By Daniel Stone

Posted by Etta Donnell

Moneyed, bored and parched for new thrills in 2024? Could anything tempt you to get aboard an experimental “submersible” and descend (at your peril) to extreme depths of the North Atlantic Ocean to survey the inexorably decaying remains of the Titanic --- the world’s most publicized and allegedly “unsinkable” shipwreck of all time? How did the Titanic garner this distinction? Through the stories and information of the 700 who survived (an astounding 1,500 perished), each with gripping accounts of the ship’s final moments that occurred on April 15, 1912.


In a new book, Sinkable, author Daniel Stone has written a well-researched, fascinating account of the demise of the Titanic as well as its “second life." Given there has been an estimated three million shipwrecks worldwide, it’s not surprising that salvage/treasure hunters have been around for centuries. Stone ably and humorously chronicles the unquenchable thirst of eccentric, obsessed, “wannabe” salvagers who would risk fortunes and their own lives to locate Titanic’s wreck. All with anticipated success, aspired to gain worldwide publicity, fame, and of course, greater wealth through reclaimed historical artifacts waiting to be plucked at the bottom of the ocean.


Stone identifies three colorful individuals gripped with these ambitions. In 1913, American Charles Smith, a flamboyant engineer gamely tried to raise 1.5 million dollars for his salvage grand restoration to its former glory. In 1916, Wall Street capitalist, Percy Rockefeller and his Interocean Submarine Engineering Company followed Smith’s failed venture. They could not raise sufficient funds, made embarrassing miscalculations and faced the headwinds of WWl. They too had to scuttle their plans.


Stone names, in “a class of his own,” the humorous, wily and “wackadoodle Englishman," Douglas Woolley, whom the author personally interviewed. In 1970, after Woolley saw the movie A Night to Remember multiple times, “it lit a fire under him." He read everything published on the topic of the Titanic and became totally obsessed with a mission to see the ship close up. No one had claimed ownership of the wreck. Lloyd’s, the “technical owner,” didn’t want it. Woolley gleefully claimed ownership. His attorney advised him “he could consider the Titanic functionally his.”


Woolley’s efforts foundered. However, in 1980 Texas billionaire Jack Graham, an intrepid hunter of the Sasquatch, Abominable Snowman and Loch Ness Monster, who sought Woolley’s help claiming his sonar device had located the Titanic, contacted Woolley. Graham’s claim proved to be false. So died another grand scheme.


Fast forward to April 1985. The New York Times reported that Navy Oceanographer Robert Ballard had found the Titanic. The frenzy began. Could “one of the twentieth century’s biggest news events" be capitalized?


Notwithstanding the tragic end of the 2023 submersible expedition, the spellbinding thrill to see Titanic will undoubtedly tempt others to board yet another submersible in 2024.