I sailed with my S/Y Thetis
to Korissia (Cruising Wiki page
) the harbor of the island of Kea
in the Aegean
last Thursday, May 30 2009. There were going on two underwater expeditions: one local by the highly skilled but amateur and self-funding of KDE (Kea Diving Expeditions) investigating the wreck which they discovered last year of the French ocean liner Burdigala
that was carrying troops and was sank (70 m depth) during WW I, and the other supported and funded by the National Geographic making a documentary of the British hospital ship the Britannic
(sister ship of the Titanic) which was also sunk (120 m depth) during WW I. Both ships were sunk by mines and within a week of each other.
The KDF team uses a traditional wooden caique Benitos
belonging to Dimitris Galon, the nominal leader of the team and consists of 6 divers and my brother Byron (beracuda
who provides support with his fast inflatable Ivi III
and other logistical functions.
The National Geographic expedition is based on the remarkable diving ship, the Cmd Fourcaul
which was a Belgian Navy ship that was used to transport pilots in the Baltic. It was bought by a Belgian who converted her to a diving research vessel. Now he charters her to all shorts of expeditions. Her previous one was in Greenland. She has a permanent crew of 8 which includes the owner and his wife. But she can accommodate up to 64 persons. Their equipment is state of the art but she is not at all luxurious inside just functional. They have several Ribs, and a helicopter. She is actively stabilized for diving. Among other things they have a custom made stereoscopic HD video camera, self-propelled and gyroscopically stabilized. Cost $800,000. While filming it is connected by fiber optics to the ship and the pictures are monitored in real-time on a huge screen. Their diving gear is most impressive and consists of rebreather and a decompression chamber attended by a on-board physician. Despite all this on Sunday May 24 they had a fatal accident. The head of the NG team, a very experienced deep water diver lost conscience during the dive and by the time the rest of the team brought him tot the surface, it takes 6 hrs of decompression, he was dead.
The Greek authorities promptly suspended the diving license of both teams. While the Britannic team were waiting, at great daily expense, for the conclusion of the accident investigation and the re-enstatement of their license, the KDF team was able to dive and explore a WW II German air-transport airplane which they believe was carrying paratroopers for the Battle of Crete. The team has taken stunning pictures.
My brother had return to Athens for family reasons, and I with a friend Thanasis Yiannoukos took over for a day his support functions. After the dive on Friday we were able to visit Cmd Fourcaul and were given a thorough guided tour.
By Sunday word came that the diving licenses were not going to be re-enstated and the very disappointed and frustrated NG team started to depart, while KDE team continued photographing the airplane until yesterday.
For me it was a unique interlude of my cruise with S/Y Thetis
and an opportunity to share the sadness, frustrations, and discoveries of these extraordinary gifted and daring young people of both teams. Let us hope that sometime in the future they can resume their explorations of these remarkable wrecks.