The Titanic is not easy to get to.
Lying nearly 2 1/2 miles under the sea, 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland — and hard to find even with GPS — it’s become a bucket list item for hard-core enthusiasts (“Titaniacs”).
You or I would pay $250,000 to visit, via oil rig servicing ship, then a specially deigned 5-person submersible vehicle.
For David Pogue, it’s just part of his job.
The longtime Westporter leads a more interesting life than most of us dull neighbors. His wide-ranging resumé includes technology writer for the New York Times, Scientific American and Yahoo (plus author of the wildly popular “Missing Manual” series); PBS “Nova” host, and (of course) Broadway conductor.
He’s also a “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent. In his role as “explainer,” he covers everything from cryptocurrency to the war in Ukraine.
Like millions of others, Stockton Rush is a fan of the show. He’s also the founder and CEO of OceannGate, the company that sponsors those $250,000-per-person voyages to the site of the wreck, and the dive that follows.
He suggested a story to the producers. They proposed it to Pogue. “I just about lost my mind with excitement,” he says.
(CBS stockholders, relax: The network paid only for his and the camera crew’s room and board.)
Like most of us, Pogue had no idea “normal people” could visit Titanic.
Like the pro he is, he read up on the ship, and James Cameron’s dives for his famed movie. Among other things, Pogue learned that when you try to dive in the North Atlantic, everything goes wrong.
He set out from Newfoundland this past summer. His fellow ($250,000) passengers included, predictably, a hedge fund guy and his son; an industry magnate, and an AI pioneer who sold a bunch of companies.
But Renata Rojas stole the “CBS Sunday Morning Show.” She’d wanted to see Titanic since she was a little girl. Now she works in the loan department of a bank. She spent 30 years saving for this adventure.
Pogue slept little in the days before the dive. Part of the reason was nerves. The other part was the rolling of the ship at sea.
He worried about 3 things: The sub would collapse under the 6,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. (Think of 46 school buses parked on your sternum.)
Second, he feared that the oxygen scrubbers — the same used on spacecraft — might break down.
Third: What if the ballast system to return to surface didn’t work?
Fortunately, every system has a backup. And the deeper the submersible goes, the tighter the water presses the titanium endcaps on to the carbon, making it actually more waterproof. (For more on the actual dangers, click here for Pogue’s “Unsung Science” podcast.)
Of course, none of that helped when he was asked to sign a release form. It noted that the submersible was an experimental vessel not approved by any regulatory body. And that the dive could result in “physical injury, disability, emotional trauma or death.”
“Where do I sign?” he asked.
Pogue was bolted into the sub from the outside. “That freaks out a lot of people,” he notes.
But inside the minivan-sized submersible, he felt comfortable. Of course there’s no temperature control, so it’s very hot at the start, frigid at 2.4 miles below the surface.
There were 5 potential dive days.
The first dive was aborted due to mechanical problems. Days 2 and 3 were scrubbed by weather.
Uh oh. What if — after all that preparation — the Titanic dive turned out to be its own disaster?
On Day 4, Rush took the first set of paying passengers down to the sea floor. However, communication problems prevented them from finding the wreck. They spent 4 hours looking at … nothing. (OceanGate will give them a free do-over next summer.)
Pogue was freaking out. He’d spent 12 days documenting an expedition to the Titanic that never got there. Yikes.
Happily, on the final day the remaining customers made a successful dive. They had “an incredible experience,” Pogue says.
“CBS Sunday Morning” had only enough time to show 45 seconds of the passengers’ video. Pogue offers “06880” readers a special bonus: a link to 12 minutes more:
So how did Pogue spend the rest of his time on the chartered oil rig service ship?
He toured the engine room. He interviewed the captain and first mate (and got a course in piloting the state-of-the-art, $300 million vessel).
He saw huge pods of dolphins and whales.
And each night, 4 Titanic and deep sea experts gave educational talks.
Ever the entertainer, Pogue spent one bad-weather day writing rhyming clues for a scavenger hunt. The payoff was a brilliant word puzzle that his son Kell had written for the occasion. Check out this exclusive video:
The story ran this past Sunday. Viewers reacted strongly on social media.
One was “disgusted” that people would “piss away” all that money “just to see a wrecked ship.” Another claimed he would not go even if paid $250,000.
Pogue has a different view.
For one, he has new respect for how hard it is to reach Titanic. Every expedition faces mechanical and weather problems.
For another, he thinks OceanGate could be more transparent about how low the odds are of reaching the wreck. They run 5 expeditions — each lasting 8 days — over the summer. Usually, they get down to Titanic only twice. Sometimes, they don’t succeed at all.
Third, Pogue appreciates that “most people would never in a million years pay that kind of money for this kind of trip,” whether for price, risk or claustrophobic reasons.
But, he adds, a certain percentage of the population thrives on thrills like that. They have the money — or save up to take the trip.
“Having lived with 6 of these folks at sea for 8 days,” he says, “I’m convinced they got what they were looking for.”
Renata — the woman who saved for 30 years to see Titanic — told Pogue, “I feel like I was missing something in my life. Now it’s not missing. I can die happy.”
You can’t put a price on that.
To see David Pogue’s full “CBS Sunday Morning” segment, click below:
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