To reach the bottom of all five oceans, this Texas businessman commissioned “the most significant vehicle since Apollo 11.”
One down!” Those were Victor Vescovo’s first words after climbing out of the hatch of the DSV Limiting Factor. He had just dove 27,480 feet down to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench, making him the first person to reach the absolute nadir of the Atlantic Ocean. Or at least those were the first intelligible words, over the waves, and the motor of the nearby Zodiac raft, and the low hum of the support vessel DSSV Pressure Drop, which was idling nearby. The sun had just set, creating a ridiculous backdrop of orange sky and translucent blue Caribbean water. It would have seemed stage-directed, had I not been on the Pressure Drop for a week by then, observing three failed tests that put the whole dive in jeopardy. The Pressure Drop needed to leave its post at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, December 19 in order to reach its port call in the Dominican Republic the next morning. Vescovo surfaced from his six-hour, 55,000-foot round-trip journey to the ocean floor and back at approximately 5:45 p.m.—just over an hour to spare. Next year, provided there are no major setbacks, he plans to take the Limiting Factor around the planet in an attempt to become the first person to reach the lowest point in all five oceans. Hence those first words: one down, four to go. The dive also made Vescovo the second deepest-diving solo sub pilot in history, after the film director James Cameron, who reached the bottom of the Pacific’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench, in 2012. Vescovo will head there, too, probably in the summer of 2019, after attempting the 8,180-meter (26,847-foot) South Sandwich trench near Antarctica, and the 7,290-meter (23,917-foot) Java Trench, with a likely stop to visit and film the wreck of the USS Indianapolis en route. This audacious, self-funded mission is known as the Five Deeps. It is more than three years in the making and began when Vescovo asked Triton Subs, a small, Florida-based maker of submersibles, if they could build him a vehicle capable of reaching any point in the world’s oceans.
A crew from Atlantic Productions, embedded with Five Deeps to film a five-part TV series that will air on Discovery sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, cornered Paul-Henri “PH” Nargeolet—a veteran of deep sea exploration whose Five Deeps uniform patch reads “Legend”—to ask if he had concerns. Was this dive risky? “Yes and no,” replied the man who has dove on the Titanic wreck more than 30 times. “I would tell you it’s more dangerous to cross the street where you live than to dive past 4,000 meters. But, in the extremely rare chance [of an accident], you are dead before you know something happens.”