R.M.S. Lusitania

1993 Expedition


 

AUGUST 6:  High clouds most of the day with the sun going in and out.  Thankfully, there was no need to cancel our scheduled work because of the weather.

During the early afternoon we were in the Control Van filming the midships break in the hull and taking pictures of the sub exploring it with Jason and Homer.  It seemed as though all the fish in the Atlantic had come out to greet us.   There were literally hundreds of pollack attracted to the lights.  So many, in fact, that we had to abandon photography here for the day.

Bob later met with us in the War Room to ask what we still wanted to investigate on the wreck. He said that, if we have any ideas, we should let him know.  Ken, Bill, and I figured out that the boiler we saw had to have been from the No. 4 boiler room because of the location of the break in the hull.  Because Cunard had shut down the No. 4 boiler room in an effort to conserve coal during the war, the boilers in this compartment were cold at the time of the sinking.  If they had been hot, the fact that this boiler was intact—unexploded—would detract from any theory of the boilers exploding.  Alas, here we had found a boiler, and it provided no answer.

During the exploration of the forecastle with Jason, Delta went down and had a look at the open well of the first-class Dining Room.  The sub radioed the surface and told us to send Jason over because they were sure that he could make it into the opening to the lower level of the room, where we might be able to glimpse some of the room’s grillwork, light fixtures, or remains of furniture.  After finishing at the bow, Jason went along to the Dining Room where Delta was waiting.  Jason tried to go down into the well, but because the ship is broken right through the room and because of the way it’s split, there was little room for Jason after all, and Ballard didn’t want to risk it.  This was tremendously frustrating for Ken, Bill, and me.

Today was Martin Bowen’s 40th birthday, and the chef had asked Ken to decorate his birthday cake with a picture of Lusitania, using the available yellow, green, and red food coloring on board.  Ken also made a round greeting sign for one of the portholes of Delta. While the sub was in the Dining Room, Martin was at Jason’s controls.  He worked his way up to the sub, and Chris, the sub pilot, held up the sign, which said, “Happy 40th Martin.” Martin’s birthday must surely be the last happy event that will ever be celebrated in that room.

To celebrate Martin's 40th birthday, we arranged a little greeting for him while exploring the first-class Dining Room.

 

They then went toward the bow with Jason and found a number of very interesting features.  As Ken, Bill, and I followed along on the deck plan, Jason came across the first-class stairway and elevator well. He started to descend, but Ballard decided not to go any further after going down about a deck.  It was another frustration for Ken, Bill, and me because in the distance below, we could see the black and white pattern of the linoleum flooring and what appeared to be a few large china platters.  Who knows what else was down there that they didn’t bother to look at?

A helicopter did a fly-by at about 8:30 tonight and shot aerials of a Jason recovery for the Explorer program.  The weather was beautiful and clear late in the afternoon.  The sunset must have been nice, but being the devoted historians we are, Ken, Bill, and I were in the War Room reviewing Jason videos.

 

AUGUST 7: The three of us were all in the Control Van again bright and early to get ourselves good seats for exploring the stern section, but as soon as Jason was launched, something went wrong and they had to retrieve him.  Just our luck.

Ken and Bill went to review more video, and I worked on the journal.  The Delta crew had located the tail that was tangled in the net and placed a marker buoy so they could recover it later today.  Went to the bow of the Northern Horizon and took some stills of the tail as it was hauled on board while Ken videotaped.  I asked Chris Ijames to cut us out a few pieces of the net as souvenirs of our adventure.

Among the guests on board today were Roy Disney and his wife.  It’s amazing how much Mr. Disney looks like his Uncle Walt.  Ballard showed the Disneys around, and while Ken and Bill were reviewing the Jason tapes, Ballard asked them to find some interesting footage to show the Disneys.  Later that afternoon, Bill and Ken gave them a quick overview tour of the wreck.

On board the Northern Horizon, Paddy O’Sullivan (right) discusses various aspects of the expedition with Mr. and Mrs. Roy Disney.

 

Jason became caught in some fishing nets for a second time this afternoon.  Martin knew something was wrong, but he couldn’t abort the dive before becoming tangled.  For as hard as Martin tried to free Jason, the ROV just became more and more ensnared.  The nets on Lusitania are, for the most part, nylon monofilament, which are tremendously strong and never rot.  After all efforts to free Jason seemed hopeless, two divers went down to untangle him.  Three and a half minutes later they were back on the surface and gave the thumbs-up sign.

When Jason was finally retrieved, the technicians realized that one of the three telemetry fibers had broken.  Because of the severity of the damage and because tomorrow is the end of the expedition, it was decided that Jason wouldn’t be repaired on board.

Ken set out his art materials in the War Room tonight and did his first painting of the wreck, showing Delta exploring the forecastle.

 

AUGUST 8: Today is our last day over Lusitania, and because Jason is now out of commission, National Geographic decided to use Delta to do a series of “bounce dives” to give some of the crew a chance to see the wreck.

In mid-morning Ken came down to find me because Peter Schnall of National Geographic had asked him if we would consider going on another sub dive because the audio on the last one didn’t turn out well at all.  We agreed as long as after the filming for them was done, we could use our own cameras and finish our aborted exploration of the other day. Peter said that was okay with him. I asked how long he thought we might be able to stay down, and his answer was that we could stay down as long as we wanted.  He didn’t care as long as he got the audio he wanted.  After eating lunch, we went out onto the fantail and waited for our turn in the sub.

[Author’s note:  The following description was written by Ken Marschall shortly after we returned from the dive.]

“As I write this, images and memories flood my mind.  What a day to remember!  Our second visit to the sad old girl dominates any thoughts of other activities/events of the day. Today dawned overcast, with calm seas—calmest yet, I think.  By noon or so, the skies had cleared, and it was sparkling and beautiful for our dive at about 2 p.m.  We were calm and ready, having prepared our wish list of priority sites.  Peter, Scott (the sound man), et al, had hooked up the mini-camera again in the sub.

“Time to load up sub.  It was tipped down on the port side, so a bit awkward, falling in on Eric.  Chris was chosen again to be our pilot because of his lighter weight.  Waves had picked up by now, some whitecaps.  But the lowering to the water was smooth, and we gently immersed ourselves. Chris propelled away from the ship and then quietly and without warning blew out air and began descending.

“Again I was stunned at the rapidity of our descent.  I was lying on the starboard side this time.  Darker, darker I watched straight down intently and sure enough, just when Chris said it would be there, the bottom approached from the gloom, white shells the first to reflect the sub’s light.  We landed within feet of the double waste pipes on the aft side of the fourth funnel.

“Chris got directions from Dave on the surface, and we began moving forward.  At first, pretty dim out starboard side, but when I asked, Chris put on the light.  Yes, much better. The bottom-dwelling sea life is fascinating—hermit crabs galore, and all manner of small crawlies.

“It quickly became obvious that, like before, our cramped quarters would severely limit our ability to see out more than, say, two ports.  If Eric sees something neat out his side, that’s great, enjoy it.  There was no way I could twist around enough to see it too.  He exclaimed about several great objects he was seeing on his side, and nothing I could do.

“Skirted along the debris field, heading toward the bow.  Our very first stop was at the remains of the No. 4 funnel. Impressed at the size/width of the funnel bands.  We moved along the bottom covered with small 1/4” - 1” chunks of ‘rust’ here and there, a small piece of deteriorated wood, a 2”- 4” shard of patterned interior glass—still right on top of the sand after all these years—and several broken pieces of china.

“Eric was spellbound by the sudden appearance of the forward, starboard boat winch and stokehold vent when Chris swung the HMI light.  The shower was there—got good videos!  Very impressed with the accuracy of the surface navigation and directions being given.  Found the triple-chime whistle from the No. 1 funnel.  As we were looking at it, Eric looked toward the stern of the sub and spotted an unexploded depth charge from World War II.  We got out of there pretty quick!

An unexploded depth charge, lying next to the triple-chime whistle from the No. 1 funnel.  To the right, the remains of the No. 1 funnel can be seen.

 

“As we moved along forward, Eric was sure we were on the bridge remains, so looked for instruments.  Within seconds, I spotted a circular flat object ahead.  Eric was sure it was the back of a telegraph, but there was no handle to be seen.  Chris suggested we use the sub’s claw to turn it over.  But we couldn’t move the sub once we pulled the telegraph up— too heavy!  We’d try to back up and flip it over, but no, the sub’s motor wasn’t strong enough.  Finally just filmed it as Chris let it fall back down—the face unseen.  There was a handle, though.

“Cargo booms, split shell of foremast, lots of coal.  Went around front of bow on sea floor, and Eric got a great view of the damaged forefoot/keel.

“Crept up hull abaft of name.  Several intact portholes.  Eric saw one with the deadlight closed—right where the unoccupied third-class cabins would have been.  Lots of discussion over radio—where are we exactly?  Where’s the name?  Impressed with the steepness of hull above us rising up to area of name.

“We needed to go up the hull and forward to see the name, but as we moved in that direction, we came upon the net which covers some of it. Not wanting to take a chance after what happened last time, Chris made the sub rise, we hopped over the net and, because of the strong currents, found ourselves past the name and all the way forward at the knightshead.

“Then, as those on the surface urged us to come up, Chris decided we’d better.  Up we floated, the tip of Lusitania’s prow fading into the abyss below us, our last sight of her.  How awesome.  What a final view of her, this once-noble vessel.  We shall never forget it.

“Everything is so absolutely still down there.  Except for the fish, etc., the wreck/debris seems frozen, like a photograph.  It was like floating quietly in a fog over the silent, still debris of some long-ago bomb blast.

“The green ambient light outside grew lighter every second, bubbles rising with us the last thirty seconds or so.  You could hear the ‘trickling’ of them outside against our hull. Bobbed quite a bit on the surface awaiting retrieval.  Then, before I knew it, we were being gently ‘craned’ up the side of the Northern Horizon.  I was first to emerge after Chris.  Felt exhausted and disorganized, yet very satisfied.  My shirt was untucked, hair a damp mess. But the National Geographic cameras were whirring….”

 

AUGUST 9:  Up at 8 a.m. so Jonathan Blair could reshoot some posed group photos in the Control Van.  Then, sadly for us, we started to head toward land.  One thing puzzled me, though.  No memorial service was held over the site as had been done at the other wrecks Ballard has explored.  I wonder why?  Its absence was mentioned afterwards by a number of people on board, several of whom were rather offended.  Were the lives lost with Lusitania any less important than those lost with Titanic or Bismarck?

We sailed back and forth past the Old Head of Kinsale a number of times so that National Geographic could get footage of it from several angles and then began the trip back into Cork.

At 11:17 a.m. we passed the lighthouse on Roche’s Point, just at the spot where Titanic made her final anchorage 81 years earlier.  Turning back and looking toward the wreck site, we could still see the lighthouse on the Old Head and were impressed at the distance to the wreck site from Cóbh.  Now I understand why it took rescue boats so long to get out there.

The lighthouse on Roche’s Point at the entrance to Cork Harbor.  It was off this spot that Titanic made her final anchorage before beginning her voyage to New York.

 

After we docked, Jonathan Blair got everyone together on the fantail for a group shot.  When he was done, everyone gave him their cameras to take pictures for us.  Once that shot was over, we could go ashore, but we didn’t know what to do.  Very shiftless, tired.  After being so useful during the expedition, we were suddenly useless.  Two weeks have come to an abrupt end, and we feel so aimless, disorganized.  It was strange to finally be on land again after so many days at sea.  Ate dinner on board, and then Ken and I walked to the Silver Springs Hotel.

Wandered up the hill and found ourselves sitting on a wall overlooking the docks and river, contemplating our two-week experience.  It’s all too much, too real.  For decades Lusitania has been an abstract thing, a phantom, no more than a photo in a book or statistics on a page.  Now there are hardly the words to describe what she has become in our lives.

Epilogue

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