dischdr.gif (5199 bytes)
Where It All Started

It all started when Robert Ballard was a child. He was inspired by imaginary explorers, like Captain Nemou and his Nautilus, as well as what goes on beneath the waterline of the sea. The first step came in 1967 when he moved to Massachusetts to become part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Shortly thereafter, some of the other scientists had been discussing what it would be like to swim along the decks of the Titanic, Ballard caught the bug that would fester in him for 18 years, when his dream finally became a reality.

He recalls that it was 1973, after the underwater submersible, Alvin, used in the discovery was refitted with a titanium alloy shell, when he first thought about finding the Titanic seriously. The search for the Titanic was a means of funding Ballard’s other vision, the development of unmanned, remote controlled robots that could be controlled from the surface, and stay at extreme depths for an infinite amount of time. You get the view without the danger of actually being there. The first break came in 1977, when Ballard met Bill Tantum, one of the leading historians on the Titanic. Their relationship would be the glue that kept the dream alive. By 1978, Bill and Robert had developed a preliminary search plan, consisting of a 100 nautical mile area. In 1977, Robert boarded the Alcoa Sea Probe to test some underwater sonar equipment, borrowed from Westinghouse. During these trials, the sonar equipment was trailed below the ship on a 3000-foot section of drilling pipe, but disaster struck, and the pipe snapped. They lost the all of the equipment they had borrowed. This was the first, of many, setbacks he would encounter. The next setback came in 1979 when Bill Tantum’s health severely worsened and the Texas millionaire Jack Grimm had teamed up with scientists at Scripps and Lamont-Doherty and planned an expedition for the summer of 1980. Grimm had approached Ballard earlier, but Ballard didn’t like his style so nothing ever came of it. In June of 1990, Bill Tantum died.

The Grimm Expeditions

Grimm hired Bill Ryan and Fred Spiess, both leaders in their field, to lead his expeditions. The vehicle they used, to search for the Titanic, was the Sea Marc I, which is a deep-towed side scanning sonar. The Sea Marc I used sound waves instead of light waves, which made it less than ideal for searching for the Titanic. It looked over a wider area, but provided a much lower resolution image, therefore masking large objects in the "shadows" of the terrain. The search turned up several possible sites, but they came up empty. Since he had made the expedition a media event, he wanted Spiess and Ryan to say one of the possible sites was the Titanic, but they wouldn’t comply.

On the second expedition, in June 1981, Grimm joined Ryan and Spiess. This time they were using the Scripps Deep Tow, which was more suited for the search. During this expedition they returned to the possible sites located during the first expedition, only to find them to be natural features. They also brought along a video unit, to film the wreck. As a last ditch effort, since the sonar didn’t find Titanic, they resorted to using a visual search. The video unit used, Deep Sea Color Video, doesn’t show high resolution images in realtime. Their discovery, or thought to be discovery, was a "propeller", suppose to be from the Titanic. They saw it as they were leaving the region known as Titanic Canyon. Spiess and Ryan agreed that a positive identification could not be made, but once again, Grimm wanted to use this as proof that he had found the Titanic.

July 1983, Grimm took his last expedition. His first target was his "propeller". Spiess did not make this expedition, but Ryan did. When they got to the site, they found nothing, but instead of proceeding to a new search area, Grimm ordered the ship to return to the "propeller" site, while Ryan was sleeping. The main reasons for Grimm’s failure stemmed from a lack of trust of the scientists he hired, poor preparation, and not sticking to the search plan.

The Discovery

From 1980 – 84, the development of Argo took place. Argo is a deep-towed visual imaging vehicle with a companion, the remote controlled robot, Jason (who was yet to be developed). The joint French/American expedition was a two-phase plan. First the French were to systematically search, using SAR sonar, a selected area. The second portion, lasting only twelve days, would be spent conducting a visual search, using Argo. The French were lead by Jean-Louis Michael, on the ship Le Suroit. The Americans, lead by Ballard, would use the ship

nav2.gif (1843 bytes)