National Geographic : 2004 May
BY PETER DEJONGE PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID MCLAIN F or the past 48 hours the 280-foot oceanographic research vessel Knorr, temporary if not harmo nious home to some 30 engineers, scientists, and academics, as well as a rotating roster of friends and financial supporters, has been lashed to a pier in the northern Turkish city of Sinop, kept from its appointed mission by the lack of research visas. The American ship and crew have come to the Black Sea to investigate ancient shipwrecks, but the local media are skeptical. During the day packs of journalists scramble up and down the stone dock, aiming their cameras and questions at anyone on the deck within earshot. "Why are you really here? Are you searching for oil? Are you on a secret mission for the U.S. military? Are you looking for Noah's ark?" Hundreds of residents, curious to see for themselves, stroll arm in arm to the waterfront in the lovely late July evenings to marvel at the great ship stuffed with high-tech wizardry bob bing in the bay of their historic walled city. But for expedition leader Robert D. Ballard, who is spending $40,000 a day on the proj ect and is losing priceless research time having invested millions in a state-of-the-art remotely controlled submersible, deep-sea high-definition cameras, and a futuristic high bandwidth satellite communications system - there's nothing magical about the nightly carnival on the dock. "We're bleeding to death," he says. "We're hemorrhaging money." Nor has this latest delay been the only setback of the summer. Ballard's original itinerary called for testing his machines on a series of Greek and Byzantine wrecks off Bulgaria and Turkey before moving on to a pair of 2,700-year-old Phoeni cian wrecks off Egypt. But weeks earlier, just before the Knorr left its home port at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, complications in his negotiations with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences forced Ballard to scuttle that leg of the cruise for now. Later, after the expedition was under way, Ballard would also get word that 116 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * MAY 2004 Egyptian security had denied him permission to explore the Phoenician ships. "Five years of wrecks have been taken off the table in weeks," he says with a sweep of his arm. For Ballard, a restless, 61-year-old oceanog rapher whose role models skew toward explorers and mountain climbers-"I believe in the I il lary approach," he says, "climb the mountain, plant the flag"-the only thing worse than the wasted money is the diminishing prospect of realizing a personal dream. This is the summer Ballard intended to plant the flag for a new mul tidisciplinary approach in which the worlds of maritime archaeol ogy and oceanography SOCIETY GRANT would merge. Ballard's This Expeditions Council plan calls for remotely project was supported by controlled vehicles to your Society membership.