Calgary Herald

The never-ending passion to SAVE THE TITANIC

Deepsea explorer hopes to preserve its chilly grave


It was the human remains, the evidence of human remains and the shoes



The Titanic is in trouble, says the man who should know. April 15 is the 100th anniversar­y of the maritime disaster that both changed the world and ushered in a new age, but three kilometres beneath the surface of the chilly North Atlantic, some 724 kilometres southeast of Halifax, the Titanic’s wreck is being picked at, pored over and plundered of its historical treasures.

For deepsea explorer, oceanograp­her and National Geographic explorer-inresidenc­e Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the RMS Titanic’s wreck on Sept. 1, 1985, the clarion call to preserve the Titanic’s final resting place has become an all-consuming passion.

The self-explanator­y National Geographic documentar­y, Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard, premieres Wednesday on National Geographic Canada, four days before the 100th anniversar­y of the disaster. A companion program, Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron, airs Monday.

The Titanic is not Ballard’s only find. Incredibly, the landlubber born in the landlocked Prairie city of Wichita, Kan., also discovered the wrecks of the Second World War battleship Bismarck, in 1989; the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, in 1998; and, perhaps most remarkable, the relatively tiny wreck of John F. Kennedy’s Second World War patrol boat, in 2002.

It’s the Titanic, though, that inspires the most pride — and regret — in a man first captivated by the sea when, as a young child growing up in San Diego, he read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

National Geographic magazine has made the Titanic anniversar­y its cover story in the April issue. The Ballard and Cameron films will reach into 380 million homes in more than 150 countries, in 38 languages.

Ballard may be a scientist and academic by training — but it wasn’t science that drew him to the Titanic’s place in history.

“For me, it wasn’t the ship,” Ballard told reporters this year in Pasadena, Calif. “It was the story of the people, and that’s very much what our show is about. I still immerse myself in the souls of the ship.

“When I first became interested in the Titanic, as a scientist, as an explorer, it was very clinical. I had no emotional attachment to the Titanic. That changed for me, though, when I went down there. It spoke to me. . . . It was very emotional for me, and that caught me by surprise.”

Ballard, 69, met survivors of the Titanic — children at the time — and, moment by moment, piece by piece, he began to feel the tragedy’s emotional tug. This is not the first time Ballard has tried to craft a documentar­y about the Titanic’s origins and sinking, but it’s the first time the ship’s original builder (Belfast-based firm Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries — “Shipbuilde­rs to the World”) agreed to talk to him, and open their vault of original blueprints and Titanic artifacts.

Ballard reached out to renowned Titanic artist Ken Marschall and historian Don Lynch, author of the book Titanic: An Illustrate­d History and the lead historical consultant on Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron.

“It’s really amazing,” Ballard recalled. “Don and Ken and I have known one another for a million years, but we’re still constantly discoverin­g new things. My hero on the Titanic, for example, was a gentleman by the name of Thomas Andrews. He built the Titanic, and he was on the ship representi­ng Harland and Wolff.

“When the Titanic hit the iceberg, he was the first person Captain (Edward John) Smith called. Smith said, ‘Go below decks and tell me what happened to the ship.’ He went below decks, did his inspection, came up and said, ‘She’s going to sink. Five watertight compartmen­ts (breached). There’s no way you can save this ship.’

“The last time he was seen, he was in one of the first-class smoking lounges, just looking at and admiring his work. He didn’t get up. He went down with the ship.”

Ballard has seen the future, and it works. It works for the Titanic, and it involves the very same technology that drives iphones, ipads, holograms and virtual reality.

Future generation­s will be able to access the Titanic from their living rooms, and not have to dive down in a submersibl­e, or continue to turn the gravesite into some giant underwater trash heap.

“You’ve got to think in the future,” Ballard said.

“Every generation thinks they’ve discovered something, and it’s just a mop-up operation afterwards. But every generation has children that stand on their shoulders and sees further. I have a vision of the future that involves the technology we use today. It’s called ‘telepresen­ce.’

“When I started my career, I had to get in a submarine. I had to go to the bottom of the ocean. I spent 25 years doing it. I spent most of my time going up and down on a de facto elevator. I spent very little time actually exploring. But now, with the developmen­t of advanced robotic technology and fibre-optics communicat­ion, I can do now what we did in 2004 through your TV. We came to you live, from the deck of the Titanic, in your home. That was in 2004. You should see what I have now. We’re going to create underwater museums.”

“I don’t believe in bringing things to the people; I believe in taking people to the place. It’s not so much the ship, it’s the spot. We have the technology right now to take you to the actual spot. The world’s becoming wired. Within your lifetime, nowhere on the planet will be more than a quarter of a second away. Our technology is about moving your spirit, not your body. It’s Avatar.”

As to the question of why the site should be preserved, and what specifical­ly made it so personal to Ballard, he replied without hesitation: “The shoes.” The shoes? “It was the human remains, the evidence of human remains, and the shoes,” he said quietly. “Out in the middle of nowhere, you’d go for a hundred feet of featureles­s sediment, and all of a sudden — boom, boom, boom — here would be two matching shoes, two feet apart, three feet apart, and always in the same attitude. Exactly the way the body landed.

“You had mothers’ shoes next to daughters’ shoes. I mean, wow. That’s their tombstone. You just don’t pick up those shoes.”

 ?? Photos courtesy, National Geographic ?? Titanic’s builder, Belfast-based firm Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries, spoke with Bob Ballard.
Photos courtesy, National Geographic Titanic’s builder, Belfast-based firm Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries, spoke with Bob Ballard.
 ??  ?? Bob Ballard explores the massive Thompson Dry Dock in Belfast, which was built especially for the Titanic and its sister ships.
Bob Ballard explores the massive Thompson Dry Dock in Belfast, which was built especially for the Titanic and its sister ships.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada