What made you interested in working with ROVs to explore shipwrecks?
I’ve always had an affinity to water, ever since I first jumped in a pool and sank to the bottom at about the age of 2. I had to be pulled out by the lifeguard I think! I remember as a child I would watch all the documentaries of life underwater from David Attenborough to Jacques Cousteau. I even remember at primary school building a plasticine model of the Mary Rose wreck which was a warship that sank off Portsmouth in 1545. I even modeled the lifting frame they used to recover the hull section. I was about 6 years old and bizarrely 15 years later I was being lectured by one of the main archeologist in the Mary Rose site whilst studying at Plymouth University. I studied Oceanography with Marine Archaeology and always found the archaeology part to the most interesting. So when the opportunity arose for me to work for Odyssey in 2003. I jumped at the chance. Operating ROVs was new to me back then but I have always been fairly mechanically minded so to be able to work on ZEUS was a fantastic experience.
What’s a typical day like aboard one of Odyssey’s ships?
Depending on what part of a project we are on would govern how my day will pan out. During the search phase it would consist of diving about five or six targets in a day all of which would have been previously found by side-scan sonar. These targets would generally consist of some modern debris, geology and hopefully a wreck of some kind. We would then spend some time trying to establish if this wreck shows any similarity to the ones we are searching for. If not we will move on to the next target. Usually part of my day will be spent trying to troubleshoot problems with ZEUS to keep it working to its best potential. If we find a wreck that could be one of interest we will then carry out photomosaic, TSS, FADE and video surveys. To do these types of surveys requires reconfiguration of the ROV so a lot of our time will be spent fitting and testing equipment before we go back in the water.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve seen with an ROV?
I think the most interesting part of what we do is locating undiscovered shipwrecks. Deep-water wrecks are by far the most exciting as they are often untouched since the day they sank. Shallow water wrecks are constantly battered by fishing nets and equipment and can be scattered over a large area; however in 2000 meters, wrecks generally remain untouched. It is like finding a time capsule from the day it sank. We have found amphora wrecks in the Mediterranean from over 2500 years ago with the cargo still perfectly stacked like the day it sank. From a pilot's point of view it’s quite exciting flying round more modern wrecks that can be strewn with fishing gear. Trying to get the best video footage whilst not getting a multi million dollar robot caught in blankets of nets enveloping a wreck certainly gets the adrenaline flowing!
What’s been the most challenging recovery you’ve had to make with an ROV?
I think the most challenging recovery for me was recovering a cannon. It was the largest item I have planned the recovery of, plus its position on the seabed made it very difficult to get the lifting strops around. Rigging for heavy lifts underwater requires very precise operation of the manipulators on ZEUS, as we have to undo shackle pins, attach the strops and the replace the pins. Fortunately onboard the Odyssey Explorer we have some of the most experienced manipulator operators in the business who make the whole operation look easier than it is.
Getting the ROV back onboard the Explorer during heavy weather or when equipment fails can also be most challenging. A normal recovery is fairly straight-forward, but getting ZEUS on board when things go wrong can become a potentially dangerous situation very quickly, especially when I have to keep my eye on everyone else on deck to make sure they are safe. I am, however, lucky enough to work with a great team who makes my job less stressful than it could be! It is always in the back of my mind that ZEUS is worth a huge amount of money but as long as it gets back to deck and nobody is missing any appendages then I feel like I have done my job.
In 2010 you participated in Stockholm or Bust. Tell us about that.
I have recently been restoring a 1961 VW split screen campervan. When the project was nearing completion I decided to plan a trip with Ant, a friend of mine who has very aggressive multiple sclerosis. By the time the van was finished my friend was in a care home and physically too unwell to join me so I decided to raise money for his home by doing a charity Run to Stockholm and back in a van that hadn’t travelled more than 50 miles in the past 25 years. It was an eventful trip with plenty of breakdowns but we made it there and back to the UK before the engine caught fire. We raised a lot of money for the Leonard Cheshire charity and had a fun time doing it.
Life at sea as an explorer is pretty exciting, what do you do when you’re off the ship?
My home time is taken up by mainly working on my VW, fixing up the house, motor racing, skiing and trying to get round the country to catch up with my friends.
What made you become interested in auto racing?
My father has been racing cars since he was a teenager. I would always help him prepare the cars and give him a hand on race weekends. As soon as I was 17 and able to drive, he let me race his cars and I have been competing ever since. Working offshore means I can never do as many races as I would like to but it is a fantastic buzz to be able to push a car to its limits around a track.
FACEBOOK FAN QUESTIONS
In December 2011, we asked Facebook fans to submit questions for our crew.
Through our In Depth Interview series we'll start answering the questions. If
your question wasn't addressed here, we'll likely answer in an upcoming
From Randy C., “My question would be: How did you get such a good gig??”
Whilst completing a degree in Oceanography and Underwater Studies at Plymouth University I met Andrew Craig, We were both studying similar degrees and were also commercial divers. After university we stayed in contact and would often work on diving contracts together. Andrew joined Odyssey during the search for the SS Republic and after it was discovered, Odyssey brought in the RV Odyssey Explorer and ZEUS to work on the shipwreck. With all this new kit Odyssey needed a crew to operate it. Andrew put my name forward for a trainee pilot technician position and a couple of weeks later I was working with ZEUS on the Republic project, off the east coast of Georgia. That was in 2003 and since then I have been gaining experience and worked my way up to ROV Technician, ROV Supervisor, and now Project Manager.
From Jen W., “What’s the scariest thing you have ever seen under water?”
To be honest the scariest things I have seen underwater may put you off you dinner so it’s probably best not to go into too much detail. It was back when I was a commercial diver and was in Dubai dry docks after the gates collapsed killing 33 people I was sent from England with a team of divers to salvage the sunken boats in the dock and also recover the missing bodies. The last body we found was about 8 weeks after the docks collapsed.
From Ronnie M., “Uncovering long lost personal items must give you pause to think about the owner and the life he or she was leading during that fateful journey. Have those thoughts influenced how you view your own possessions?”
Wow that’s quite a deep question! To be honest I love having nice things like gadgets, fancy cars and such like, but at the end of the day it is just stuff. If I lost it all I don’t think I would miss it that much. I think that if you are healthy and have good people around you then the rest is just an added bonus.
With regards to the personal items we find, I think they just make it hit home the tragedy and loss of life involved. With older wrecks I find it easier to disassociate myself with the personal tragedy involved, it is my job to figure out how to recover artifacts it is the archaeologist’s job to piece together the history behind them, and to be honest just fixing and operating ZEUS keeps me very busy.