A Mir submersible, with room for only three people, can travel far undersea. One popular destination is the site of the Titanic.
Down, down, down you go, for two and a half hours, jammed with two other people in a tiny submersible, all the way to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean — and all for a glimpse, through a five- or eight-inch porthole, of the ravaged remains of the once-grand ship where the Astors and the Strauses played, dined and, in some cases, died.
The New York Times
The trip is not for the claustrophobic, nor the 99 percent: a two-week cruise that includes one dive, lasting eight to 10 hours, costs $60,000.
But for fans of the Titanic, no price or privation is too great — especially with the 100th anniversary of the sinking coming up on April 15.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Renata Rojas, a banker in New York City, said of diving more than two miles down to the muddy seabed. “I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic since I was 10 years old.”
With the centennial in mind, at least 80 people are expected to take the plunge down to the wreck, according to the company that runs the trips, Deep Ocean Expeditions.
And while this may be the most extreme observance in the works, there are myriad others: cruise ships will sail to the exact spot in the Atlantic where more than 1,500 Titanic passengers drowned; people will hold Titanic-themed dinner parties, complete with napkins bearing the flag of the White Star Line; and the Titanic Historical Society will hold a gala dinner at which people are welcome to dress as an officer, a crew member or a passenger “to create the ambience of a festive maiden voyage.”
Already, you can buy centennial books, jewelry and other memorabilia galore.
As for an undersea visit to the ship itself, this coming season may be your last chance. Although diving trips have been offered sporadically to paying tourists since the wreck was discovered in 1985, Deep Ocean Expeditions says it plans to discontinue the wreck tours permanently, no doubt to the disappointment of future generations of Titanic devotees and Leonardo DiCaprio fans.
“This is our last year of passenger operations,” said Rob McCallum, the expedition leader. “We won’t head to Titanic again.”
Next summer, however, passengers will travel in Russian Mir (“peace”) submersibles that can withstand the deep’s crushing pressures. Inside, a pilot and two tourists occupy a space less than seven feet wide, wearing layers of clothing to ward off the cold. Travelers bring a light lunch but are reminded that there are no toilet facilities.
“Your Mir will glide over the top of the wreck to look down into the cavern where Titanic’s famous grand staircase was once located,” Deep Ocean Expeditions promises on its Web site. “You will also spend time exploring the iconic bridge and promenade areas.”
Such a trip is not without its dangers — two people died in a submersible that once got entangled in a wreck off Florida — or without controversy. Scientists and scholars worry about new damage to the famous ship and new dishonor to a gravesite strewn with the shoes and other belongings of so many drowned people. However, they see the centennial as not only a potential threat but also an opportunity to lobby for a global accord that would establish rules for the Titanic’s protection.
“We need a basic agreement,” said James P. Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the wreck.
Already, the site is quite littered. Passing cruise ships dump beer cans and garbage bags. On the seabed, the mini-submarines have set up memorial plaques with artificial flowers. At times, the subs have also accidentally bumped into the increasingly fragile wreck.
“It could get real crowded out there,” Dr. Delgado said of the centennial rush. Despite the legitimacy of wide public interest, he added, “there are some things that shouldn’t happen,” like dumping trash and leaving behind equipment.
The Titanic has long fascinated, because it symbolized the end of an era of technological innocence and seemed like a cosmic rebuke to privilege. Ten millionaires were on board, including the financier John Jacob Astor IV, the industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Straus of Macy’s, the world’s largest department store. All three perished with the ship.
During its inaugural voyage, the opulent liner hit an iceberg and sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, going down some 380 miles off Newfoundland in international waters. It came to rest on the seabed upright but split in two.
Deep Ocean Expeditions
Today, the wreck is a mess. Gaping holes have opened up in the decks, and metal walls have slumped. The hull in many places is covered with rivulets of rust known as rusticles, which look like brownish icicles.
Still, the allure is great enough to prompt repeat dives. James Cameron, director of the blockbuster “Titanic,” is said to have taken the plunge more than two dozen times.
Others will have to settle for a single glimpse. Indeed, so many tourists want to see the Titanic that Deep Ocean Expeditions, the only company currently offering such a dive, has raised the number of cruises it is planning to four from two, and it is considering a fifth.
Demand for the tours remains high because the expeditions are so infrequent; the last was in 2005. And tourists line up despite a sharp rise in prices: in 1998, the company charged $32,500; today, it sells the same experience for $59,680.
“It’s gone up a lot,” conceded Mike McDowell, the founder of Deep Ocean Expeditions and a star of adventure tourism. He cited soaring fuel costs and other factors.
The expeditions are advertised as luxurious two-week affairs that depart from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and feature expert lectures and “five-star cuisine.” During the dive, visitors see not only the liner’s remains but a parade of bizarre sea life. Ghostly fish swim by, their tails long and sinuous. Sea anemones wave long tentacles in the currents to catch their next meal as squat lobsters poke about for juicy morsels.
The company, which also runs other deep-sea tours, says the Titanic trip attracts a mixed clientele that runs from the superwealthy to people of lesser means.
“They’re not all spoiled rich kids,” Mr. McCallum, the expedition leader, said of his customers. “They’re people who have worked hard for their money and not made this decision lightly.”
Ms. Rojas, the New York banker, is a scuba diver and a longtime Titanic fan. “I saw the movie ‘A Night to Remember’ and read the book,” she recalled. After that, while still in high school, she did many research papers on the shipwreck.
Ms. Rojas failed to get on the 2005 expedition for lack of space and now stands at the head of the line. “It’s going to be an opportunity to pay my respects,” she said. “If I could, I would stay under for days.