It may be a contradiction-in-terms but the Britannic, lying as it does at a depth of 120m beneath the largely placid waters of the Aegean Sea, is regularly singled out as being the pinnacle of deep diving, but the English language offers up few more appropriate superlatives.
A new book, Expedition Britannic: Diving Titanic's sister ship, by Rick Ayton, with Scott Roberts, spares few of its 175 pages in illuminating the history of this grand vessel; skimming over the story of her construction and subsequent service, not as originally intended: the final third in a world-beating luxury triumvirate, but requisitioned as a vast hospital ship to ferry injured soldiers from the horrors of war in the Mediterranean.
This work focuses chiefly on the challenge of planning and execution of a diving project that is fraught with risk. There is a fascinating diversion onto the story of the SS Burdigala (The former failed ocean liner Kaiser Friedrich) whose pristine newly-discovered wreck lies at a depth and proximity to the Britannic to offer an ideal warm-up for the main event but is, from the photographic evidence presented here, an exceptional wreck in its own right.
There is enough technical information to satisfy aspiring divers but it does not labour these aspects to the detriment of the overall narrative which is highly readable if a little casual at times. A few sections read as if the tale is being told over the bar at the end of a successful day's diving, but perhaps that lends it an air of authenticity!
The historical, organisational and technical aspects of the text can only be background preparation for the book's greatest feature which are its exceptional photographs.
Those accustomed to seeing images of deep wrecks as just constricted flashes of colour, tantalising glimpses of something so remote illuminated by the arc of a submersible beam or a diver's torch set against an inky blackness will appreciate the lush double-spreads showing remarkable details; compositions that really give an indication of the scale, beauty and condition of this remarkable wreck.
A dive to Britannic involves months of preparation - the protracted political arrangements, logistical and financial aspects seems to be as complex as the very mixing of the breathing gases themselves - but the time on the bottom is painfully short and with penetration of the wreck prohibited new revelations are limited. But Expedition Britannic brings armchair divers closer than we've ever been to this magnificent wreck and perhaps will inspire one or two to get out of their armchair and experience it for themselves.
Expedition Britannic: Diving Titanic's Sister Ship