A dive to the Titanic won in a competition sparked an enduring interest in the ship and her story.
Arrival in St. Johns, Canada: We're hoping hurricane Henry will move south quickly while waiting for the Keldysh. German TV presenter Hendrik can lean into the wind without falling over.
We're boarding the Keldysh. Hurricane Henry has moved on, but the sea is still rough
We arrive at the wreck site. The weather has cleared and I've overcome my seasickness.
The day of our dive has arrived. The crew is checking vital systems of the submersibles one last time.
The hatch is closed, our shoes are neatly stowed away (no shoes allowed on board the sub) in a yellow box and MIR 2 is almost ready for launch.
We are put in the water. The sub is gently rolling in the waves. 30 Meters under the surface all movement seems gone: Slowly but steadily we sink into the abyss.
After the first two hours the sub doesn't feel so tiny and weird anymore. We've had one false alarm (and my heart almost stopped) when a drop of (condensed) water ran down the inside of the hull and covered our oxygen sensor. Fortunately our pilot Genia reacted in a cool and professional manner.
It takes more than 2 ½ hours to reach the bottom. We've made it. At first I can only see little pieces of coal and twisted pieces of metal through the small portholes.
A soup plate and a few other items have passed, and then we finally see the old lady: Titanic's starboard side towers in front of the sub. She's sad and beautiful and much bigger than I had imagined.
The bow section is deteriorating slowly, but steadily. What once was the captain's bathroom now mainly is cascades of rust, with the bathtub and the sink as the only items preserved in their old form and appearance. I'm touched at the thought that E.J. Smith used this bathroom just as naturally as I use mine at home.
We've all seen this on television, yet I'm overwhelmed when the bow emerges from the darkness. And then I have to smile a little: Unlike in the Cameron movie there are in fact only three bars at the very tip of the bow .
The sub moves very slowly, so most of the time I feel like everything around me is in slow motion. Accordingly, time flies. After visiting the bow and the boat deck we make it to the grand staircase. More than 3 hours have passed and the certainty that I will never get to see all there is to see slowly creeps into my mind. When the chandeliers are visible outside my porthole, I don't know what to feel: panic because the MIR is literally stuck between the (for a sub) tight confines of the grand staircase or sadness because in front of my inner eye I can see elegant people enjoying themselves in their little first-class luxury world that once unfolded under these chandeliers.
We've crossed the debris field which is rather empty compared to the pictures from the first expeditions in the 1980s. All of a sudden our pilot shouts: "Look, the propeller, I've never been so close!" I can feel a slight panic attack creeping down my spine. This is dangerous, my inner voice tells me. There's tons and tons of rusty iron above us waiting to collapse, there's no way out of here except for going backwards blindly (no cameras or portholes aiming towards the rear of the sub). Still, I can't help but stare outside. The port propeller is so big in front of me I can only see part of it. The wide-angle camera hanging outside the sub catches the whole thing, which makes everything yet more surreal. Genia tells us we could stay a few more minutes down here at Titanic, browsing the debris, but I've had enough for one day. I want to go back up.
The way back up is boring and exhausting. I want to stretch my legs, get some fresh air and go to the bathroom. Close to the surface, the waves set in again, but this time not gently, but rather rough. I feel like throwing up, so I close my eyes and try to tell myself I'm fine. What I cannot see is that on top of our sub one of the frogmen is trying to connect our sub with a crane cable. The rope of the little boat that towed us to the Keldysh snaps and we dangerously drift towards the starboard side of our mother ship.
Finally, they manage to pull us out of the water and secure the sub onto the deck. Knowing that the experience of a lifetime is over, I'm sad and relieved at the same time as I put my shoes back on and climb down the ladder. Our TV crew's already waiting for us, and the other designated divers ask zillions of questions.
On our way back to the coast we have unexpected company: dolphins race alongside the Keldysh.
One last gathering with the Russian crew and my fellow travellers. One of the divers, Richard Gariott, has put little pieces of authentic Titanic coal (that he purchased over the internet) on every grill of our good-bye Barbecue. Even though we sometimes had communication problems (I don't speak Russian, not all of them speak either German or English), I felt a bond growing between us passengers and some of the Russians. Being out on the ocean with no land in sight changes your perspective. You learn to respect the forces of nature and you learn to be thankful to be in the hands of a caring and experienced crew.
The last sunset on the open sea. I'm as sentimental and thoughtful as they get. Not all that I've experienced has sunken in yet, it will take weeks before my brain has processed all the impressions and information I gathered on my trip.
Back to where we started: The Keldysh enters the harbour of St. Johns to drop us off.
Text and Pictures © Brigitte Saar, All Rights Reserved