To the Bottom

The history of diving (Ger., Eng.) dates back to ancient times. HERODOT (Eng., books) and ARISTOTELES (Eng., books) mention divers and their heroic actions; PLINIUS maior (Ger., Eng.),  famed author of Historia naturalis and Admiral of the Roman fleet – it’s the one who died exploring the Vesuv while Pompei and Herculaneum (site) were destroyed – used snorkeling combat divers, Kampfschwimmer.
And as I mentioned before, mankind lost ships, boats, airplanes and a lot of human lives to the sea over centuries. Some divers are interested in the silence and the colours, the creatures and abundance of maritime life – so visiting a reef would be a good idea, dear Princess mentioned that he  dove at the Great Barrier Reef. Others specialize in wrecks or caves – nothing for the faint-hearted and claustrophobic. And of course people do work under water, and to my amazement I learnt that it is possible for a diver to reach 600 meters (2000 feet!) in a Panzertauchanzug, a atmospheric diving suit. I read that the current record is at 700 meters, reached in a simulation for testing special gas mixtures. From a certain depth onwards pure oxygene is poisonous.
Robert CHAULK dives regularly the Halifax harbour and wrote a book about it*. Halifax harbour ( Eng.) is not the Port of Halifax. The port today is not among the largest of the world in respect of tonnage and traffic, a list led by Singapore, Busan, Rotterdam and Hamburg. It saw its zenith through WWII when the large Atlantic convoys used it as one starting point, Boston being the other point of departure. It is a natural theater with a  European-Western naval history of more than 200 years. Riffs, fog and weather brought many ships down (one or another German sub too) and strong currents and heavy storms often enough crushed and milled the wrecks to small pieces, so that wreck diving requires special attention to details – as one diver put it: “You have to push your face into the bottom”, in this case looking for the remains of the steamship Atlantic (Ger., Eng.) – not to be confused with the Atlantus, the concrete ship.
Halifax harbour saw one of the largest manmade explosions in pre-atomic times, the Halifax explosion (Ger., Eng.) of 1917 when two ships collided and the French freighter Mont Blanc caught fire, stocked up to the brim with ammunition for the European battlefield. The second last surviving victim, John DAVIDSON, died last year.

Robert CHAULK and his friends brought together an interesting collection of things they found on the harbour’s bottom, mostly bottles and porcellaine plates or other artefacts and relics. But it’s not the collecting of things that fuels them, it’s the curiosity to have a look, to actually see the bottom, to swim into the shadow of a giant pier in cold water and an unforgiving environment, to look where the monsters dwell. They are not there. But one has to look.

* Chaulk, Robert: Time in a Bottle. Historic Halifax harbour from the bottom up. Lawrencetown Beach 2002


A short addition

LGS commented that he would like to see some wrecks in snorkeling distance. It gets even easier by visiting some of the large shipyards of the world. There is always the Rossville Boatyard of NewYork (text), I first saw it on Forgotten NewYork. Have a look at the photographs of O’Boyle.
Somewhere up the Potomac is Mallows Bay (text) where sowm hundreds wooden ships rot away, I guess they are best seen from above.
Then there is the ship graveyard in Mauretania, also seen from above, and from the ground.
And there are of course the ship breakers, for example in Chittagong.

Under the Sea

Mankind over time lost one or another item to the sea; mostly ships and airoplanes, and archeologists are happy when they recover more or less well-preserved specimina. Well known examples are f.e. the Vasa (Ger., Eng.) (sent to the bottom by a devious gust of wind on her maiden voyage on 10th of August 1628), the Oseberg ship (Ger., Eng.) (here‘s a list of other historic Norwegian ships and boats), or the Brandtaucher (Ger., Eng.), the first working submersible of the Reichsflotte. Divers enjoy more or less the visit of wrecks and some of them – wrecks – are notorious and well know today, especially in areas where scuba diving is a touristic amusement and offer, f.e. in the Red Sea. The SS Thistlegorm shall be mentioned representative for others.

But diving is hard work and having a resting place at hand would be nice, why not built a house? Through the 1950s and 1960s underwater stations were constructed, tested and used, serious scientific research was done. Most of these stations were movable and in fact were removed after having served their purposes. As I see it only Jules’ Undersea Lodge was kept and transformed into a kind of hotel. The only active and regularly used undersea research station today is AQUARIUS Reef Base. The undersea laboratory is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and managed by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW). (The NOAA has also an interesting collection of photographs.)

Historical undersea habitats are listed in the Habitat Archive, sadly the English page does not to work but it is a starting point. The 1969 SEALAB III seems to have reached the deepest point with more than 180 meters, tragically a deadly accident occurred and the project was ceased.  But not only the Americans did research in this field, Europeans too were interested in the underwater possibilities. The 1968 German station HELGOLAND today can be visited in the Nautineum departement of the Deutsche Meeresmuseum. But all these devices are closely related to submarines, they are moving, transport their crew to the bottom of the sea, shelter them there and bring them back – in a way they are giant decompression chambers (Ger., Eng.).
I think besides JULES’ aforementioned Sea Lodge only Jacques-Yves COUSTEAU (Ger., Eng.) built lasting structures under the surface of the sea, the remains can be visited still today. The projects CONSHELF or PRECONTINENT I to III were realized 1962 near Marseilles, 1963 in the Red Sea and 1965 near Nice. The remains of 1963 are still visible (examples here and more here, beware pics are free to look but not free to use!).
The French seem to have a special relation to the sea and embrace modern technical possibilities, but whether the SEA ORBITER will ever drift across the oceans may at least be questioned – I am admittedly a complete bloody layman regarding technical things. Other ideas include floating homes, interesting cliff houses and landscape design – whether it will look like this?

I myself will not swim to look at COUSTEAU’s crumbling ruins in shark infested waters, but would like to sit in the Red Sea Star and work my way through the bar. Is there a drink called Calypso?

La Mer

One or other reader should start humming Trenet‘s melody; “La Mer” was his hit 1945, recorded 1946, covered a lot. Gossip had it that the song was written on a train between Narbonne and Carcassonne in 1943, but who knows.
I encountered the Mediterranean Sea in the last months in different ways. Some time ago I started to read Braudel‘s large three volume book about it,
La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen a l’époque de Philippe II (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II), that he wrote as a prisoner of war in Lübeck.
Then I posted about Clavel’s torre positano and austere mentioned “the blue”, what reminded me of Jakob Flach who traveled around La Mer in the 1920s, before all the places that once were known for their natural beauty became “destinations” and jet-set-areas and tourist-spots of “international standard”, what simply means: exchangeable. But I do not want to lament on the course of history and life, that is time-consuming and futile.

I want to talk about other, earlier travelers of La Mer, Erzherzog Ludwig Salvator von Österreich and Baron Rodolphe D’Erlanger.
The english article on Ludwig Salvator is much too short, better use the german or have a look at the “Ludwig-Salvator-Gesellschaft“, that preserves the heritage of this remarkable man. LS traveled La Mer on his private ship “Nixe” and avoided the court, court-life and what was connected to it. There is more to him and his travels, it is not just a bored noble-man spending money and killing time. He worked as a scientist, collected, wrote, published. A pacifist he saw La Mer as a connecting force, not as a divide – he worked on bringing together different people, different beliefs, different cultures – all connected by La Mer. He died 1915 in Bohemia, where to come he was ordered by the emperor, 68 years old, alone and disappointed – feeling that the world he was born into will come to a bitter end with this bitter war.
On his travels he was accompanied by a young baron, Rodolphe d’Erlanger. They shared their curiosity for La Mer and it’s cultures and sheer beauty. And Rodolphe met his love: Music. He built a palace in Sidi-bou-Said near Tunis and found an institution that became very important for the Tunesian music, the malouf, the Centre des musiques Arabes et Mediterrannéenes. His writings (six large volumes) were edited despite his early death 1932, the last volume came out in the 1950s.
Both men shared the idea of peace by communication, by sharing cultural values, by mutual understanding, transgressing borders of faith or nationality. Both saw La Mer as an open, connecting space of beauty.

Today in this beautiful sea people from Africa drown in scores trying to reach an European island or the mainland. Those who make it and are not caught by police work on plantations in Spain, Portugal or Italy for some cents. A whole generation on the treck. Europe declared itself a fortress and lets the wet border solve the problem. It is inhumane and despises all values Europe is founded on. As long as this killing by failing is not stopped, for example by jailing any of these “business-men” that organize the transports in swimming death-traps as a first step, any discussion about bringing “God” into the european constitution is a kind of offence.