Ocean Exploration Trust: Voyage into the Deep
July 9-15, 2010

PathNorth Experiences inevitably challenge our assumptions, expose us to stimulating people and ideas, and cause us to view life from new angles.

In mid-July, Honorary PathNorth member Robert D. Ballard and his first-in-class Nautilus Research Vessel proved the perfect host for a group of five PathNorthers (Michael Castine, David Bork, Bruce Douglas, Mark Percy and Doug Millar, plus Doug’s wife Debbie, daughter Meredith and son Weston). The home port was Bodrum, a small Aegean coastal city in southwest Turkey. After touring Bodrum and then spending two days aboard the Nautilus, the trip ended with a visit to Ephesus, at one time the largest Roman city in Asia Minor.

The fact that we were about to join an oceanographic exploration guided by a legend like Bob Ballard gave special meaning to the first day’s private tour of one of the premier underwater archaeological museums in the world, housed rather spectacularly in Saint Peter's Castle in Bodrum harbor. The castle was built by the Knights of Saint John. The present structure dates from 1402 and provides a spectacular setting for one of the premier museums of underwater archaeology, featuring the Bronze Age shipwreck of Uluburun among many other ancient treasures.

On day three we were welcomed aboard the Nautilus. Ballard and his multi-disciplinary team of experts from across the sciences provided an extraordinary window into cutting-edge discoveries that are reshaping how mankind views the world, especially the 72% of the earth’s surface covered by water.

Ballard is best known for discovering the Titanic, PT 109, the Bismark and other high profile shipwrecks, but he minimizes the importance of those finds since “we knew they were there.” According to Ballard, his greatest find was not a wreck but organisms thriving at 9,000 feet below the ocean in total darkness – something thought impossible at the time. The group agreed that the most prized and beneficial revelations, even in our own lives, are not on the surface but are much much deeper and often unexpected.

On the CBS show 60 MINUTES, Ballard was recently quoted as saying “Discovery is an unbelievable, unbelievable thing. It never loses its magic.” Ballard’s passion for underwater exploration was sparked as a boy by reading Jules Verne, and there is a palpable sense of adventure in everything connected to Ballard and aboard the Nautilus (the name of Captain Nemo’s vessel in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Even existing architectural plans for an onboard library and guest suites capture the feel of the literary Nautilus.

Ballard and his team are clearly passionate about their mission to support our nation’s ocean exploration in search of both its human and natural history. An especially important component of that mission – in fact the most important for Ballard himself – is training the next generation of oceanographers. A broadband satellite link provides a live feed from the Nautilus to high school science classes across the US, as well as a growing cadre of internet viewers (www.nautiluslive.org). Internships and scholarships are made available for promising students, and even high school teachers and Boys and Girls Clubs members. An internship in 1959 was exactly how Ballard himself first went to sea with the Scripps Institute.

With Ballard’s clear devotion to mentoring young people, the conversation easily moved to personal accounts of how we chart our own life journeys. Some spoke of “windshield” thinking – focusing primarily on what is ahead as a means to push through their challenges. Others were more “rear-view window” focused – processing the past as a foundation for the future. Discussing the needed balance between the two enlighten us all on how to press forward while staying in touch with the past and in the end thriving despite extraordinary circumstances.
The PathNorth group had hours to interact with Ballard and his team over two days, an extraordinary opportunity to probe personal histories, team dynamics, vessel and technology operational details, and new ideas in the fast evolving field of oceanography.

Ballard’s umbrella organization is the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), which actually encompasses three separate institutes. The most intriguing feature of how Ballard’s team explores the deep oceans is the use of unmanned underwater vessels, or Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) built at OET’s Institute for Exploration in Mystic, CT. The operational efficiency is striking. What formerly took scientist months and even years to find, the Nautilus can locate and digitally map in a day or less, as we were able to witness.

While we were on board, two shipwrecks were located, one was Roman and quite rare from the 2nd Century AD. The other was more typical, which Ballard equated to today’s Budweiser truck - carrying goods but nothing of historical significance.

Ballard says OET plays a high stakes statistical game. Virtually the entire $7.5 million budget of OET is internally represented as a ratio of “bottom time,” which maximizes the actual time the ROVs and side-scan sonars are actually deployed in the water. More bottom time will inevitably equate to more discoveries.

Despite being a very diverse group, the PathNorthers bonded quickly, especially in light of the extraordinary opportunity we were afforded and collective exposure to Ballard’s big vision. Each person readily shared his/her personal journey as well as new ideas and perspectives stimulated by the beautiful country of Turkey, effusive hospitality of Ballard, his team and the Turkish people we met, delicious food (always a staple on a PN Experience!), and the chance to interact amidst the backdrop of breathtaking antiquity.

Mark Percy
PathNorth Member and Director of Philanthropy

 

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