Up close and personal with Titanic, by the Irishman who has dived the wreck twice
The wheelhouse where the captain of the Titanic went down with his ship has crumbled away and tiny crabs have colonised the vast wreck.
But the rivets that held the liner together can still be seen studded along its vast carcass, according to diver Rory Golden one of the last people to take part in a manned dive to the liner's last resting place.
The Dubliner was the first Irishman to dive to the wreck, and one of the lucky few to do it more than once.
After his 2005 trip, Titanic dives began to rely on cheaper remote-controlled technologies not subject to the same strict time restrictions, so Rory was one of the last to see the Titanic in person.
This autumn he will share his experiences with the public at the former Harland & Wolff Drawing Office as part of the Let's Talk Titanic series of lectures organised by Titanic Belfast.
Rory was invited to take part in a 2000 expedition organised by wreck owners RMS Titanic Inc to recover artifacts, but was not supposed to be diving.
He had brought along a plaque commemorating the link with Cobh in Cork – the vessel's final port of call – and was delighted when he was asked to go down in the submersible and place the plaque on the wreck.
It took two-and-a-half hours to descend the 4km to the seabed in the confines of a submersible that housed three people in a sphere that was two metres in diameter.
On the first dive, the submersible landed on the seabed some distance away from the wreck and approached along one side of the ship.
"Peering out through the darkness, you just see this shape and shadow," Rory said.
"The first time you rise up along the side and you see these massive rows of rivets.
"It's quite a spine-tingling experience – that you are there where so few people have been.
"On the second time we went straight to the bow.
"You're going through feelings of excitement, you're going through feelings of sadness, you're going through feelings of wonder and you don't think about the fact that, outside, the water pressure is crushing."
Rory made his second visit in 2005 as part of a documentary and brought the first two plaques from Belfast to be laid at the site – one a replica of the memorial outside the City Hall, paying tribute to the Belfast people lost in the 1912 disaster – the other sent by Harland & Wolff shipyard.
"The plaques were put on all that is left of the bridge of the ship, which once held the wheel and the ship's telegraph," Rory said.
"Everything else has just rotted or fallen away over the years."
Rory says the shape of the bow section is still very distinct and the fallen mast can be seen, but after the ship broke in two during the disaster the stern section plummeted to the seabed much more quickly, disintegrating on impact.
"It's just one big tangled mess of steel and debris. You can see the engines in that part and you can make out the stern, but you have to take a really hard look," he said.
"There are strong currents and over the last 100 years it has been colonised by small plants filter-feeding and tiny organisms eating at the steel of the ship and producing rusticles as a by-product.
"There are rat-tail fish, there are prawns, there are tiny crabs crawling all over the wreck site.
"It's amazing to think how deep and dark it is and yet life is continuing on."
On October 17, Rory will give a talk at the Titanic Drawing Offices on his two dives to the ship, followed by another talk on October 18 on the story of his friend Ralph White – the cameraman who captured the first images of the sunken Titanic during the approach to the wreck of the 1985 Ballard expedition and went on to make 35 dives to the site over 20 years.
Full details are available on the www.titanicbelfast.com website.
The wreck of the RMS Titanic is located about 370 miles (600km) south-southeast of the coast of Newfoundland, lying at a depth of about 12,500 feet (3,800m). Until September 1, 1985, the location of the wreck was unknown. It was finally located by a joint French-American expedition led by Jean-Louis Michel of IFREMER and Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.