Cameron goes off the deep end and loves it

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY SETH BOREN­STEIN

The last fron­tier on Earth is out-of-this-world, des­o­late, fore­bod­ing and moon­like, James Cameron said af­ter div­ing to the deep­est part of the ocean. And he loved it. “My feel­ing was one of com­plete iso­la­tion from all of hu­man­ity,” Mr. Cameron said Mon­day, shortly af­ter re­turn­ing from the strange cold dark place 7 miles be­low the western Pa­cific Ocean that only two other men have vis­ited. “I felt like I lit­er­ally, in the space of one day, had gone to an­other planet and come back. It’s been a very sur­real day.”

Mr. Cameron, whose imag­i­na­tion of alien worlds yielded the block­buster movie “Avatar,” said there was one thing he promised to him­self: He wanted to drink in how un­usual it is.

He didn’t do that when he first went to the wa­tery grave of the Ti­tanic, and Apollo as­tro­nauts have said they never had time to sa­vor where they were.

“There had to be a mo­ment where I just stopped, and took it in and said, ‘This is where I am; I’m at the bot­tom of the ocean, the deep­est place on Earth. What does that mean?’ ” Mr. Cameron told re­porters dur­ing a Mon­day con­fer­ence call af­ter spend­ing three hours at the bot­tom of the Mar­i­ana Trench, nearly 7 miles down.

“I just sat there look­ing out the win­dow, look­ing at this bar­ren, des­o­late

lu­nar plain, ap­pre­ci­at­ing,” Mr. Cameron said.

He also re­al­ized how alone he was, with that much water above him.

“It’s re­ally the sense of iso­la­tion, more than any­thing, re­al­iz­ing how tiny you are down in this big vast black un­known and un­ex­plored place,” Mr. Cameron said.

Mr. Cameron said he had hoped to see a strange deep-sea mon­ster­like crea­ture that would ex­cite the sto­ry­teller in him and seem as if it stepped out of his movies, but he didn’t.

He also didn’t see tracks of small prim­i­tive sea an­i­mals on the ocean floor as he did when he dove more than 5 miles deep weeks ago. All he saw were vo­ra­cious shrim­p­like crit­ters that weren’t big­ger than an inch. In fu­ture mis­sions, Mr. Cameron said, he plans to bring “bait” — like chicken — to set out.

Mr. Cameron said the mis­sion was all about ex­plo­ration, sci­ence and dis­cov­ery. He is the only per­son to dive to the bot­tom of the trench solo, us­ing a sub he helped de­sign. He is the first per­son to reach that depth — 35,576 feet — since it ini­tially was ex­plored in 1960.

There had been a mod­ern-day race to the bot­tom un­der way among rich and fa­mous ad­ven­tur­ers. Sir Richard Bran­son of Vir­gin in­dus­tries fame has been build­ing his own one-man sub to ex­plore the depths of the ocean. Mr. Bran­son told the As­so­ci­ated Press on Mon­day that Mr. Cameron’s dive was “a fan­tas­tic achieve­ment.”

Mr. Bran­son said he hoped to ex­plore a dif­fer­ent deep place first now, in­stead of the Mar­i­ana Trench. He planned later this year to dive to the deep­est part of the At­lantic, the Puerto Ri­can trench, which is only 5 miles from his home. That area is just shy of 6 miles deep and has not been ex­ploredt.

Mr. Bran­son said he hopes to take his one-man sub and join Mr. Cameron in a tan­dem dive of solo subs: “To­gether, we’ll make a for­mi­da­ble team.”

Mr. Cameron spent more than three hours at the bot­tom, longer than the 20 min­utes Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Jac­ques Pic­card spent in the only other visit, made 52 years ago. But his stay was shorter than the six hours he had hoped for, and he didn’t reach the trench walls, be­cause he was run­ning low on power. He said he would re­turn, as would the sub’s Aus­tralian code­signer, Ron Al­lum.

“I see this as the be­gin­ning,” Mr. Cameron said. “It’s not a one-time deal and then mov­ing on. This is the be­gin­ning of open­ing up this new fron­tier.”

He spent time film­ing the Mar­i­ana Trench, which is about 200 miles south­west of the Pa­cific is­land of Guam. The trip down to the deep­est point took two hours and 36 min­utes, start­ing Sun­day af­ter­noon U.S. East Coast time.

His re­turn aboard his 12-ton, limegreen sub called Deepsea Chal­lenger was a “faster- than- ex­pected 70minute as­cent,” ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Ge­o­graphic, which spon­sored the ex­pe­di­tion. Mr. Cameron is a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic ex­plorer-in-res­i­dence.

The only thing that went wrong with the dive was a prob­lem with the hy­draulics on the sys­tem to col­lect rocks and crit­ters to bring them back to the sur­face. Just as he was about to col­lect his first sam­ple, a leak in the hy­draulic fluid sprayed into the water and he couldn’t bring any­thing back.

When Mr. Cameron climbed into his sub, it was warm be­cause it was near the equa­tor and his cramped ve­hi­cle — his head hit one end and his feet the other — was toasty be­cause of the heat given off by elec­tron­ics. It felt “like a sauna” with tem­per­a­tures of more than 100 de­grees Fahren­heit, he said.

As he plunged into the deep, the tem­per­a­ture out­side the sub dropped to around 36 de­grees, he said.

The pres­sure on the sub was im­mense — com­pa­ra­ble to three sport utlilty ve­hi­cles rest­ing on a toe. The su­per­strong sub shrank 3 inches un­der that pres­sure, Mr. Cameron said.

“It’s a very weird en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “I can’t say it’s very com­fort­able. And you can’t stretch out.”

NA­TIONAL GE­O­GRAPHIC VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

James Cameron emerges from the Deepsea Chal­lenger submersible on Mon­day af­ter mak­ing a suc­cess­ful solo dive to the Mar­i­ana Trench, the deep­est part of the Pa­cific Ocean.

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