National Geographic


Expedition Journal

Team Genius

Jacquinot Bay, New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea

After long, sun-hot days on the Mermaid Sapphire and late-night conversations with Captain Stu Buckle and his crew, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition team have come to understand an essential truth: Much of what they do on and under the ocean hinges on choices they make by instinct—in an instant—with consequences that last a lifetime.

At 12:30 a.m., long before the sun’s golden rays graced the green hills north of the ship, there was music on the ship’s main deck. The spontaneous celebration of yesterday’s successful 3,281-foot (1,000-meter) dive featured rhythm and blues and rock-and-roll from the electric guitars of John Garvin, Chris McHattie, Joe Barcosky, and John Hunter. After the sub team and film team had cleaned up the sub and checked footage from the dive, they had pulled a row of chairs together under the yellow lights over the ship’s main doorway, and the joyful music began.

Having spent months working together in Sydney and weeks working together on the ship, the team is displaying signs of “team genius”—the mastery of solving mission critical problems with fast, elegant, shared solutions. There are 28 of them, and they represent a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, science, electronics, filmmaking, scuba diving, and boat driving. Each of them has multiple skills and a we’ll-find-a-way attitude. Right now, the thing that matters most to them is solving the problems that will ensure a successful mission.

At the morning meeting, Jim describes his plans for the coming days. “We know the sub works and that every pressure-sensitive component has been tested to full ocean depth. We’ll work on the sub today and tomorrow. On Monday, we’ll make a dive to 4,000 meters.”

On a sub maintenance day, the Mermaid Sapphire hums with activity. A big screen is set up in the recreation room and Jim and the film crew put on 3-D glasses and watch the best scenes from yesterday’s dive. They see dramatic images of the pink holothurian dancing in the sub’s lights, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER and the lander Mike side by side on the seafloor, and the night recovery of the sub. Jim makes suggestions on how to improve the lighting on the lander.

The sub hanger is busy, with Walt Conti and Ty Boyce repairing two manifolds that were over-pressurized during the rapid ascent, Bruce Sutphen replacing low-density foam with high-density foam, and James Kennedy charging the sub’s batteries. John Garvin is inside the sphere making sure the camera wiring is in the right place.

In a screen-filled, equipment-jammed room off the main deck hallway, the seven-man film crew edits footage and readies their big 3-D cameras for late-day interviews. Members of the lander team bend over their vehicles in the blistering sun, preparing the landers for their next drop.

Jim has chosen this team with great care. He selected men and women rich with talent and ready with humor. He surrounded himself with experts who have mental resilience and physical stamina. He knows that breakthrough ideas about exploration and engineering are embedded within false starts, improvisations, and tight interactions with talented people.

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