National Geographic


Expedition Journal

Good Friends

The wind has dropped off to 15 knots and the waves are diminishing in size. If the weather continues like this we’ll leave Guam within the next 48 hours and head out to the Challenger Deep. Our last day in port gives me a chance to talk to some of the people who have just joined the expedition.

“We made four great documentary films together, Ghosts of the Abyss, Expedition Bismarck, Aliens of the Deep, and Last Mysteries of Titanic.” Dr. Anatoly Sagalevitch, marine engineer, sub pilot, and “father” of the Mir submersibles was talking about his 20-year friendship with Jim Cameron.

“Jim came to Russia in 1992, spent time inside the Mirs (two $20-million research subs that can carry three people to 6,000 meters) and decided they would be a perfect platform to film the wreck of Titanic in 4,000 meters. He made twelve dives on his first expedition.”

Sagalevitch works for the P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology in Moscow, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 1987, he and his team and their Mir subs have made more than 600 dives together in most of the world’s oceans. They’ve carried out systematic studies of hydrothermal vents and explored the submerged wreckage of the German battleship Bismarck and R.M.S Titanic. In 2009, the Mir subs went to the North Pole on an icebreaker, dropped through the thick ice, dove to a depth of more than 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), and planted the Russian flag on the seafloor.

Anatoly is on the Mermaid Sapphire as a very special guest. Jim wanted his old friend and deep-sea mentor to see his new sub and be on deck when the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER descends into the Challenger Deep. More than anyone on the ship, Anatoly knows how hard it is to make a solo 7-mile (11-kilometer) dive.

“The first ‘maximum-depth’ dive of any new sub is always the hardest,” he says. “And a solo dive is especially difficult. There are so many simultaneous tasks to perform as you descend and go to work on the seafloor. That’s why we have three people inside the.”

No one will be cheering harder for Jim’s success than Anatoly. Two weeks ago, Jim sent him an email saying that he was about to make a five-mile (eight-kilometer) dive. Anatoly read it and immediately wrote back: “Jim, I’m with you in my heart.”


Written by Dr. Joe MacInnis

Photograph by Joe MacInnis

Science Partners

  • Additional major support provided by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • University of Guam