National Geographic : 1955 Apr
to pivot into take-off position, then ran both motors ahead. F. N. R. S. 3 started sluggishly, apparently held back by the chain. Then she pulled free-and things began to happen. I saw a great block of hard mud tumble off the ledge, dislodging more big lumps. Clouds bloomed below, boiled up, and spread. "Houot, we've started an avalanche!" Like skiers stirring up snow on a mountain side and causing a great avalanche, our guide chain had dislodged silt that had collected through the ages and started it sliding down the canyon wall into the abyss. We laughed nervously and decided to rest on the ledge until the sediment settled. I could hardly take pictures on a floor turbulent with mud. For 20 minutes we waited, looking down into thick clouds that would not subside. Since there was still fair visibility around the ship herself, we thought we might find clear bottom by steering across the canyon on a compass bearing, even though it would mean sailing directly through the disturbance. Soaring Through Yellow Fog It was a mad crossing. We had the impres sion of flying over a sea of cumulus clouds, like those one soars above on a transatlantic flight. Several times our craft entered tower ing cumulo-nimbus heads, immersing us in yellow fog. The porthole would look as if it had been blanked out with cardboard. Emerg ing from such a cloud, we would see others rolling endlessly below, beyond sight, a vast structure of dun cotton balls reflecting and counterreflecting our lights. "How could one hunk of mud stir up a whole canyon?" we asked ourselves, laughing incredulously. Then a new cloud tower would swallow us. It seemed never to end. The width of the canyon is about 1,300 feet, and we had been under way for 20 minutes, ample time at our one-knot speed to reach the other wall. Our motors were still running with a steady whir, but suddenly we became aware of a chilling fact: particles no longer rushed at our win dow. We were not moving. Had we struck the other side, or the bot tom? Houot cut the motors, and we waited for something to suggest itself. Silence, within and without the sphere. At the portholes, only the opaque yellow "cardboard." Perhaps a slight current would dispel the fog. But in the privacy of our own minds Houot and I harbored less cheerful thoughts: we might well have loosened the opposite can- yon wall and now be buried deep in soft mud! We entered upon a discussion of the unex pected features of the Toulon canyon. It is strange to sit in a blind steel ball 5,250 feet down and talk geology, especially when it be gins to occur to you that canyons which sud denly acquire huge shelves may also have large overhangs capable of trapping a little submarine that always wants to go up. It could even be, we thought, that the mysteri ous yellow cloud we had mistaken for a squid's ink jet when we were about to land was actu ally a cloud of mud stirred up by our bow pounding down on such an overhang. No way of telling now. An hour passed, and the water still had not cleared. An iron bracket holding a baited fishhook only a foot beyond our window re mained invisible. Clearly, this dive was lost to photography. We decided to surface. Houot jettisoned a lot of shot. The depth gauge and vertical-speed indicator did not move. An inch outside the port, mud particles remained suspended in the murky water, mo tionless. Our theory of an overhang gained considerable substance. Trying to keep cool, we talked no more than necessary. Only a little movement of the needle on the vertical-speed indicator-that was all we wanted, from the bottom of our hearts. Things cannot be this bad, I thought. Had we forgotten something? Muddy Clouds Tower 800 Feet We reviewed the behavior of bathyscaphes at such depths and over such periods of immer sion. And then it came to us: in the hour we had waited here in the cold, the gasoline must have cooled even further. Unquestion ably, we had grown really heavy. Houot squirted more shot from the silos. We heard it hailing down upon our sphere. A moment passed, and suddenly the speed indicator stirred. I saw specks sliding down the window. We were climbing! The windows remained yellow as we soared. We rose, in fact, 800 feet before the muddy "thunderheads" began thinning into black water, and, leaving the clouds below us, we flew upward into night. Daylight came faintly at last and swelled into a green haze. The bathyscaphe began to rock in the swell. Afterwards I went to see Professor Bour cart. "Listen," I said. "You know that canyon you charted so carefully? You'll have to do it again. We just wrecked it."