after 3 a.m. studying the video tapes) when he came into our cabin and told us that we were needed in the Control Van. They were somewhere at the bow and needed our help finding the No. 2 cargo hold.  After Jason was retrieved, Ken did some sketches of the wreck based upon his initial impressions.

During the sub dive today, I was in the Control Van listening to the description over the radio of what the pilot and passenger in the sub were seeing when they came across a large metal “cage.”  Because there was no live video feed from the sub, I could only judge from their description of the item, and it sounded as though they had found one of the first-class elevator cars.  When Jason was steered over to see what had been found and I was able to see an image of it, I realized that it wasn’t one of the elevators, but rather a shower cage still attached to a bathtub. Even though it was obviously a shower (spigots, taps, bathtub, and all), there was one person on board who was determined to believe it was an elevator cage.  So Ken and I found an illustration of one of the showers in a book, photocopied it, and put in on the wall of the War Room.  Even then, he only grudgingly conceded that we were right.

It amuses me that so many people on board often come to obvious and easy conclusions, which are wrong more often than not, with no thought being given to what they are saying.  I finally realized that some people talk just to hear the sound of their own voices.  The less they had to say, the louder they said it.  Unfortunately, in many instances, they are the ones who are being listened to.  Empty kettles make the most noise.

In addition to the shower cage, today we saw the triple-chime-whistle from the No.1 funnel, the interior of the base of the No.1 funnel, the aft starboard section of the forecastle (with hemp rope still neatly wrapped around a pair of bollards), the cargo booms, a section of the forward mast (minus the crow’s nest), and a number of skylights (or pieces of them, I should say).

Bill Sauder flew in from California today to join the expedition. Because of the utter devastation we have found at the wreck site, Ken and I knew that his expertise in the construction and engineering side of Lusitania would be invaluable in identifying what we are looking at.


AUGUST 4: At about 11:20 this morning, Ken and I were in our cabin filling Bill in on what has transpired during the expedition when Bob walked in and said to Ken, “You ready to go?”  “Go where?” Ken asked.  “Are we launching Jason now?”  “No.  You.  The sub.  Today after lunch.”  Not really comprehending what Bob meant, Ken hesitatingly said, “Yeah, sure.”  After Bob left, it dawned on us what he had said.  Today was the day that Ken was going to get to visit the wreck and see her with his own eyes.

We hurried around trying to decide what he was going to take in the sub with him.  We were all so excited about the prospect of Ken going that we completely forgot that we had spoken to the sub pilots and they had said that I could probably go with him.  To confirm this, we went and found the Delta pilots, and they all agreed that it wouldn’t be a problem.  All they would have to do is take some of the ballast out of the sub.  Now, because Ken and I were going together, National Geographic wanted to get video and audio tape of our reactions to things we saw on the wreck.  The camera crew mounted a mini-camera inside Delta, which delayed our launch about 40 minutes and gave us time to gather together what we needed to take with us.

Ken, Bill, and I were standing in the War Room mapping our dive when Kent Barnard from Delta Oceanographics came in and told us with a smile to “report to the sub.”  I got into Delta first and then came Ken.  The sub was not nearly so roomy as it would have been with only one person—in fact, it was pretty cramped—but to share the experience with someone who would appreciate it as much as I did more than made up for the discomfort.  Our pilot for this dive was Chris Ijames.  We were finally launched at 1:15.

The lowering of the sub wasn’t so bumpy as I had expected.  Although I thought I would be nervous, there really wasn’t any feeling of apprehension.  I was in the moment, thinking about what we were just minutes away from seeing, not what could go wrong.  As we submerged, the water turned slightly darker shades of green but was still quite light.  We descended for less than two minutes and finally sighted the bottom.

As we slowly made our way toward the wreck, I wondered what part of the ship I would see first.  It seemed for all the world like the submarine adventure ride at Disneyland—the humming of the sub’s motors, little hermit crabs, halibut, starfish, and long strands of some type of plant.

Moving along the bottom, bits and pieces of coal and rusted metal began to come into view, which was a sure sign that we were getting close to the wreck.  After a few minutes, the sub pilot Chris said, “There she is.”   I looked out a porthole ahead and couldn’t see anything.  As my eyes slowly became readjusted to the lights Chris had just turned on, I began to make out vague shapes and differences between light and dark areas.  A few seconds later, I realized I was looking at the rudder, still attached to the ship, and hanging almost directly over us.  The size was incredible.  Moving forward, we found the snapped-off bottom half of the rudder, lying a few feet away.  When we stopped to look at it, Ken noticed that lying in the sand just next to it was the sole of a shoe.

As with Titanic, the remains of a number of shoes were seen in Lusitania’s debris field.  Only the sole of this one remains.


Our next objective was to go up on the hull. As we rose, we could distinctly make out the shell plating, the riveting, and patches of the red anti-fouling paint.  We seemed to climb forever, even though it was only about 45 feet.  The first shell door we came across was closed, and Ken noticed that it was out of alignment by about an inch, most likely from the hull having settled. We saw a number of open doors (second-class entrance, fireman’s entrance, boiler room, etc.) as we traversed the wreck, and we were able to look inside.  I thought we might be able to see some identifiable features inside one of the doors, but the interior of the ship is so badly decayed that the only thing recognizable was some rotted deck planking.

As we moved along, I noticed a percussion fuse lying on the hull, and after a minute or so, Ken saw another one.  Several hundred of these were recovered from the wreck in 1982 by Oceaneering, which proved beyond a doubt that Lusitania was carrying contraband on her final voyage, something the Admiralty has yet to officially admit.

One frightening thing about the dive was landing the 2½-ton sub on the collapsed side of the hull.  It wasn’t a gentle settling, but rather a heavy thud, followed by a metallic thumping sound and the vibrating of the shell plating.  The first time we landed I was sure we would fall through.

At 2:30 we had been under water for just over an hour and had only gone as far forward as the midships break in the hull.  Ken took a few pictures of it as the sub hopped up and over, continuing forward.  As we moved along, I noticed that we were approaching a net lying nearly flat on the hull.  Because the sub was traveling only two feet or so above the wreck, I said to Chris, “There’s a net below us.”  He replied that he had seen it and was maneuvering to avoid it.  Just as he finished his sentence, I noticed the net begin to slowly pull taut.  A few seconds later, the sub stopped.

It’s amazing how many thoughts can run through one’s mind in a split second.  Over 2,000 dives without a single mishap, and now Delta gets caught in a net on Lusitania with us in it!  Chris tried going forward on the prop and then reversing it, but every time he did, the sub lights would dim under the strain of the motor.  After trying everything he could and realizing that freeing us was hopeless, he radioed the surface and told them what had happened.

As we waited for the crew on the surface to evaluate the situation, I “casually” asked Chris how long we could stay submerged, and he said about three days.  He immediately corrected himself and changed it to two days because there were three people in the sub.  From our conversation with Dave Slater at the beginning of the expedition, we knew that Delta was equipped with a detachable tail that could be dropped in case of an emergency.  Although this was the first time the sub had ever actually become trapped in anything, the sub pilots had practiced dropping the tail many times.  Of course, the great unknown was exactly how badly we were ensnared.  Rescuing us might not be as simple as simply dropping the tail.  What would we do if the net were caught on something besides the tail and we couldn’t get free?  Aside from being slightly embarrassed, it didn’t seem to faze Chris in the least that we were trapped 250 feet beneath the Atlantic.

I made a note in the journal at 2:52 that we were still waiting to be rescued. During the delay we joked that it was taking so long for them to decide what to do because the National Geographic film crew was probably trying to get Jason over to us to take video as we released the tail and came to the surface.   After all, how often do people in submarines get caught in fishing nets on Lusitania?  The resulting video could be quite dramatic for the TV program.

Among the most vivid memories I have of the dive is the “green gloom.”  As we were floating some 12 feet above the hull, in a bow-up angle, Ken and I asked Chris to turn off all the sub’s lights. When they were first extinguished, it seemed pretty dark.  As one’s eyes become adjusted to the relative darkness, however, the glow from the ambient surface light outside grows.  I’ll never forget that dim, foggy, rich green color.  Ken commented later that there wasn’t a bit of blue in the water at all.  Best of all, though, was that, when the sub’s lights were turned off, the visibility, although dim, was perhaps 40-50 feet, double what we could see with the lights on.  A long flat field of hull plating stretched around us on all sides.  Never in my dreams did I imagine that I would find myself in this position.

After what seemed an eternity, the topside crew finally radioed that all the surface personnel were ready, that the zodiac had been launched, and that we could drop the tail at any time.  Rich Slater instructed us by radio to put all the weight we could into the stern of the sub because it would become bow heavy once the tail came off.  We moved everything to the stern except the cameras.  Ken took stills, and I videotaped.  There was no way we were going to miss filming this!

Chris crawled into the back of the sub, told us to hold on, and began unscrewing the tail. As soon as the tail dropped, the stern popped up, and we reached an angle of about 25 degrees, bow down.  As we rose to the surface, Ken was videotaping, and Chris was on the radio letting them know how quickly we were ascending.

A trail of bubbles followed Delta on her ascent from the bottom.


When we finally broke the surface, we bobbed unmercifully, and the zodiac was there waiting.  They attached their line and began towing us back to the Northern Horizon.  As we were being hoisted aboard we looked out one of the portholes and saw National Geographic filming the rescue.  Outside on the deck, a crowd had gathered, and the Geographic camera was rolling to catch our reactions as we exited the sub.  It was funny, really. Ken was only too happy to give them a gushing account of what happened, but I disappeared, my own thoughts and memories of today’s profound, landmark experience too personal to express on camera.


AUGUST 5: Good weather continues during the morning and afternoon.  Bob took his turn in the sub to see the wreck today.  During his dive, on which Rich was the pilot, they explored the starboard side of the forecastle.  They then worked their way aft along the superstructure, seeing the bathtub/shower that had been found previously and the skylight from one of the first-class corridors forward on Boat Deck.  As the sub moved aft, they found Delta’s prop and tail from our dive yesterday.  Rich commented later: “Yeah, that was pretty tangled up, there. Didn’t look like you could get undone.”

Andrew Revkin, the science writer from TV Guide, was here again for the second day in a row.  Working on an article about the expedition for the magazine, he had come out on the Sundancer, a shuttle boat that arrives from shore every morning and brings visitors and the media.  Taking notes, he spoke at length with Bill and a while with me.  Fortunately, Andrew was here yesterday for all the excitement.

We moved close to shore again this evening for a second time, but much earlier than the other day. There are rumors that bad weather may prevent any work from being done tomorrow.

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All images courtesy of the Eric Sauder Collection unless otherwise noted.

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