Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cruise Weekly: Is this the world’s most adventurous cruise?

Without doubt, there is one ocean liner that embodies the majesty and romance of the seas better than any other. Her most famous voyage was her only voyage and on the night of April 14, 1912, she struck a glancing blow on an iceberg at full speed, puncturing five of her watertight compartments. Three hours later, RMS Titantic, the grandest ship ever built, settled on the bottom of the ocean at a depth of some 4000m.

Ever since that moment, Titanic has never been far from the human consciousness. The tragic and unnecessary loss of 1523 lives, the rescue blunders and the celebrity casualties such as millionaires John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim, who stoically vacated his lifeboat, redressed in evening wear and declared, “No woman shall be left aboard this ship because I am a coward.”

Almost 20 movies and feature-length documentaries have been made on the event and the exhibition currently in Melbourne (www.titanicmelbourne.com) displays almost 300 carefully selected artefacts and recreated interiors in a poignant tribute to one of the world’s greatest peacetime maritime disasters.

These artefacts are a small part of the nearly 6000 items recovered from the wreck since Titantic’s re-discovery in 1985 at 41°43′55″N 49°56′45″W by Dr. Robert Ballard using an unmanned deep sea submersible called Alvin. The December 1985 issue of National Geographic carried the momentous discovery as its cover story.

Since 1987, RMS Titanic Inc. has owned the salvage rights to the wreck and is now part of Premier Exhibitions, the company staging the display. Initial explorations were by unmanned, robotic craft, but since the mid-1990s, manned explorations of the wreck have been conducted. Constructed in Finland in 1987, the two Russian MIR Submersibles are operated by the Russian Academy of Sciences and are being employed in 2012, the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, to conduct a series of passenger dives to the wreck.

“Having experienced 14,400 feet in the north Atlantic on the Bismarck, and 12,500 feet on the Titanic, I can only be in awe of the beauty of new life in nature and the stupidity of man in war and peace!” says Australian deep dive regular, Trevor ‘Monty’ Montgomery from Melbourne.

Sydney expedition cruise company, Adventure Associates (AAs), is offering places on the 11-hour roundtrip to the wreck in conjunction with Deep Ocean Expeditions (DOE) who have been taking paying divers to the depths since 2001. Australian Mike McDowell launched DOE in 1998 but is perhaps best known as founder of benchmark expedition cruise company, Quark Expeditions, in 1991. Coincidently, McDowell is also the new owner of AAs, having purchased the company from founder, Denis Collaton this year.

Before you rush for your Visa card, the 13-day program will leave you very little change from US$60,000 and you’ll spend just seven hours in contact with the wreck itself. And, yes, you pick up your own airfares. Can you take home a souvenir from the deep? Hmmm… let me ask.