The Italia line could afford five different kinds of china for the crew, but not a radar operator who knew what he was doing. The collision between the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria is inexplicable - both vessels watched each other on the scope right up to the end. The Stockholm is equally at fault.
Strong currents, extreme depths, and the distance from land and medical facilities have always made diving the Andrea Doria a hazardous endeavor. It is even more so today.
The Doria is not the dive that it used to be. The hull is collapsing badly, and the top of the wreck is now below 190 ft. Many of the places that divers used to visit have deteriorated beyond recognition. Gimbel's hole, once the famous entry to the inside of the wreck, is now no more than a closed-off depression. Every year, as the hull sinks further into itself, the dive becomes deeper, more dangerous, and more pointless. Once the "Mount Everest of Shipwreck Diving", the heyday of the Andrea Doria is over. I have never been there, and have no desire to go, but I know a lot of people who have, including some of the most experienced.
A diver over the boat deck
Looking aft from midships
Looking forward from midships
Famous Gimbel's Hole
Looking out from Gimbel's Hole
Inside the Promenade
Looking out from the promenade
The Second Class Gift Shop cash register
The break at the forward Winter Garden
The Andrea Doria regularly yields up bags of china to
those who are capable and qualified to go after it
Gary Gentile with a vase he recovered
Coffee service for 30
Close-up of a beautiful coffee mug
Soup bowls bearing the Italia line insignia
How to restore and preserve your find
Brass-framed windows from the first-class promenade
Silver coffee pitchers and trays
Silverware. Black oxidation is easily removed, restoring the original shine
Photos courtesy of Dan Crowell / Seeker Digital Productions
The ship's bell is always a prize find for a wreck diver. It is conclusive proof of a wreck's identity, but also something more -- an integral part of the ship itself. The bell from the Andrea Doria was a real treasure; in the words of Gary Gentile, "the ultimate artifact from the ultimate wreck."
Captain Bill Nagle's dream was to recover this "ultimate artifact". To this end, he assembled a team of divers, eventually bought a dive boat (the Seeker), and finally set out to make his dream a reality. The group succeeded in recovering the Andrea Doria's stern bell -- Gary Gentile gives a detailed account of the entire mission in his book Andrea Doria: Dive to an Era.
In the era of the great trans-Atlantic liners, traveling first class meant the height of luxury. Of the Andrea Doria, the Italian Line said, "She was also designed as a living testament to the importance of beauty in the everyday world." This was reflected in every part of the ship, right down to the china service.
Each piece of this elaborate First Class china bears a scene in an Oriental design.
There are a number of different scenes, and a stylized version of
the Italia crest was used to complement the design.
The standard First Class china was less ornate, but elegant in its simplicity,
with a border and crest of red and gold leaf.
The china used by the Second and Third Class passengers was plainer than the First Class pieces, but is still evidence of the Italian Line's commitment to "beauty in everyday life" aboard ship.
A silver bread basket from First Class. The pewter sherbet dish
was used in the Second Class dining room.
A silver teapot from First Class. There are several size teapots, which were used according to how many passengers were seated at the table. When the first dives were made to the second class area in 1991, this pitcher was the first item retrieved.
A martini glass. These rosary beads were being shipped from Italy to the
United States as part of the Andrea Doria's cargo.
In pictures on board the ship, vases like this one appear on each table in the dining room. The vase is made from a low-quality clay, decorated with a floral design.
Guido Gambone, an Italian artist and potter, was just one of the many contributors to the beauty and elegance aboard the Andrea Doria. Gambone, born in 1909, worked near Naples until 1949, then started a workshop at Florence. His work included many brightly colored earthenware vessels formed into fantastic and exagerated figures. The panels, pictured below, show Gambone's typical style: modern, but with a primitive flavor reminiscent of the Etruscan or early Greek.
The two panels were recovered from the wreck in 1993 by New Jersey diver John Moyer, who was previously awarded salvage rights to the wreck. Each panel weighs in excess of 500 pounds, and both were attached to walls deep within the wreck. Bringing these treasures to the surface required a tremendous effort which included not only divers, but also a crane and forklift to move the panels from the dive boat to the water-filled boxes in which they now rest as part of the preservation process.
These ceramic panels, each measuring about two and a half feet high by a foot and a half wide, were painted by Italian artist Romano Rui. A series of these panels once adorned the first class cocktail lounge of the Andrea Doria, 15 panels on the port side, and another 15 on the starboard side. The art on the panels is in a very simple style and depicts scenes from Medieval life. The panels are rich with the symbolism of the age.
The panel showing the figure on horseback is evidence of what can be accomplished through teamwork and cooperation. John Chatterton recovered this broken panel, but was missing two pieces. Gary Gentile turned up those two pieces, which he traded to John in exchange for pieces John found which fit a panel Gary had retrieved. The cracks visible here show where the missing pieces were fitted into place.
The panels were originally arranged in order, with the subject of one panel related to that of the panels on either side. We see here only excerpts from the story told by the entire sequence. An effort is underway to collect digital images of all of the Rui panels which have been recovered from the Andrea Doria. As each panel is collected in this virtual exhibit, the original sequence can slowly be pieced back together as shown here. This is the first time since the ship went down that all of the panels shown on these pages have ever been seen together.
from the collection of Dan Crowell
The Chrysler "Norseman" show car, built by Ghia in Italy and lost on the Doria.
The tires might still be there inside the wreck.
reprinted from Esquire magazine, July 2000
THE EPITOME of postwar seagoing Italian style, capsizing on July 25, 1956,
after being struck by the Stockholm.
You see whole fishing fleets asleep on their sides and about a million lobsters crawling around like giant cockroaches, waving confounded antennae in the thin air. Yeah, what a dump of history you see, a real Coney Island of catastrophes. The greatest human migration in the history of the world passed through here, first in a trickle of dauntless hard-asses, and then in that famous flood of huddled masses, Western man's main manifest destiny arcing across the northern ocean. The whole story is written in the ruins: in worm-ridden middens, mere stinking piles of mud; in tall ships chewed to fish-bone skeletons; five-hundred foot steel-plated cruisers plunked down onto their guns; the battered cigar tubes of German U-boats; and sleek yachts scuttled alongside sunken tubs as humble as old boots.
You can't stop to poke around or fill your pockets with souvenirs. You're on a journey to the continent's edge, where perhaps the missing water still pours into the Atlantic abyss with the tremendous roar of a thousand Niagaras. Something waits there that might explain, and that must justify, your presence in this absence, this scooped-out plain where no living soul belongs. And you know, with a sudden chill, that only your belief in the dream, the focus of your mind and your will on the possibility of the impossible, holds back the annihilating weight of the water.
YOU WAKE UP IN the DARK and for a moment don't know where you are, until you hear the thrum of the diesel and feel the beam roll. Then you realize that what awakened you was the abrupt decrease of noise, the engine throttling down, and the boat and the bunk you lie in subsiding into the swell, and you remember that you are on the open sea, drawing near to the wreck of the Andrea Doria. You feel the boat lean into a turn, cruise a little ways, and then turn again, and you surmise that up in the pilothouse, Captain Dan Crowell has begun to "mow the lawn," steering the sixty foot exploration vessel the SEEKER back and forth, taking her through a series of slow passes, sniffing for the Doria.
Crowell, whom you met last night when you hauled your gear aboard, is a big, rugged-looking guy, about six feet two inches in boat shoes, with sandy brown hair and a brush mustache. Only his large, slightly hooded eyes put a different spin on his otherwise gruff appearance; when he blinks into the green light of the sonar screen, he resembles a thoughtful sentinel owl. Another light glows in the wheel-house: a personal computer, integral to the kind of technical diving Crowell loves.
The SEEKER's crew of five divvies up hour-and-a-half watches for the ten hour trip from Montauk, Long Island, but Crowell will have been up all night in a state of tense vigilance. A veteran of fifty Doria trips, Crowell considers the hundred mile cruise - both coming and going - to be the most dangerous part of the charter, beset by imminent peril of fog and storm and heavy shipping traffic. It's not for nothing that mariners call this patch of ocean where the Andrea Doria collided with another ocean liner the "Times Square of the Atlantic."
You feel the SEEKER's engine back down with a growl and can guess what Crowell is seeing now on the forward-looking sonar screen: a spattering of pixels, like the magnetic shavings on one of those draw-the-beard slates, coalescing into partial snapshots of the seven hundred foot liner. What the sonar renders is but a pallid gray portrait of the outsized bulk, which, if it stood up on its stern on the bottom, 250 feet below, would tower nearly fifty stories above the SEEKER, dripping and roaring like Godzilla. Most likely you're directly above her now, a proximity you feel in the pit of your stomach. As much as the physical wreck itself, it's the Doria legend you feel leaking upward through the SEEKER's hull like some kind of radiation.
"the Mount Everest of scuba diving," people call the wreck, in another useful catchphrase. Its badass rep is unique in the sport. Tell a fellow diver you've done the Great Barrier Reef or the Red Sea, they think you've got money. Tell 'em you've done the Doria, they know you've got balls. Remote enough to expose you to maritime horrors - the SEEKER took a twenty-five foot wave over its bow on a return trip last summer - the Doria's proximity to the New York and New Jersey coasts has been a constant provocation for two generations. The epitome, in its day, of transatlantic style and a luxurious symbol of Italy's post-World War II recovery, the Andrea Doria has remained mostly intact and is still full of treasure: jewelry, art, an experimental automobile, bottles of wine - plus mementos of a bygone age, like brass Shuffleboard numbers and silver and china place settings, not so much priceless in themselves but much coveted for the challenge of retrieving them.
But tempting as it is to the average wreck diver, nobody approaches the Doria casually. The minimum depth of a Doria dive is 180 feet, to the port-side hull, well below the 130 foot limit of recreational diving. Several years of dedicated deep diving is considered a sane apprenticeship for those who make the attempt - that, plus a single-minded focus that subsumes social lives and drains bank accounts. Ten thousand dollars is about the minimum ante for the gear and the training and the dives you need to get under your belt. And that just gets you to the hull and hopefully back. For those who wish to penetrate the crumbling, mazelike interior, the most important quality is confidence bordering on hubris: trust in a lucid assessment of your own limitations and belief in your decision-making abilities, despite the knowledge that divers of equal if not superior skill have possessed those same beliefs and still perished.
PROPPED UP ON YOUR ELBOWS, you look out the salon windows and see the running lights of another boat maneuvering above the Doria. It's the Wahoo, owned by Steve Bielenda and a legend in its own right for its 1992 salvage of the seven hundred pound ceramic Gambone panels, one of the Doria's lost art masterpieces. Between Bielenda, a sixty four year old native of Brooklyn, and Crowell, a transplanted southern Californian who's twenty years younger and has gradually assumed the lion's share of the Doria charter business, you have the old King of the Deep and the heir apparent. And there's no love lost between the generations.
"If these guys spent as much time getting proficient as they do avoiding things, they'd actually be pretty good" is Crowell's backhanded compliment to the whole "Yo, Vinny!" attitude of the New York - New Jersey old school of gorilla divers. Bielenda, for his part, has been more pointed in his comments on the tragedies of the 1998 and 1999 summer charter seasons, in which five divers died on the Doria, all from aboard the SEEKER. "If it takes five deaths to make you the number-one Doria boat," Bielenda says, "then I'm happy being number two." He also takes exception to the SEEKER's volume of business - ten charters in one eight-week season. "there aren't enough truly qualified divers in the world to fill that many trips," Bielenda says.
To which Crowell's best response might be his piratical growl, "Arrgh!" which sums up his exasperation with the fractious politics of diving in the Northeast. He says he's rejected divers who've turned right around and booked a charter on the Wahoo. But, hell, that's none of his business. His business is making the SEEKER's criteria for screening divers the most coherent in the business, which Crowell believes he has. Everyone diving the Doria from the SEEKER has to be Trimix certified, a kind of doctoral degree of dive training that implies you know a good deal about physiology, decompression, and the effects of helium and oxygen and nitrogen on those first two. That, or be enrolled in a Trimix course and be accompanied by an instructor, since, logically, where else are you gonna learn to dive a deep wreck except on a deep wreck?
As for the fatalities of the last two summer seasons - "five deaths in thirteen months" is the phrase that has been hammered into his mind - Crowell has been forthcoming with reporters looking for a smoking gun onboard the SEEKER and with fellow divers concerned about mistakes they might avoid. "If you took at the fatalities individually, you'll see that they were coincidental more than anything else," Crowell has concluded. In a good season, during the fair-weather months from June to late August, the SEEKER will put about two hundred divers on the Doria.
Nobody is more familiar with the cruel Darwinian exercise of hauling a body home from the Doria than Crowell himself, who has wept and cursed and finally moved on to the kind of gallows humor you need to cope. He'll tell you about his dismay at finding himself on a first-name basis with the paramedics that met the SEEKER in Montauk after each of the five fatalities - how they tried to heft one body still in full gear, until Crowell reached down and unhooked the chest harness, tightening the load by a couple hundred pounds. Another they tried to fit into a body bag with the fins still on his feet.
But beyond their sobering effect on those who've made the awful ten hour trip home with the dead, the accidents have not been spectacularly instructive. Christopher Murley, forty four, from Cincinnati, had an outright medical accident, a heart attack on the surface. Vince Napoliello, a thirty one year old bond salesman from Baltimore and a friend of Crowell's, "just a good, solid diver," was a physiological tragedy waiting to happen; his autopsy revealed a 90 percent obstructed coronary artery. Charlie McGurr? Another heart attack. And Richard Roost? A mature, skilled diver plain shit-out-of-luck, whose only mistake seems to have been a failure to remain conscious at depth, which is never guaranteed. Only the death of Craig Sicola, a New Jersey house builder, might fit the criticism leveled at the SEEKER in Internet chat rooms and God knows where else - that a super-competitive atmosphere, and a sort of taunting elitism projected by the SEEKER's captain and his regular crew, fueled the fatalities of the last two seasons.
Did Sicola, soloing on his second trip, overreach his abilities? Maybe so, but exploring the wreck, and yourself in the process, is the point of the trip. "You might be paying your money and buying your ticket just like at Disney World, but everybody also knows this is a real expedition," says Crowell. "You've got roaring currents, low visibility, often horrible weather, and you're ten hours from help. We're pushing the limits out here."
ALL THIS YOU KNOW BECAUSE, like most of the guys on the charter, you're sort of a Doria buff ... well, maybe a bit of a nut. You wouldn't be out here if you weren't. A lot of the back story you know by heart. How on the night of July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria ( after the sixteenth century Genoese admiral ), 29,083 tons of la dolce vita, festively inbound for New York Harbor, steamed out of an opaque fogbank at a near top speed of twenty three knots and beheld the smaller, outbound Swedish liner Stockholm making straight for her. The ships had tracked each other on radar but lined up head-on at the last minute. The Stockholm's bow, reinforced for ice-breaking in the North Sea, plunged thirty feet into the Doria's starboard side, ripping open a six story gash. One Doria passenger, Linda Morgan, who became known as the miracle girl, flew from her bed in her nightgown and landed on the forward deck of the Stockholm, where she survived. Her sister, asleep in the bunk below, was crushed instantly. In all, fifty one people died.
Eleven hours after the collision, the Andrea Doria went down under a froth of debris, settling onto the bottom on her wounded starboard side in 250 feet of cold, absinthe-green seawater. The very next day, Peter Gimbel, the department store heir ( he hated like hell to be called that ) and underwater filmmaker, and his partner, Joseph Fox, made the first scuba dive to the wreck, using primitive double-hosed regulators. The wreck they visited was then considerably shallower ( the boat has since collapsed somewhat internally and hunkered down into the pit the current is gouging ) and uncannily pristine; curtains billowed through portholes, packed suitcases knocked around in tipped-over staterooms, and shoes floated in ether. That haunted-house view obsessed Gimbel, who returned, most famously, for a month long siege in 1981. Employing a diving bell and saturation-diving techniques, Gimbel and crew blowtorched through the first-class loading-area doors, creating "Gimbel's Hole," a garage-door sized aperture amidships, still the preferred entry into the wreck, and eventually raised the Bank of Rome safe. When Gimbel finished editing his film, the Mystery of the Andrea Doria, in an event worthy of Geraldo, the safe was opened on live TV. Stacks of waterlogged cash were revealed, though much less than the hoped-for millions.
In retrospect, the "mystery" and the safe seem to have been invented after the fact to justify the diving. Gimbel was seeking something else. He had lost his twin brother to illness some years before, an experience that completely changed his life and made of him an explorer. He got lost in jungles, filmed great white sharks from the water. And it was while tethered by an umbilicus to a decosphere the divers called Mother, hacking through shattered walls and hauling out slimed stanchions in wretchedly constrained space and inches of visibility, always cold, that Gimbel believed he encountered and narrowly escaped a "malevolent spirit," a spirit he came to believe inhabited the Doria.
But while Gimbel sought absolute mysteries in a strongbox, salvagers picked up other prizes - the Andrea Doria's complement of fine art, such as the Renaissance-style life-sized bronze statue of Admiral Doria, which divers hacksawed off at the ankles. The wreckage of the first-class gift shop has yielded trinkets of a craftsmanship that no longer exists today - like Steve Bielenda's favorite Doria artifact, a silver tea fob in the form of a locomotive with its leather thong still intact. A handful of Northeastern deep divers who knew one another on a first-name basis ( when they were on speaking terms, that is ) spread the word that it was actually fun to go down in the dark. And by degrees, diving the Doria and its two-hundred-foot-plus interior depths segued from a business risk to a risky adventure sport. In the late eighties and early nineties, there was a technical-diving boom, marked by a proliferation of training agencies and a steady refinement of gear. Tanks got bigger, and mixed gases replaced regular compressed air as a "safer" means of diving at extreme depths.
Every winter, the North Atlantic storms give the wreck a tough shake, and new prizes tumble out, just waiting for the summer charters. The SEEKER has been booked for up to three years in advance, its popularity founded on its reputation for bringing back artifacts. The most sought-after treasure is the seemingly inexhaustible china from the elaborate table settings for 1,706 passengers and crew. First-class china, with its distinctive maroon-and-gold bands, has the most juju, in the thoroughly codified scheme of things. It's a strange fetish, certainly, for guys who wouldn't ordinarily give a shit about the quality of a teacup and saucer. Bielenda and Crowell and their cronies have so much of the stuff that their homes look as if they were decorated by maiden aunts.
29,083 tons, 700 feet long, 250 feet deep. Grand Dame of the Sea, Queen of Snags, the Doria rests on her wounded starboard side. Amidships is Gimbel's Hole, the preferred means of entering and exiting the wreck. Hazards abound: disorientation, entanglement, impossible visibility, overconfidence, underconfidence, panic, hypercapnia, death.
Yet you wouldn't mind a plate of your own and all that it would stand for. You can see it in your mind's eye - your plate and the getting of it - just as you saw it last night on the cruise out, when someone popped one of Crowell's underwater videos into the VCR. The thirty-minute film, professionally done from opening theme to credits, ended beautifully with the SEEKER's divers fresh from their triumphs, still blushing in their dry suits like lobsters parboiled in adrenaline, holding up Doria china while Vivaldi plays. A vicarious victory whose emotions were overshadowed, You're sorry to say, by the scenes inside the Doria, and specifically by the shots of Doria china, gleaming bone-white in the black mud on the bottom of some busted metal closer who knew how far in or down how many blind passageways. Crowell had tracked it down with his camera and put a beam on it: fine Genoa china, stamped ITALIA, with a little blue crown. The merit badge of big-boy diving, the artifact that says it best: I fuckin' did it - I dove da Doria! Your hand reaches out ...
THE CABIN DOOR OPENS and someone comes into the salon, just in time to cool your china fever. It's Crowell's partner Jenn Samulski, who keeps the divers' records and cooks three squares a day. Samulski, an attractive blond from Staten Island who has been down to the Doria herself, starts the coffee brewing, and eyes pop open, legs swing out over the sides of the bunks, and the boat wakes up to sunrise on the open sea, light glinting off the steely surface and the metal rows of about sixty scuba tanks weighing down the stern.
On a twelve-diver charter, personalities range from obnoxiously extroverted to fanatically secretive - every type of type A, each man a monster of his own methodology. But talk is easy when you have something humongous in common, and stories are the coin of the lifestyle. You know so-and-so? someone says around a mouthful of muffin. Wasn't he on that dive back in '95? And at once, you're swept away by a narrative, this one taking you to the wreck of the Lusitania, where an American, or a Brit maybe - somebody's acquaintance, somebody's friend - is diving with an Irish team. He gets entangled, this diver does, in his own exploration line, on the hull down at 280 feet. His line is just pooling all around him and he's thrashing, panicking, thinking - as everybody always does in a panic - that he has to get to the surface, like right away. So he inflates his buoyancy compensator to the max, and now he's like a balloon tied to all that tangled line, which the lift of the BC is pulling taut. He's got his knife out, and he's hacking away at the line. One of the Irish divers sees what's happening and swims over and grabs the guy around the legs just as the last line is cut. They both go rocketing for the surface, this diver and his pumped-up BC and the Irishman holding on to him by the knees. At 160 feet, the Irishman figures, Sorry, mate, I ain't dying with you, and has to let him go. So the diver flies up to the top and bursts internally from the violent change of depth and the pressurized gas, which makes a ruin of him.
Yeah, lie should never have been diving with a line, someone points out, and a Florida cave diver and a guy from Jersey rehash the old debate - using a line for exploration, the cave diver's practice, versus progressive penetration, visual memorization of the wreck and the ways out. Meanwhile, a couple of the SEEKER's crew members have already been down to the wreck to set the hook. The rubber chase boat goes over the bow, emergency oxygen hoses are lowered off the port-side rail, and Crowell tosses out a leftover pancake to check the current. It slaps the dead-calm surface, spreading ripples, portals widening as it drifts aft. Because the Doria lies close to the downfall zone, where dense cold water pours over the continental shelf and down into the Atlantic Trench, the tidal currents can be horrendously strong. Sometimes a boat anchored to the Doria will carve a wake as if it were underway, making five knots and getting nowhere. An Olympic swimmer in a Speedo couldn't keep up with that treadmill, much less a diver in heavy gear. And sometimes the current is so strong, it'll snap a three-quarter-inch anchor line like rotten twine. But on this sunny July morning, already bright and hearing tip fast, Crowell blinks beneath the bill of his cap at the bobbing pancake and calculates the current at just a couple of knots - not too bad at all, if you're ready for it. Crowell grins at the divers now crowded around him at the stern. "Pool's open," he says.
YOU CAN NEVER GET USED TO the weight. When you wrestle your arms into the harness of a set of doubles, two 120 cubic foot capacity steel tanks yoked together on metal plates, you feel like an ant, one of those leaf-cutter types compelled to heft a preposterous load. What you've put on is essentially a wearable submarine with its crushed neoprene drysuit shell and its steel external lungs and glass-enclosed command center. Including a pony-sized emergency bottle bungee-strapped between the steel doubles and two decompression tanks clipped to your waist, you carry five tanks of gas and five regulators. You can barely touch your mittened hands together in front of you around all the survival gear, the lift bags, lights, reels, hoses, and instrument consoles. And yet, for all its awkwardness on deck, a deep-diving rig is an amazing piece of technology, and if you don't love it at least a little you had better never put it on. It's one thing you suppose you all have in common on this charter-stockbrokers, construction workers, high school teachers, cops - you're all Buck Rogers flying a personal ship through inner space.
The immediate downside is that you're slightly nauseated from reading your gauges in a four-foot swell, and inside your dry suit, in expedition-weight socks and polypropylene long johns, you're sweating bullets. The way the mind works, you're thinking, 'To hell with this bobbing world of sunshine and gravity' - you can't wait to get wet and weightless. You strain up from the gearing platform hefting nearly two hundred pounds and duckwalk a couple of steps to the rail, your fins smacking the deck and treading on the fins of your buddies who are still gearing up.
Some of the experienced Doria divers from Crowell's crew grasp sawed-off garden rakes with duct-taped handles, tools they'll use to reach through rubble and haul in china from a known cache. Crowell gestures among them, offering directions through the Doria's interior maze. Your goal is just to touch the hull, peer into Gimbel's Hole. An orientation dive. You balance on the rail like old Humpty-Dumpty and crane your neck to see if all's clear on the indigo surface. Scuba lesson number one: Most accidents occur on the surface. There was a diver last summer, a seasoned tech diver, painstaking by reputation, on his way to a wreck off the North Carolina coast. Checked out his gear en route - gas on, take a breath, good, gas off - strapped it on at the site, went over the side, and sank like a dirt dart. His buddies spent all morning looking for him everywhere except right under their boat, where he lay, drowned. He had never turned back on his breathing gas.
And there was a diver on the SEEKER who went over the side and then lay sprawled on his back in the water, screaming, "Help! Help!" the fuck was the matter with the guy? Turns out he'd never been in a dry suit before and couldn't turn himself over. Crowell wheeled on the guy's instructor. "You brought him out here to make his first drysuit dive on the Doria? Are ya crazy?" then the instructor took an underwater scooter down with him, and he had to be rescued with the chase boat. Arrgh! Crowell laments that there are divers going from Open Water, the basic scuba course, to Trimix in just fifty dives; they're book-smart and experience-starved. And there are bad instructors and mad instructors, egomaniacal, guru-like instructors.
"You will dive only with me," Crowell says, parodying the Svengalis. "Or else it's a thousand bucks for the cape with the clouds and the stars on it. Five hundred more and I'll throw in the wand." "Just because you're certified don't make you qualified" is Steve Bielenda's motto, and it's the one thing the two captains can agree on.
You take a couple of breaths from each of your regs. Click your lights on and off. You press the inflator button and puff a little more gas into your buoyancy compensator, the flotation wings that surround your double 120's, and experience a tightening and a swelling up such as the Incredible Hulk must feel just before his buttons burst. Ready as you'll ever be, you plug your primary reg into your mouth and tip the world over ... and hit the water with a concussive smack. At once, as you pop back up to the surface, before the bubbles cease seething between you and the image of the SEEKER's white wooden hull, rocking half in and half out of the water, you're in conflict with the current. You grab the floating granny line and it goes taut and the current dumps buckets of water between your arms and starts to rooster-tail around your tanks. This is two knots? You're breathing hard by the time you haul yourself hand over hand to the anchor line, and that's not good. Breath control is as important to deep divers as it is to yogis. At two hundred feet, just getting really excited could knock you out like a blow from a ball-peen hammer. As in kill you dead. So you float a moment at the surface, sighting down the parabola of the anchor line to the point where it vanishes into a brownish-blue gloom. Then you reach up to your inflator hose and press the other button, the one that splutters out gas from the BC, and feel the big steel 120's reassert their mass, and calmly, feet first, letting the anchor line slide through your mitts, you start to sink.
FOR the THIN AIR OF EVEREST, which causes exhaustion universally and pulmonary and cerebral events ( mountain sickness ) seemingly randomly, consider the "thick" air you must breathe at 180 feet, the minimum depth of a dive to the Doria. Since water weighs sixty-four pounds per cubic foot ( and is eight hundred times as dense as air ), every foot of depth adds significantly to the weight of the water column above you. You feel this weight as pressure in your ears and sinuses almost as soon as you submerge. Water pressure doesn't affect the gas locked in your noncompressible tanks, of course, until you breathe it. Then, breath by breath, thanks to the genius of the scuba regulator - Jacques Cousteau's great invention - the gas becomes ambient to the weight of the water pressing on your lungs. That's why breathing out of steel 120's pumped to a pressure of 7,000 psi isn't like drinking out of a fire hose, and also why you can kick around a shallow reef at twenty feet for an hour and a half, while at a hundred feet you'd suck the same tank dry in twenty minutes; you're inhaling many times more molecules per breath.
Unfortunately, it's not all the same to your body how many molecules of this gas or the other you suck into it. On the summit of Everest, too few molecules of oxygen makes you light-headed, stupid, and eventually dead. On the decks of the Doria, too many molecules of oxygen can cause a kind of electrical fire in your central nervous system. You lose consciousness, thrash about galvanically, and inevitably spit out your regulator and drown. A depth of 216 feet is generally accepted as the point at which the oxygen in compressed air ( which is 21 percent oxygen, 79 percent nitrogen ) becomes toxic and will sooner or later ( according to factors as infinitely variable as individual bodies ) kill you. As for nitrogen, it has two dirty tricks it can play at high doses. It gets you high - just like the nitrous oxide that idiot adolescents huff and the dentist dispenses to distract you from a root canal - starting at about 130 feet for most people. "I am personally quite receptive to nitrogen rapture," Cousteau writes in the Silent World. "I like it and fear it like doom."
The fearsome thing is that, like any drunk, you're subject to mood swings, from happy to sad to hysterical and panicky when you confront the dumb thing you've just done, like getting lost inside a sunken ocean liner. The other bad thing nitrogen does is deny you permission to return immediately to the surface, every panicking person's solution to the trouble he's in. It's the excess molecules of nitrogen lurking in your body in the form of tiny bubbles that force you to creep back up to the surface at precise intervals determined by time and depth. On a typical Doria dive, you'll spend twenty-five minutes at around two hundred feet and decompress for sixty-five minutes at several stopping points, beginning at 110 feet. While you are hanging on to the anchor line, you're off-gassing nitrogen at a rate the body can tolerate. Violate deco and you are subject to symptoms ranging from a slight rash to severe pain to quadriplegia and death. The body copes poorly with big bubbles of nitrogen trying to fizz out through your capillaries and bulling through your spinal column, traumatizing nerves.
Enter Trimix, which simply replaces some of the oxygen and nitrogen in the air with helium, giving you a life-sustaining gas with fewer molecules of those troublesome components of air. With Trimix, you can go deeper and stay longer and feel less narced. Still, even breathing Trimix at depth can be a high-wire act, owing to a third and final bad agent: carbon dioxide. The natural by-product of respiration also triggers the body's automatic desire to replenish oxygen. When you hyperventilate - take rapid, shallow breaths - you deprive yourself of CO2 and fool the body into believing it doesn't need new oxygen. Breath-hold divers will hyperventilate before going down as a way to gain an extra minute or two of painless 02 deprivation. But at depth ( for reasons poorly understood ), hypercapnia, the retention of C02 molecules, has the same "fool the brain" effect. It's a tasteless, odorless, warningless fast track to unconsciousness. One moment you are huffing and puffing against the current, and the next you are swimming in the stream of eternity.
Richard Roost, a forty-six-year-old scuba instructor from Ann Arbor, Michigan, one of the five Doria fatalities of the last two seasons, was highly skilled and physically fit. His body was recovered from the Doria's first-class lounge, a large room full of shattered furniture deep in the wreck. It's a scary place, by all accounts, but Roost seemed to be floating in a state of perfect repose. Though he had sucked all the gas from his tanks, there was no sign that he had panicked. Crowell suspects that he simply "took a nap," a likely victim of hypercapnia.
SO IT IS THAT YOU STRIVE TO SINK with utter calm, dumping a bit of gas into your dry suit as you feel it begin to vacuum-seal itself to you, bumping a little gas into the BC to slow your rate of descent, seeking neutrality, not just in buoyancy but in spirit as well. Soon you've sunk to that zone where you can see neither surface nor bottom. It's an entrancing, mystical place - pure inner space. Things appear out of nowhere - huge, quick things that aren't there, blocks of blankness, hallucinations of blindness. Drifting, drifting ... reminds you of something Steve Bielenda told you: "the hard part is making your brain believe this is happening. But, hey, you know what? It really is happening!" You focus on the current-borne minutiae - sea snow, whale food, egg-drop soup - which whizzes by outside the glass of your mask like a sepia-colored silent movie of some poor sod sinking through a blizzard.
Your depth gauge reads 160 feet, and you hit the thermocline, the ocean's deep icebox layer. The water temp plunges to 45 degrees and immediately numbs your cheeks and lips. Your dry suit is compressed paper-thin; you don't know how long you can take the cold, and then something makes you forgetful about it completely: the Doria, the great dome of her hull falling away into obscurity, and the desolate rails vanishing in both directions, and a lifeboat davit waving a shred of trawler net like a hankie, and the toppled towers of her superstructure. And it's all true what they've said: You feel humbled and awed. You feel how thin your own audacity is before the gargantuan works of man. You land fins-first onto the steel plates, kicking up two little clouds of silt. Man on the moon.
You've studied the deck plans of the Grande Dame of the Sea - her intricacy and complexity and order rendered in fine architectural lines. But the Doria looks nothing like that now. Her great smokestack has tumbled down into the dark debris field on the seafloor. Her raked-back aluminum forecastle decks have melted like a Dali clock in the corrosive seawater. Her steel hull has begun to buckle under its own weight and the immense weight of water, pinching in and splintering the teak decking of the promenade, where you kick along, weaving in and out of shattered windows. Everything is moving: bands of water, now cloudy, now clear, through which a blue shark twists in and out of view; sea bass darting out to snatch at globs of matter stirred up by your fins. They swallow and spit and glower. Everywhere you shine your light inside, you see black dead ends and washed-out walls and waving white anemones like giant dandelions bowing in a breeze.
You rise up a few feet to take stock of your location and see that on her outer edges she is Queen of Snags, a harlot tarred up with torn nets, bristling with fishermen's monofilament and the anchor lines of dive boats that have had to cut and run from sudden storms. She's been grappled more times than Moby Dick, two generations of obsessed Ahabs finding in her sheer outrageous bulk the sinews of an inscrutable malice, a dragon to tilt against. In your solitude you sense the bleak bitch of something unspeakably larger still, something that shrinks the Doria down to the size of Steve Bielenda's toy-train tea fob: a hurricane of time blowing through the universe, devouring all things whole.
ON the AFT DECK OF the WAHOO, Steve Bielenda, a fireplug of a man, still sinewy in his early sixties, is kicked back in his metal folding-chair throne. He wears his white hair in a mullet cut and sports a gold earring. He was wild as a kid, by his own account, a wiseguy, wouldn't listen to nobody. The product of vocational schools, he learned auto mechanics and made a success of his own repair shop before he caught the scuba bug. Then he would go out with fishermen for a chance to dive - there weren't any dive boats then - and offered his services as a salvage diver, no job too small or too big. When he sold his shop and bought the Wahoo, it was the best and the biggest boat in the business. Now, as the morning heats up, he's watching the bubbles rise and growling out Doria stories in his Brooklyn accent. "When you say Mount Everest to somebody," he says, "you're sayin' something. Same with da Doria. It was the pinnacle wreck. It was something just to go there."
And go there he did - more than a hundred times. The first time in '81, with a serious Doria fanatic, Bill Campbell, who had commissioned a bronze plaque to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the sinking; and often with maritime scholar and salvager John Moyer, who won salvage rights to the Doria in federal court and hired the Wahoo in '92 to put a "tag" on the wreck - a tube of PVC pipe, sealed watertight, holding the legal papers. Tanks were much smaller then, dinky steel 72's and aluminum 80's, compared with the now-state-of-the-art 120-cubic-foot-capacity tanks. "You got air, you got time," is how Bielenda puts it. And time was what they didn't have down at 180 feet on the hull. It was loot and scoot. Guys were just guessing at their decompression times, since the U. S. Navy Dive Tables expected that nobody would be stupid or desperate enough to make repetitive dives below 190 feet with scuba gear. "Extrapolating the tables" was what they called it; it was more like pick a lucky number and hope for the best. But Bielenda's quick to point out that in the first twenty-five years of diving the Doria, nobody died. Back then the players were all local amphibians, born and bred to cold-water diving and watermen to the n-th degree. Swimming, water polo, skin diving, then scuba, then deep scuba - you learned to crawl before you walked in those days.
A thousand things you had to learn first. "You drive through a tollbooth at five miles an hour - no problem, right? Try it at fifty miles an hour. That hole gets real small! That's divin' da Doria. To dive da Doria it's gotta be like writin' a song," the captain says, and he hops up from his chair and breaks into an odd little dance, shimmying his 212 pounds in a surprisingly nimble groove, tapping himself here, here, here - places a diver in trouble might find succor in his gear. "And you oughta wear yet mask strap under yer hood," he tells a diver who's gearing up. "there was this gal one time ..." and Bielenda launches into the story about how he saved Sally Wahrmann's life with that lesson.
She was down in Gimbel's Hole, just inside it and heading for the gift shop, when this great big guy - John Ornsby was his name, one of the early Doria fatalities - comes flying down into the hole after her and just clobbers her. "He rips her mask off and goes roaring away in a panic," Bielenda says. "But see, she has her mask under her hood like I taught her, so she doesn't lose it. It's still right there around her neck."
The blow knocked Wahrmann nearly to the bottom of the wreck, where an obstruction finally stopped her fall seven sideways stories down. But she never panicked, and with her mask back on and cleared, she could find her way out toward the tiny speck of green light that was Gimbel's Hole, the way back to the world. "She climbs up onto the boat and gives me a big kiss. 'Steve,' she says, 'you just saved my life.' "
As for Ornsby, a Florida breath-hold diver of some renown, his banzai descent into Gimbel's Hole was never explained, but he was found dead not fit from the entrance, all tangled up in cables as if a giant spider had been at him. It took four divers with cable cutters two dives each to cut the body free. Bielenda has been lost inside of wrecks and has found his way out by a hairbreadth. He and the Wahoo have been chased by hurricanes. One time he had divers down on the Doria when a blow came up. He was letting out anchor line as fast as he could, and the divers, who were into decompression, they were scrambling up the line hand over hand to hold their depth. The swells rose up to fifteen feet, and Bielenda could see the divers in the swells hanging on to the anchor line, ten feet underwater but looking down into the Wahoo! A Doria sleigh ride - that's the kind of memories the Doria's given him. Strange sights indeed. He knows he's getting too old for the rigors of depth, but he's not ready to let go of the Doria yet, not while they still have their hooks in each other.
UP IN the PILOTHOUSE of the SEEKER, Dan Crowell is fitting his video camera into its watertight case, getting ready to go down and shoot some footage inside the wreck. He tries to make at least one dive every charter trip, and he never dives without his camera anymore if he can help it.
The more you learn about Crowell, the more impressed you are. He's a voracious autodidact who sucks up expertise like a sponge. He has worked as a commercial artist, a professional builder, a commercial diver, and a technical scuba instructor, as well as a charter captain. His passion now is shooting underwater video, making images of shipwrecks at extreme depths. His footage of the Britannic was shot at a whopping depth of 400 feet. When Crowell made his first Doria dive in 1990, a depth of 200 feet was still Mach 1, a real psychological and physical barrier. He remembers kneeling in the silt inside Gimbel's Hole at 210 feet and scooping up china plates while he hummed the theme from Indiana Jones, "and time was that great big boulder coming at you."
In '91, Crowell didn't even own a computer, but that all changed with the advent of affordable software that allowed divers to enter any combination of gases and get back a theoretically safe deco schedule for any depth. "In a matter of months, we went from rubbing sticks together to flicking a Bic," Crowell says. It was the aggressive use of computers - and the willingness to push the limits - that separated the SEEKER from the competition. When Bill Nagle, the boat's previous captain, died of his excesses in '93, Crowell came up with the cash to buy the SEEKER. He'd made the money in the harsh world of hard-hat diving.
Picture Crowell in his impermeable commercial diver's suit, with its hose-fed air supply and screw-down lid, slowly submerging in black, freezing water at some hellish industrial waterfront wasteland. The metaphorical ball cock is stuck and somebody's gotta go down and unstick it. Hacksaw it, blast it, use a lift bag and chains - who the fuck cares how he does it? Imagine him slogging through thigh-deep toxic sludge hefting a wrench the size of a dinosaur bone. His eyes are closed and he can't see a damned thing down there anyway - and he's humming a tune to himself, working purely by touch, in three-fingered neoprene mitts. Think of him blind as a mole and you'll see why he loves the camera's eye so much, and you'll believe him when he says he's never been scared on the Andrea Doria.
"Well, maybe once," Crowell admits. "I was diving on air and I was pretty narced, and I knew it. I started looking around and realized I had no idea where I was." He was deep inside the blacked-out maze of the wreck's interior, where every breath dislodges blinding swirls of glittering rust and silt. "But it just lasted a few seconds. When you're in those places, you're seeing things in postage-stamp-sized pieces. You need to pull back and look at the bigger picture - which is about eight and a half by eleven inches." Crowell found his way out, reconstructing his dive, as it were, page by page.
YOU'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT that the way water blurs vision is an apt symbol of a greater blurring, that of the mind in the world. Being matter, we are buried in matter - we are buried alive. This is an idea you first encountered intuitively in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. 'Madman! Don't you see?' cries Usher, before his eponymous house crashes down on top of him. And the nameless penitent in the Pit and the Pendulum first creeps blindly around the abyss, and then confronts the razor's edge of time. He might well be looking into Gimbel's Hole and at the digital readout on his console; he is literature's first extreme deep diver, immersed in existential fear of the impossible present moment. But the diver's mask is also a miraculous extra inch of perspective; it puts you at a certain remove from reality, even as you strike a Mephistophelian bargain with physics and the physical world.
You're twelve minutes into your planned twenty-five minute bottom time when the current suddenly kicks up. It's as if God has thrown the switch - ka-chung! - on a conveyor belt miles wide and fathoms thick. You see loose sheets of metal on the hull sucking in and blowing out, just fluttering, as if the whole wreck were breathing. If you let go, you would be whisked away into open sea, a mote in a maelstrom. The current carries with it a brown band of bad visibility, extra cold, direly menacing. Something has begun to clang against the hull, tolling like a bell. Perhaps, topside, it has begun to blow. Keep your shit together. Control your breath. Don't fuck up. And don't dream that things might be otherwise, or it'll be the last dream you know. Otherwise? Shit ... this is it. Do something. Act. Now! You're going to have to fight your way back to the anchor line, fight to hold on for the whole sixty-five minutes of your deco. And then fight to get back into the boat, with the steel ladder rising and plunging like a cudgel. What was moments ago a piece of cake has changed in a heartbeat to a life-or-death situation.
Then you see Dan Crowell, arrowing down into Gimbel's Hole with his video camera glued to his eyes. You watch the camera light dwindle down to 200 feet, 210, then he turns right and disappears inside the wreck. Do you follow him, knowing that it is precisely that - foolish emulation - that kills divers here? Consider the case of Craig Sicola, a talented, aggressive diver. On his charter in the summer of '98, he saw the crew of the SEEKER bring up china, lots of it. He wanted china himself, and if he'd waited, he would've gotten it the easy way. Crowell offered to run a line to a known cache - no problem, china for everybody. But it wouldn't have been the same. Maybe what he wanted had less to do with plates than with status, status within an elite. He must've felt he'd worked his way up to the top of his sport only to see the pinnacle recede again. So he studied the Doria plans posted in the SEEKER's cabin and deduced where china ought to be - his china - and jumped in alone to get it. He came so close to pulling it off, too.
Dropping down into Gimbel's Hole, he found himself in the first-class foyer, where well-dressed passengers once made small talk and smoked as they waited to be called to dinner. He finessed the narrow passageway that led to the first-class dining room, a huge, curving space that spans the width of the Doria . He kicked his way across that room, playing his light off lumber piles of shattered tables. Down another corridor leading farther back toward the stern, he encountered a jumble of busted walls, which may have been a kitchen - and he found his china. He loaded up his goody bag, stirring up storms of silt as the plates came loose from the muck. He checked his time and gas supply - hurry now, hurry - and began his journey back. Only he must have missed the passage as he recrossed the dining room. Easy to do: Gain or lose a few feet in depth and you hit blank will. He would've sucked in a great gulp of gas then - you do that when you're lost; your heart goes wild. Maybe the exit is inches away at the edge of vision, or maybe you've got yourself all turned around and have killed yourself, with ten minutes to think about it.
Sicola managed to find his way out, but by then he must've been running late on his deco schedule. With no time to return to the anchor line, he unclipped his emergency ascent reel and tied a line off to the wreck. Which was when he made mistake number two. He either became entangled in the line, still too deep to stop, and had to cut himself free, or else the line broke as he ascended. Either way, he rocketed to the surface too fast and died of an embolism. Mercifully, though, right up to the last second, Sicola must have believed he was taking correct and decisive action to save himself. Which, in fact, is exactly what he was doing.
But with a margin of error so slender, you have to wonder: Where the hell does someone like Crowell get the sack to make fifty turns inside that maze? How can he swim through curtains of dangling cables, twisting through blown-out walls, choosing stairways that are now passages, and taking passages that are now like elevator shafts, one after another, as relentlessly as one of the blue sharks that school about the wreck? By progressive penetration, he has gone only as far at a time as his memory has permitted. Only now he holds in his mind a model of the ship - and he can rotate that model in his mind and orient himself toward up, down, out. He's been all the way through the Doria and out the other side, through the gash that sank her, and brought back the images. This is what it looks like; this is what you see.
But how does it feel? What's it like to know you are in a story that you will either retell a hundred times or never tell? You decide to drop down into the black hole. No, you don't decide; you just do it. Why? You just do. A little ways, to explore the wreck and your courage, what you came down here to do. What is it like? Nothing under your fins now for eighty feet but the mass and complexity of the machine on all sides - what was once luminous and magical changed to dreary chaos. Drifting down past the cables that killed John Ornsby, rusty steel lianas where a wall has collapsed. Dropping too fast now, you pump air into your BC, kick up and bash your tanks into a pipe, swing one arm and hit a cable, rust particles raining down. You've never felt your attention so assaulted: It is everything at once, from all directions, and from inside, too. You grab the cable and hang, catching your breath - bubble and hiss, bubble and hiss. Your light, a beam of dancing motes, plays down a battered passageway, where metal steps on the left-hand wall lead to a vertical landing, then disappear behind a low, sponge-encrusted wall that was once a ceiling. That's the way inside the Doria.
There is something familiar about that tunnel, something the body knows. All your travels, your daily commutes, the brownian motion of your comings and goings in the world, straining after desires, reaching for your beloved - they've all just been an approach to this one hard turn. You can feel it, the spine arching to make the corner, a bow that shoots the arrow of time. In the final terror, with your gauges ticking and your gas running low, as dead end leads to dead end and the last corridor stretches out beyond time, does the mind impose its own order, seizing the confusion of busted pipes and jagged edges and forcing them into a logical grid, which you can then follow down to the bottom of the wreck and out - in a gust of light and love - through the wound in her side? Where you find yourself standing up to your waist in water, in the pit the current has gouged to be the grave of the Andrea Doria. Seagulls screech in the air as you take off your gear piece by piece and, much lightened, begin to walk back to New York across the sandy plane. And it comes as no surprise at all to look up and behold the SEEKER flying above you, sailing on clouds. On the stern deck, the divers are celebrating, like rubber-suited angels, breaking out beers and cigars, and holding up plates to be redeemed b the sun.
This story also appears as a chapter in the book Deep Blue: Stories of Shipwreck, Sunken Treasure and Survival ( Adrenaline Series )
by Nate Hardcastle.
reprinted from Deep Descent, by Kevin McMurray
"Despite all the safety gadgets, the mind is supreme
and the mind is fallible."
- Captain Harry Manning, SS United States
The eastern and central section of New York's Long Island is a myriad of expressways, parkways, and turnpikes, the kind of urban sprawl that enlightened city planners love to point to as the epitome of poor vision. You have to look no further than Jericho Turnpike to understand their thinking. Flanking this multi-laned blacktop, whose serpentine path winds eastward to the more benign and pastoral stretches of eastern Long Island, is a seemingly unending string of fast-food restaurants, auto-body and muffler shops, and gas stations. Then smack dab in the middle of the concrete morass in the town of Syosset, there is the Caracalla Restaurant.
The Caracalla's faux Italian Renaissance d?copy;cor may strike some as kitschy, but it is a welcome visual respite from the glut of indistinguishable architecture that greets the eye on the Jericho Turnpike. The free-standing building is overseen by chef Vincenzo Della Torre, surviving first class sous-chef of the Andrea Doria.
Vincenzo is a little man, not more than 5'2". He is 66-years old and spry for his age. He has that debonair European demeanor and the Italian propensity for wrapping his arms around perfect strangers. On my first visit he escorted me to the bar and without sparing a word asked me, "Who do you think was responsible?"
I had come to talk to him about his experiences aboard the Doria and what happened that night, I not ready to render a decision about where the blame was to be laid. But in his embrace and under his piercing stare I uttered, more out of intimidation than anything, that it must have been the Stockholm's fault for sending the ship to the bottom. It did, after all, I reasoned, breach the Italian beauty's vitals with its ice breaking bow, analogous to broad-siding another automobile at an intersection after running a red light. He smiled and patted me on the back. It was the answer he wanted to hear.
Dressed in his kitchen whites, with a kerchief nattily tied around his neck and his balding pate ribboned by a wisp of graying hair and a goatee impeccably maintained, I could envision him hard at work over a stove on the flagship of the Italia Line almost a half-century ago.
Vincenzo hosts a yearly party for Doria survivors at his restaurant on the anniversary of the sinking. "It was the best ship in the world", he told me as he told anyone who asked, "but everybody know that. But the thing is when you write this book you got to tell the truth about what happen. Captain Calamai was right."
A natural response for the aggrieved, one might suppose. Vincenzo Della Torre was no sailor. He was a 22-year old cook aboard a luxurious ocean liner and knew little about the intricacies of maritime right-of-way but who was to blame for the sinking of a pride of a nation is serious business to people like Della Torre. And rightly so. The Andrea Doria was not only a magnificent ship, she was emblematic of the times and most of all she was the product of a proud people from a struggling nation who wanted the world to see that it was still capable of producing a masterpiece.
Genoa has always been Italy's window to the sea. Once a mighty city state that rivaled Venice for power and prestige in the Mediterranean, Genoa produced Italy's two greatest mariners, Christopher Columbus and Andrea Doria (1468-1560). While Columbus' name is more recognized around the world, Andrea Doria had the more swashbuckling career.
Doria was captain-general of the Genoese navy from 1512 until the city was taken over by the Spaniards in 1522. By 1528 he helped restore independence in allegiance with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Once liberated from the oppressive yoke of Spain, he went on to lead the sea battles in the bloody wars against the French and the Barbary pirates. Andrea Doria also helped Charles V capture Tunis and saved the Holy Roman Empire from a disastrous expedition against the North African city of Algiers in 1541. As a statesman, he was not above immersing himself in the bloody Genoese feuds and conspiracies. Much like his American counterpart George Washington, Andrea Doria is often referred to as "the father of his country." Doria is also credited for being the first mariner to devise a method for sailing a ship against the wind.
After a distinguished career, Andrea Doria retired to a monastery at 87. Such monastic retreats were the rewards for exemplary public, but his service to his city was not over. When France tried to annex the nearby island of Corsica, Doria was called to duty and once again successfully led the fleet to victory. Andrea Doria finally died at 93, an extraordinary long life at the time.
None too surprisingly the name Andrea Doria would grace the transom of many an Italian ship. A brig called the Andrea had the honor of being the first foreign ship saluted by the independent United States.
In 1949 Italy was still struggling to raise herself from the ruins of World War II. World tourism was blossoming and bringing the incredible wealth to many nations. Italy had many cultural and architectural treasures to lure tourists to her shores. The reconstructed country turned to Genoa, to provide a vessel of transportation to bring hordes of dollar-laden tourists to Italy.
There was plenty of competition for transatlantic tourism: England, France, the Nordic countries, and the United States all had stately ships to entice travelers. Not to be undone, the world famous Ansaldo Shipyards in the Genoese suburb of Sestri laid the keel for what was to be the most elegant ship of her time, to be named after the naval hero, statesman, and innovator Andrea Doria. On May 22, 1950, to the cheers of the proud Genoese, the newly christened Andrea Doria slipped into the shimmering waters of the Ligurian Sea.
It took another eighteen months for the ship to be outfitted for transatlantic service. The owners of the ship, the Societa de Navigazione Italia (Italia Line), decided against competing with the British and the Americans in building the largest and fastest of ships. Instead the Italia Line wanted to entice their passengers with luxury and art and built what was to later be described as a "floating art palace." they also wanted their ship to incorporate the latest techniques in shipbuilding and spared no expense.
The Andrea Doria had a revolutionary design: the fore-body section incorporated a radical flare, which terminated forward in a knuckle and a bulbous bow - a feature designed to reduce drag and increase speed. The well-immersed cruiser stern allowed for a free flow of water over the propellers, and the propeller shafts were fully enclosed in bossings that were arranged to suit the stream-line flow.
The Ansaldo yards used a new technique of prefabrication in association with electronic welding, with some assemblies weighing in at 27 tons. The hull was divided into eleven watertight compartments by means of transverse watertight bulkheads extending to the main deck, with a collision bulkhead carried to the upper-deck level. The bulkheads were distributed to provide a two-compartment standard of floodability. The hull contained seven decks, the superstructure had four and rose over a hundred feet above the water line. The Andrea Doria also had a double bottom extending almost the entire 697'2" of the ship.
The power and speed the ship produced was mind-boggling. Her massive twin- turbine engines were fired by high-compression steam generated by four main water-tube boilers and two auxiliary boilers. She cranked out 35,000 horsepower and could maintain an average speed of 23 knots for the duration of her Atlantic crossing. In the process she burned ten to eleven tons of fuel oil an hour.
The Andrea Doria sailed with a complement of officers and crew of 575, a one to three ratio in crew to passengers. Shipbuilders did not like to use the term "unsinkable" since the Titanic disaster 40 years before, but the term, an echo of history, got bandied about nevertheless.
In event of a maritime accident, her Italian builders spared no expense in safety equipment. Twenty life boats accommodated over 2,000 passengers, or more than the ship carried. She had 33 fire safety zones. Each one of them could be sealed off in case of a fire within. In an age before they were required the Andrea Doria had an automatic sprinkler system and a carbon-dioxide fire-smothering system. The ship even had its own hook-and-ladder fire fighting company.
As far as creature comforts, the Andrea Doria was without equal. Antiques and modern art by Salvatore Fiume, Luzzatie, and Ratti were evident everywhere. Paintings, murals, mirrors, ceramics, and crystals adorned the walls 3of the massive ship. The 31 public rooms provided an average of 40 square feet of recreational space for each of the 1,290 passengers that the ship could comfortably accommodate.
For the moneyed elite, the Italia Line provided four unique deluxe First Class staterooms were designed by Italy's top artist-designers, each consisting of a bedroom, sitting room, powder room and bath.
As for the rest of the ship, luxury was broken down into three classes, first class, cabin class ( second class, ) and tourist class ( third class. ) First class could accommodate 207 passengers, cabin class 376, and tourist class 707. All first and cabin class staterooms had private showers and toilets. The entire ship was air conditioned, and each class had its own dining room, bar, lounge, movie theater, recreational area and swimming pool. The three swimming pools sat terraced in the stern section of the ship, as one contemporary account described, "in country club settings of tables, sun umbrellas, pool bars and white-waistcoated waiters." Construction costs for hull and machinery alone reached $30 million, and the art and furnishings equaled that.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Andrea Doria was not her detail, her machinery or even her inboard treasures, but the image she struck steaming across the horizon in her full glory. I was a witness to that very vision on more than one occasion.
I grew up in the Rockaways a sandy spit of land extending out from the western end of Long Island. Sitting on the jetty-girded beaches of the Rockaways I witnessed many of the glorious entrances of the proud ocean liners, now long since gone.
The Cunard's Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, the French Ile de France, and the SS United States, and America, all fell under my spellbound view sitting there on the ocean's edge. But it was the Andrea Doria that took my breath away. Her jet-black hull, and the gleaming white superstructure, the rakish single smokestack emblazoned in Italy's colors of green, white, and red made for entrancing a sight as I had ever seen. Those long elegant sweeping lines would forever characterize Italian design for me.
Sitting on that Rockaway beach so many years ago I never dreamed that I would visit that exquisite ship, half-a-lifetime later, in her grave at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Glamour shot of the Andrea Doria.
( photo courtesy of the Mariner's Museum. )
At 58 Superior Captain Piero Calamai had spent 39 years of his life at sea. A merchant marine cadet, he was awarded the Italian War Cross for military valor during World War I when he was only 18 years old. As a reserve lieutenant commander during World War II he was awarded again the War Cross for valor. Over his career he served as an officer aboard 27 ships in the Italian merchant marine before being rewarded with the command of the pride of the Italia Line - the newly launched Andrea Doria.
Captain Calamai was not the gregarious sort. "Dignified but distant" was how his Senior Chief Officer Luigi Oneto described him. He found the social obligations aboard a luxury ocean liner distasteful. A shy, introverted man and a teetotaler, he preferred sharing meals with his officers in their private dining area to the ostentatious soir?copy;es in the passenger dining rooms that had become the obligatory duty for any ocean liner master. Ever the proud captain, however, he was always willing to give tours to those interested in the machinations of navigating an immense floating city, from his command center on the bridge.
Calamai was revered by his subordinates. He was always discreet enough to take a man aside and advise him of his mistakes rather then humiliate him in front of his peers. He had the aristocratic demeanor of a polished, concerned, and educated man. His swarthy, sea-weathered countenance was a habitual presence on the bridge of the Andrea Doria, and he rarely took refuge in his comfortable captain's quarters.
After weighing anchor at Genoa on July 17, 1956, the Andrea Doria made three scheduled stops at Cannes, Naples, and Gilbralta. At precisely 12:30 pm Friday, July 20 the Doria bid adieu to Europe with 1,134 passengers and 401 tons of freight. Among the cargo was a very special automobile: the Norseman an experimental prototype designed and constructed by the Ghia plant in Turin for the Chrysler Corporation. It represented an investment for the Detroit automobile giant of $100,000 and they were anxiously awaiting its arrival stateside.
Captain Calamai piloted his ship on what was called the "Great Circle Route." After skirting the Azores to the northwest, the Andrea Doria steered a course due west for the Nantucket Lightship, the welcoming beacon to the New World.
Captains of ocean liners were always under tremendous pressure to arrive at port on time. Arrival times were carefully calculated with the ship at full speed and any delays meant cost overruns. The additional costs were fuel, meals for passengers, and 200 longshoreman who were hired for the day and who had to be paid. Those were just part of the problem if the ship arrived at dock late. There was also the public relations nightmare of irate passengers late for connections if the ship were delayed in docking. Such were Captain Calamai concerns on the evening of July 25.
One hundred and sixty miles east of the Nantucket Shoals the Andrea Doria began to run into light patchy fog conditions. Calamai had seen the conditions deteriorate for himself from the exposed bridge wings that extended out from the bridge. The captain knew conditions would worsen once the ship approached the Nantucket Lightship, which was anchored on the southern tip of the shoals. The shoals were infamous for its hazardous fog conditions during July when the warm, moisture-saturated southwestern breeze blew over the frigid Labrador currents emanating from the North Atlantic. Although Captain Calamai had encountered them before, he was always a worrier. Unlike many other ship masters, he did not leave fog watch to junior officers. He remained on the bridge.
Glamour shot of the Stockholm.
( photo courtesy of the Mariner's Museum. )
Earlier that day, some 300 miles away the Swedish-American Liner Stockholm had departed from the 57th Street Pier on the west side of Manhattan at 11:31 am on a hot and muggy summer day. The Stockholm was not in the class of a ship such as the Andrea Doria. Built in 1948, the stark white ship, with its single yellow smokestack, was 525 feet long and her top speed was a respectable 18-19 knots. Her sharply pointed bow was reinforced for following ice breakers, a necessity for the northerly routes she had to take to reach her Nordic destinations.
The Stockholm, a compact ship, was a testament to the frugal ways of the Swedes. She carried only 534 passengers, spread out over her efficiently laid-out seven decks. Her passenger quarters were comfortable but certainly would not be described as luxurious. Because of her unique design - she resembled a very large yacht as opposed to an ocean liner - her cabins for passengers and crew alike all had portals to the sea. The Stockholm had only one indoor swimming pool and just the necessary number of public rooms for her passengers. Overseeing the ship with typical Swedish-American Line efficiency was the austere Captain H. Gunnar Nordenson.
Captain Nordenson, 63 years old and a veteran of 46 years at sea, was a taskmaster. Fraternization between officers and crew was forbidden, as was smoking and coffee drinking while on duty on the bridge. The only words heard in the nerve center of the Stockholm were the orders of the officers and the requisite responses from crew.
The Stockholm followed the Ile de France down the Hudson River. The 793-foot Ile de France was one of the more storied ocean liners of the century. Though an aging lady of the sea and a behemoth by anyone's standards, the much faster French ocean liner left the Stockholm in her dissipating wake. By the time the Stockholm had reached the Ambrose Lightship, outside of the New York Harbor entrance, the Ile had already disappeared over the horizon. Full speed ahead, the next stop for the Stockholm was Copenhagen, Denmark, then on to her home port of Gothenburg, Sweden.
The Swedish-American line was one of the few transatlantic lines that only required one officer to stand watch while the ship was under way. Most ocean liners had two on duty. The frugal-minded Swedes felt their officers could discharge their duties without redundancy. Seven hours and 130 miles out from Ambrose Lightship, Third Officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen relieved Senior Second Officer Lars Enestrom for his four-hour watch.
Seeing to the passengers' needs prior to departure and the loading of cargo and negotiating the tricky narrows of New York Harbor had worn out all the officers aboard the Stockholm. Captain Nordenson had already retired to his quarters for some paperwork but continued to make unannounced visits to the bridge and to check on the ship's heading and scan weather reports.
Carstens-Johannsen, or simply Carstens to his shipmates, had been revived by a few hours of rest, a filling meal, and a steam bath. Before joining the helmsman, lookout, and standby-lookout on the bridge, he had checked out the navigational chart spread in the chartroom just behind the bridge. He also noted the weather forecasts and was not surprised to learn that heavy fog could be expected ahead. Surveying the empty ocean in front of him, Carstens settled into a routine he relished. The tall and robust 26-year old expected his first turn as commander of the Stockholm for the voyage eastward to be uneventful.
Twenty-year-old Ingemar Bjorkman manned the wheel of the Stockholm. In front of him, past the windows of the bridge, was the twilight gloom of the open seas. Bjorkman, who had only three years of sea experience, glanced regularly at the gyrocompass, making sure the course was true to the 90 degrees indicated by the course box which contained three wooden cubes that resembled over-sized dice and read "090."
At 9:40 pm Captain Nordenson arrived at the bridge and without ceremony ordered Carstens to change course to 87 degrees. Carstens immediately arranged the wooden cubes to read "087." Bjorkman turned the wheel so the gyroscope headings coincided with the numbers in the course box. Carstens did not question his captain's change of course. He assumed he wanted to cut closer to the Nantucket Lightship before heading east into the open Atlantic.
Approaching the lightship that close was against the 1948 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. However, the Swedish-American Line was not a signer of that convention, nor was the Italia Line. The convention would have dictated a course 20 miles further south.
Carstens switched his radar scope's range from 15 to 50 miles. The Stockholm was now plying one of the busiest sea lanes in the world. After a few minutes, with just a few blips on his radar screen, he switched it back to the 15-mile range. He checked the helmsman's gyrocompass, then returned his gaze to the featureless seas in front of him, wondering when they could expect the curtain of fog to fall on them.
Captain Nordenson once again left the bridge but not before telling Carstens that he was to be notified once the lightship was sighted. Carstens took a reading of the ship's position by dead reckoning. Ascertaining the position of the ship by dead reckoning was a reasonably accurate and common navigational practice aboard ships at the time - LORAN was still new and not totally trusted and GPS (global positioning satellites) unheard of. In dead reckoning, the present position was determined by the distance traveled in relation to the last knows position. Carstens calculated that the Stockholm was over two miles north of their desired position due, no doubt, to tidal drift.
The Stockholm was now in a deep fog bank. At 10:04 pm Carstens compensated for the drift north by changing the course to 89 degrees, turning the ship in effect more to the south, or to the right. By this time Peder Larsen had exchanged his lookout post with Bjorkman at the wheel. This was the young Larsen's first voyage aboard the Stockholm. At 10:30 pm after a position determination from the lightship's radio beacon, Carstens adjusted the ship's course to 91 degrees since he thought the Stockholm would be approaching the lightship within the two mile safety range. The Stockholm was now deep in the fog bank. With almost zero visibility the radar, fog horn, and navigational lights would compensate for the loss of vision. Glancing at his radar scope still set at the 15 mile range Carstens noticed a blip on the screen.
Aboard the Andrea Doria Captain Calamai still paced his bridge. The heavy cloud of water particles clinging to the ocean's surface had forced Captain Calamai to order his lookout down from the mast's crow's nest to the bowsprit so he would have a better view of what lay ahead. The fog whistle was set to boom its warning every 100 seconds. From a control panel in the bridge, all eleven watertight compartments were shut.
The speed of the ship was slowed down to 21 knots from 23 knots, not enough of a speed reduction to satisfy the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, an internationally recognized agreement. The regulations were somewhat nebulous about the reduction of speed since it was simply stated that the ship should slow to a "reasonable speed." the general rule-of-thumb was a ship should slow to a speed where it could stop half the distance of its visibility. But visibility was virtually nil which meant if the rule-of-thumb were to be followed to the letter the Doria would have to had come to a complete stop. That, of course, was unthinkable. The Andrea Doria was already a projected hour behind its 9 am scheduled arrival. The minimal reduction of speed, nevertheless, was a compromise of safety that would later haunt Captain Calamai.
Fourteen miles west of the Nantucket Lightship, Captain Calamai ordered his helmsman, 59-year old Carlo Domenchini, to follow a course of 261 degrees, which brought them abeam one mile south of the lightship at 10:20 pm. Calamai then changed the course to 268 degrees, on a direct line to the Ambrose Lightship, now only 200 miles away.
At approximately 10:40 pm Second Officer Curzio Franchini noticed a blip on his radar scope. He alerted Captain Calamai of the position of the unknown ship, which was four degrees to starboard and 17 miles away and closing. No officer on the bridge of the Andrea Doria was alarmed since a single ship in front of them - even a ship on a parallel course - posed no serious threat.
The "Rules of the Road," maritime right-of-way, called for ships on head-on courses to turn right for a port-to-port (left-to-left) passing. Captain Calamai determined there was ample distance between the ships, so he continued on his course, which veered left, or out to open sea. The Andrea Doria's master might have acted differently had he known the ship bearing down on his was a small fishing vessel, as he was led to believe, but another fast-moving ocean liner also intent on keeping to a tight schedule.
Second officer Franchini switched his radar scope from a twenty-mile to a seven-mile radius. Surprised at what he saw, he informed his captain that the ship was bigger and moving faster then they had initially surmised. Still, the second officer projected that they would pass each other a mile apart. Helmsman Domenchini was relieved at the wheel by seaman Giulio Visciano. Calamai then made a critical decision.
Calamai instructed Visciano to turn four more degrees to the left, "and nothing to the right." That meant helmsman Visciano was to execute a slow even turn to the left. Such a maneuver was a fuel-saving and smoother turn, but it was also harder to decipher on radar by another ship.
Informed by officer Franchini that the approaching ship was only two miles away and still on a parallel course, Calamai and Third Officer Eugenio Giannini made their way to the wing bridge to see if they could see the ship or hear its fog whistle. Giannini caught sight of its masthead lights. Moments later, the lower forward masthead light and the aft higher masthead light on the Stockholm appeared to reverse themselves. Adding to his horror Giannini saw the red light affixed to the port side.
The Stockholm was turning directly into the path of the Andrea Doria ! Giannini cried out, "She is turning, she is turning. She is showing the red light! She is coming toward us !" Captain Calamai ordered his helmsman a "Tutto sinistre....all left." Visciano frantically turned the wheel hard left.
Hoping to outrace the oncoming vessel, Calamai opted not to attempt to stop the ship or reduce speed, knowing it would take at least three miles to do so. In a split second decision, he also decided against the accepted turn toward the oncoming ship, or turning to his right. Such a seemingly dangerous maneuver was considered preferable when collision was imminent: better to chance a bow to bow glancing strike then a potential mortal blow to the ship's flank.
Because of her mass and forward motion it took half a mile before the Andrea Doria began to respond to the radical course change. The white-knuckled crew on the bridge of the Italian ship watched in horror as the sharply raked bow of the Stockholm appeared out of the fog. All that was left for them to do was to brace themselves. The Stockholm knifed into the Doria, directly under the right wing of the bridge with a sickening, jolting crunch.
The stricken Andrea Doria.
( (C) Harry Trask / Mariner's Museum. )
The Andrea Doria heels over.
( (C) Harry Trask / Mariner's Museum. )
The Andrea Doria succumbs to the depths.
( photo courtesy of the Mariner's Museum. )
Vincenzo Della Torre was relaxing, puffing on a cigarette as he leaned over the ship's port side railing, staring out into fog. His kitchen duties had ended fifteen minutes earlier. He recalled that night from the comfort of his own restaurant and from forty-three years of hindsight.
"I was thrown by the tremendous impact and ran to the opposite side of the ship where we were hit," he told the New York Times. "Fog was heavy. At first I saw nothing, but then I could make out the Stockholm's bow stuck deep in our side. People were rushing onto the deck from inside, panicking and screaming in Italian. 'Calmatevi! Calmatevi!' I hollered. 'Be calm!, Be Calm!' I was wearing my white kitchen jacket and they could see I was crew. Most obeyed me. But, to tell the truth, I was just as scared and panicky as they were."
The memories of that night were still vivid 44 years later in the mind of Pat Mastrincola, of West Milford, NJ. The nine-year old was watching a movie in the tourist class theater that had earlier served as their dining room with his mother. "All of a sudden, the ship made a tremendously hard turn. We all knew something was wrong. The movie screen and projector tumbled over. Dinnerware on shelves behind us avalanched down. The whole audience broke into a panic."
The young boy and his mother scrambled for the exit through crowds of panicked people back to their cabin, at the other end of the ship, where Pat's younger sister was left to sleep. They fought their way through the hordes of frightened passengers to their cabin. Smoke and white powder from the burning insulation ignited by the friction of steel against steel filled the corridors. Amazed they found the little girl still asleep even thought she had been thrown from her bed. Because of the severe list of the ship she had found repose against a tilting cabin wall.
"Eventually, my mom, sister and I worked our way out to the ship's fantail. Then the ship dipped further, to 25 degrees. B and C decks were completely flooded. That's when terror really set in. Mother, sister, and I clung to the ship's high side. The interior was filled with smoke. Splintered steel and lumber were everywhere. There was no where to go. It was foggy and dark. Visibility was zero. There was no sign of help."
Walter G. Carlin, a retired lawyer from Brooklyn, was getting ready for bed in first class cabin #46 located on the starboard-side upper deck. He had just entered their private bathroom to brush his teeth. His wife was propped up in bed reading a book. The next thing he knew he was sent sprawling to the floor. Staggering back into the stateroom he found his wife, her bed, her night table all gone. In horror he stared out of the gaping hole where his wife had been, into the black void of night air, fog, and sea.
Several doors down, Thure Peterson, a chiropractor from New York, had been sleeping in his cabin when the Stockholm struck. He had just fallen off to sleep when he was awoken by a "tremendous thud, the sound of ripping steel". Then he saw a mass of white steel brush by him. He felt as if he were flying through space. He then lost consciousness.
Aboard the Stockholm Captain Nordenson with his officers surveyed the damage to his now idle ship. Stunned to wordlessness, they found that 75 feet of the bow had been reduced to a jumble of twisted and broken steel. Ten crewmen had been asleep in their forward quarters. The ones that were not found to be crushed to death in the accordioned bow had been plucked from their bunks and swallowed up by the sea. In the crush, the Stockholm had lost her anchor chains, spilling all 700 feet of the heavy links onto the ocean floor. The anchor winches were obliterated in the collision. Then they made a shocking discovery.
Swedish sailors heard a plaintive voice calling out in a strange language from the wreckage of the bow. They found a young girl wearing tattered pajamas. No one knew who she was, her name no where to be found on the passenger roster. Fourteen-year-old Linda Morgan had been traveling with her mother and sister aboard the Andrea Doria !
The teenager had been catapulted by the bow of the Stockholm at impact, and the withdrawing wreckage of the bow had somehow scooped the girl up. She was found some 80 feet from what had been the peak of the bow, huddled behind a sea breaker wall. Her younger sister and mother perished in the collision and their bodies were lost to the sea. The New York tabloids christened Linda Morgan the "Miracle Girl." Under her own power the Swedish ship eventually limped back to New York with hundreds of survivors from the Andrea Doria.
Although Thure Peterson regained consciousness and managed to free himself from under the debris of what remained of his cabin, forty-three passengers on the "unsinkable" Italian ship did not. With its ice-breaking bow the Stockholm deep into the heart of the Andrea Doria. All seven lower decks had been exposed to the sea in the shape of a "V" below the wheel house. The bulkhead deck, or A deck, was where the bulkheads separating the ship into the eleven watertight compartments ended. The steel cap at the A-Deck was suffused with seventeen stairways to accommodate passengers. On a military ship, small hatches could quickly be battened down. But the seventeen cavernous stairways of the Doria became conduits for the rush of water and ruptured oil tanks that spilled down, flooding neighboring watertight compartments on the listing ship. The Andrea Doria had been built to survive the flooding of only two of the eleven watertight compartments.
Hollywood movie star Ruth Roman was dancing in the first class ballroom on the Belvedere Deck, the very top of the ship. She later told a reporter from the New York Times that without warning, "We heard a big explosion like a firecracker". Seeing smoke, she left the dance floor in her nylon-stocking feet and rushed aft to her cabin, where her three-year-old son Dickie slept. Awakening the little boy she told him they were "going on a picnic." In the crush of panicked passengers she got separated from her son. Only when she arrived in New York the next day, exhausted and in a state of maternal hysteria, was she reunited with the boy.
Ruth Roman's escape from the stricken ship was far easier than the poor souls in the cheaper cabins below decks. In the bowels of the ship, passengers in B and C decks had to fight their way up pitch-black narrow staircases filled with their terrified neighbors. Cold seawater, fouled by engine oil, cascaded down the stair and passage ways forcing them to pull themselves hand over hand up to the boat deck of the ship across slippery steel rises. The horrible ordeal took many of them over a hour to complete. On A, B, and C decks, the majority of the forty-three victims perished. Most were poor immigrants dreaming of a new life in America; some were nuns returning from a pilgrimage to Rome.
The last person to leave the Andrea Doria were not the officers and captain as thought on that morning of July 26. That dubious honor went to an American seaman by the name of Robert Hudson.
The 35-year old sailor had been injured in an accident aboard a freighter en route to Europe. He had been taken aboard the Doria at Gilbralta and quartered in the ship's hospital for his trip home. Without telling the ship's hospital staff Hudson had taken a more comfortable bunk abutting the ship's hospital and had fallen into a heavily sedated sleep.
Hudson's slumber was not disturbed by the collision or the pandemonium aboard his comfortable sea-going ambulance. When he awoke early the next morning he was alone on the severely listing ship. Hudson struggled with his debilitating injuries for over an hour to reach the stern.
A lifeboat dispatched by the late-arriving tanker Robert E. Hopkins to search for survivors spotted Hudson. The seamen manning the boat were afraid to approach the sinking ship for fear that if the Doria capsized they would be sucked under with it. Hudson alternated between begging for help and cursing his would-be rescuers for an hour and a half. Finally spurred to action, the lifeboat plucked the injured Hudson from the dying Doria and escaped its suction by some ferocious rowing. It was 7:30 am. The Andrea Doria was now a ghost ship waiting to be received by the ocean bottom.
the damaged Stockholm arrives in New York.
( photo courtesy of the Mariner's Museum. )
What was later described as a billion-to-one chance accident was the first collision between two ocean liners in history. The rescue of the surviving 1200 passengers and crew from the doomed ship is considered to be the greatest peacetime sea rescue of all times. Besides the Stockholm, four other ships answered the Andrea Doria's distress call. One of those ships was the Ile de France. She raced from her position 44 miles away to help in the heroic rescue mission.
There is still some mystery today as to how these two huge ships managed to. The collision would never had occurred had the Swedish-American Line subscribed to the Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea. As William Hoffer said on the collision in his book Saved! : "the Stockholm was, in effect, legally driving in the opposite direction on a wide, but potentially dangerous one-way street. Had they [the Swedish-American Line] followed the 1948 Convention, the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria would have passed each other safely at a distance of twenty miles." After a lengthy litigation in a New York court in 1957, the Italia and Swedish-American Lines agreed to an out-of-court settlement, but he controversy continues to this day.
Some maritime experts blame the Italian captain for excessive speed in less than optimum conditions and for failing to execute the port-to-port passing. Captain Robert Meurn, a professor at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, takes a different view. Captain Meurn is a recognized authority on the Andrea Doria-Stockholm collision. He teaches a course in Bridge Simulation Training at the Merchant Marine Academy, and he says the Andrea Doria sinking is a text-book example about what can go wrong when two ships are on a collision course. Meurn is of Swedish descent, and his grandfather taught at the Swedish Merchant Marine Academy. He even remembers meeting the Stockholm's Captain Nordenson as a boy in Sweden. He says he had all the built in prejudices when he began to examine the accident. Still he came away with a surprising conclusion: "the majority of the blame I attribute to Carstens-Johannsen."
Meurn has imputed all the data from both ships into the ship's bridge simulator computer at the Merchant Marine Academy. The computer projects images onto a screen and the two ships were put at the distances apart and times that both the Italia and Swedish-American Lines concurred on. Carstens testimony at the inquiry, according to Meurn, did not gibe with the facts.
Meurn explains that Carstens had initially claimed he saw the blip of the Andrea Doria at twelve miles when it was actually only four miles away. In 1956 radar scopes had range scales, which were adjusted by turning a knob. You needed a flashlight to see what scale you were on in a darkened bridge. Carstens, in testimony given at the official inquiry, said he picked up the Andrea Doria on the fourth range ring from the center of the scope. Meurn says Carstens wrongly assumed he was on the fifteen-mile scale where the fourth ring would have indicated the blip was twelve miles away, when in actuality it was on the five-mile scale, making the fourth ring just four miles away.
In accordance to the Rules of the Seas, Carstens testified, he then came about right at 23:05 (11:05 pm) at the supposedly 12-mile mark when he realized the ships were on reciprocal courses. Captain Calamai had the Stockholm correctly plotted from as far away as seventeen miles and rightly assumed if the courses were held the two ships would safely pass each other starboard-to-starboard three quarters of a mile apart. Still the Italian captain came left to increase the distance between the two ships.
As to the charge the Andrea Doria did not reduce speed significantly in fog conditions Captain Meurn has only to point to the SS United States. In 1952 the American ship set a transatlantic record with an average speed of 35.59 knots even though the ship was in heavy fog half of the time that she took to cross the Atlantic. Captain Meurn explained: "In those days they all went at full speed through the fog. If they [ocean liners] slowed down every time they encountered fog they [ship captains] would have been relieved of duty. They had schedules to maintain."
Five minutes before the collision, the Stockholm had changed position and came right toward them without signaling with the two sharp blasts of the fog whistle as required. According to Captain Meurn, at that very moment the Andrea Doria's fate was sealed.
Meurn also believes Carstens was afraid to call the captain when the blip of the Doria was first seen. Meurn describes Nordenson as having an intimidating presence. Carstens, a third officer, should not have been alone on the bridge under such conditions with another ship rapidly approaching it in an opposite direction.
According to Meurn, Carstens "fabricated" his account of seeing the Andrea Doria's red light (on the port side) when he made his last desperate turn to starboard minutes before the violent encounter. The computer simulator proves that the turn was made later, some 30 seconds before impact, much too late to avoid it.
Meurn believes that some good came out of the tragedy. An agreement by all ocean lines shortly after the accident required two officers on the bridge during a watch and VHF radio contact between ships was established.
Hearing of Captain Meurn's conclusions brought a sad smile to the face of Vincenzo Della Torre. As with any tragic mishap or senseless act of violence, there is the term closure for the victims. But for Della Torre there is some satisfaction in knowing the love of his young life was not responsible for her untimely end. Nevertheless, the thought that the sea is now her grave is an unbearably sad thought for the Italian expatriot. He still grieves the loss.
For those of us who love the sea, the loss of human life is tragic but there is no disgrace for an ocean-going vessel to find rest under the waters. Had the Andrea Doria been able to avoid the bow of the Stockholm she would have certainly gone on to serve transatlantic passengers for many more years. They would have been wowed by her structural beauty, her service, her elegance, and her art work. But eventually her utility would have come to an ignominious end, as it does for all successful ships. If not the jet airliner, it would have been age that would have done the grande dame in. Had the whims of fate not interfered, the Andrea Doria would have been stripped of her artistic trappings soon enough and her hull would have been scrapped - the ultimate indignity for any proud ship.
To divers like me the only real tragedy of that night of July 25, 1956 was the loss of those lives aboard the two ships. But the Andrea Doria still lives. It is just that her life goes on many fathoms under the sea where only an intrepid few get the chance to relive her charms.
reprinted from Sport Diver magazine, March / April 1996
Beneath the predictably unpredictable Atlantic, the luxury liner Andrea Doria will mark its 40th year on the sea floor on July 26. Largely intact, the Andrea Doria is one of the premiere wreck dives of the world. As mountaineers pit themselves against Denali or the Matterhorn, divers challenge the Atlantic to achieve a summit more than 200 feet below the waves. Most divers vehemently deny any desire to visit the Andrea Doria; a good thing since it is not a dive for "most" divers. After all, who would want to jump off a perfectly good boat 60 miles offshore, in 250 feet of water, in an area where 2 or 3 knots of current can develop in minutes and where 10 to 20 feet of visibility is often norm?
Yet as many as a 100 divers a year make one or more journeys to the Doria, three-quarters of them grizzled veterans, the rest nervous first-timers. If you are one of the breed that thrives on adventure and challenge, if you feel an almost mystical attraction to the "Grande Dame," now is the time to start preparing. The equipment, planning, training and experience necessary to dive the Andrea Doria can't be acquired overnight.
Plan to double up on large-capacity steel cylinders; 100s or 120s are ideal. The 160 cubic feet of gas available from double aluminum 80s is a marginal supply when the dive depth is between 180 and 230 feet ( where the goodies are. ) However, when choosing cylinders, keep in mind the dive is not over until you're safely back on the boat, and that means negotiating a ladder. Somehow the ladder seems to get higher and steeper, and the rungs farther apart, in foul sea conditions. Most divers choose to manifold their tanks together, allowing them access to the air in both tanks from one regulator. The second outlet is for a completely redundant regulator. High-pressure seat failure, freeze-up and a severed hose are only a few of the dozen or more catastrophes that can beset you. Switching and still having access to all of your gas allows for an orderly retreat.
Diver John Yurga, geared up
and heading down to the
Look for a Navy class-A rating or equivalent performance from your two main regulators. The density of air at depth and the sheer volume of gas to be moved at seven ATAs ( 200 feet ) makes breathing from sub-class-A regs feel like sucking a thick milkshake through a straw. Ease of hose configuration and resistance to freezing are other high-priority features to consider.
A drysuit is essential to protect yourself from the 40-degree bottom temperatures and the amount of time you'll spend submerged. Near the surface the water may be as warm as 70 degrees, but don't count on it.
Jacket-style BCs are virtually unheard-of in the deep-dive community; back-mounted flotation has become de rigueur. The streamlined profile and 60 pounds and more of lift are highly desirable with double steel tanks. The integral harness system can be customized with D-rings and other carriers for equipment. Items you'll see incorporated onto a harness are varied: knives, backup lights, jon lines, retainers for regulators, argon bottles, primary lights, lift bags, tools, goodie bags and strobes, to name a few.
Because there are no small mistakes at 200 feet, redundancy is the watchword. Carry two of every item of equipment vital to your health and well-being while underwater.
It is possible to dive the Doria without incurring decompression - but why bother? Most deep-diving novices choose to do a 15-minute bottom time to start; as experience and skill levels increase, bottom times move to 20 and 30 minutes with total in-water time of 1. 5 to two hours. Dive computers are used, but only a few meet the criteria of the Doria diver. Computers that go out of range at 150 or 200 feet won't cut it, so look for a unit with a depth range of more than 250 feet. Second, the computer must calculate and tell you what your decompression is, not simply that you're in a decompression situation.
As for non-computer diving, there are always the dive tables. if you plan on diving the second-class china hole in 210 feet, however, the U.S. Navy standard tables won't work for you; they only go to 190 feet. A little more difficult to find are the Navy Extreme Exposure Tables, published in the U.S. Navy Diving Manual.
A third option is custom-generated tables. A half-dozen or more proprietary software programs are available that allow divers to create tables to meet their specific needs, but the programs are not idiot-proof. Garbage in, garbage out is the rule. This software will create tables for any depth, duration and gases that you designate - without expressing an editorial opinion.
Anyone with a credit card can buy the necessary equipment, but diving the Doria is far more than equipment. Physical and mental preparedness are essential. You are the one who has to be able to carry those doubles up a ladder in 4- to 6-foot seas, you have to be prepared to swim against and decompress in a ripping current, and you must be able to problem-solve underwater. Choosing not to dive except in "perfect" conditions is not enough. Conditions can change quickly - a dive that started perfect can deteriorate to ug-lee in the 90 minutes you're in the water.
On a recent Doria dive I was happily decompressing, floating about 10 feet off the decompression line in calm, no-current conditions. In less than a minute the current picked up to a rate described by divers as screaming. Hanging out off the line, I was nearly swept away. Getting back to the line and completing my decompression was a brutal test of endurance, not to mention an entertaining show for the other divers on the line. On an earlier trip, a diver was swept away when he was swimming down the anchor line without holding on. At about 100 feet the current changed from zero to "uh-oh." When the diver failed to return after his dive, a search was instituted, and after several hours of searching the diver was located adrift, miles behind the boat.
Another vital part of your preparation includes knowing how to use all that equipment. A line reel and lift bag are worthless or even dangerous if you don't. Line reels and lift bags are used to send artifacts to the surface and/or to create an on-the-spot ascent line if the boat's ascent line is not avail- able - i.e., you're lost. Tying off to the wreck means you will arrive at the surface within sight of the boat and be able to remain there if necessary.
The Andrea Doria, named after one of ltaly's most beloved admiraIs, was the pride of the Italian Line. Launched in 195 1, she was touted as a floating art gallery; paintings, sculptures, tapestries and ceramic friezes were located throughout the ship. Decorative appointments in the way of china, crystal, silver and hand-painted vases were lavish. July 25, 1956, the Doria, under the command of Capt. Piero Calamai, was feeling her way rough a thick fog toward New York. A short distance away the out-bound Stockholm steamed full speed ahead under a moonlit sky. A misinterpretation of radar data that has never been satisfactorily explain brought the two liners together in a fatal collision. Forty-six of the Andrea Doria's passengers died, more than 1,600 were rescued. Shortly after nine the next morning, bubbling furiously in protest, the Andrea Doria surrendered to the sea.
Many Doria divers favor large reels wound with 300 feet of sisal because it deteriorates rapidly and won't become a permanent hazard on the wreck. The reel is mounted between the tanks and secured in place with large rubber bands at the top and bottom. A leash fastened to the bottom of the reel and secured to a D-ring on the diver's harness allows for easy access. To deploy the line, grab the end of the leash and pull. Clip the lift bag to the end of the line, secure the artifact ( if you've got one, ) tie your reel off to a stationary object, inflate the bag and allow line to spin off the reel. Then cut the line, tie it off, stow the reel and exit with panache.
Another item that requires practice is your manifold. Not only do you have to know how to use it, but you have to know which items are operated by which regulator. If the high-pressure hose for your gauges blows - which regulator do you shut off? Where are your inflator hoses? If you have to shut down one reg, it is always nice to have BC and suit inflation on different regs so you don't lose all your buoyancy control.
A favorite deep-diver exercise is to conjure up all the horrible things that could go wrong and decide ahead of time what are the proper responses. The object is to never be in a situation where your only option is prayer. Actual in-water rehearsals - other than on the Doria - are good ideas. Simulate regulator failure. Can you reach the valves? Quickly? More quickly than the tank can drain from a seat failure? Can you reach your line reel and lift bag? Can you deploy them quickly? Time yourself. If it takes five minutes to deploy an ascent line, what will it do to your deco? What will it do to your air supply? It takes a lot of gas to send a bag up from 200 feet, and this has to be taken into consideration. Five minutes is an eon at 200 feet. Practice shooting a bag until you can do it in less than two minutes.
Navigating the wreck can be a mental challenge too. The Doria lies on her side, so the floors and ceilings are the walls and the walls are the floor and ceiling. Confused? Try it under the influence of nitrogen. It is difficult to formulate a big picture in your head; the visibility limits you to seeing the wreck in 20-foot sections.
Expect spartan accommodations on all the boats, some more so than others. Private cabins are nonexistent. Bring your own sleeping bag and pillow. Ear plugs will help ensure you get a good night's sleep. "Meals included" ranges from professionally prepared meals to hot dogs and potato chips.
The Doria is 50 miles from the closest point of land so expect to be at the mercy of the weather. July is the best month, but it is still possible to get blown out. Make sure you know what the blow-out, cancellation and refund policies are for your boat. At least one boat has a "no refund" policy.
You need to decide on the amenities that are important to you and choose a boat accordingly. Find out how many set of tanks you should bring; is air included? Oxygen? How long has the captain been going to the Doria? Have they ever had to cancel a trip? Why? What weather constitutes a blow-out? If the boat goes out no matter what, do you really to be out there no matter what? Ask lots of questions; caveat emptor. If at all possible, dive with the boat before you decide.
Don't just expect to sign up for a Doria trip. Expect to document your credentials. Be prepared to give references. The deep-diving community is a small one, so it is virtually impossible to get the background needed to tackle the Doria without meeting, training or diving with some of the heavyweights.
The diver mentioned earlier, who didn't hold on to the anchor line and was swept away, reported that he landed in the sand at 165 feet and swam around for a while looking for the wreck. Well, his story got a real laugh on the surface because the sand is at 250. The hull is at 165! There was such a vast expanse of featureless hull in all directions that, combined with a little nitrogen, he thought he was on the bottom.
The Andrea Doria is 700 feet long and had 11 decks. The upper two decks have now collapsed into the sand. Lifeboat davits draped with trawl netting protrude from the boat deck; a yawning cavern is all that remains of the funnel. The next deck is the promenade. The enclosed portion runs for several hundred feet in the midsection of the wreck; the windows that protected the promenade from the sea have collapsed downward so you can swim along the walkway where passengers used to stroll. Aft on the promenade deck you can swim in the third-class swimming pool. The forward end of the promenade terminates in an area known as the Winter Garden, from which two ceramic sculptures by artist Guido Gambone were recovered in 1993. It was a major salvage project; the panels weighed more than 800 pounds apiece. ( According to John Moyer, organizer of the project, the area that the massive panels were recovered from has since collapsed. The panels would have tumbled to the sea floor to certain destruction. )
Just below the forward end of the promenade is an opening known as "Gimble's Hole." It was cut into the wreck by a team led by Peter Gimble in 1981 as part of an attempt to recover two safes. Now divers use the opening to access the gift shop, first-class dining area and kitchen. Studying deck plans can help you figure out where you are, and likely places to search for souvenirs. But keep in mind that many of the walls and partitions are gone. Landmarks that you may be counting on for navigation might not be there.
The descent line is usually tied in along the promenade deck close to either first, second or third class, depending on which spot is "hot" ( producing artifacts ) or what projects divers are working on. Plan to spend several dives learning the outside of the wreck before considering penetrating.
Veteran Doria divers have come to realize they are witnessing the end of an era. As the interior bulkheads yield to the sea and decks buckle and collapse, each visit marks an irretrievable moment in time. Too soon all that will be left of the Andrea Doria will be rubble ... and the stories, film images and artifacts divers have accumulated.
The Italia Line ( or Italian Line ) was founded in 1932 by Benito Mussolini by merging several smaller shipping companies that were failing in the Depression. The line's first new ship was the famous liner Rex, which for several years held the Atlantic crossing record. The Italia Line proved to be a great success, but all of it's major vessels were destroyed in World War II.
After the war, the line restarted with two ships, the Andrea Doria and her identical sister Christoforo Colombo. After the loss of the Andrea Doria, the Italia Line immediately ordered a replacement, which was delivered in 1960. The Leonardo da Vinci was essentially an enlargement of the same design, and closely resembled the Andrea Doria, although with many detail improvements. All three ships suffered from a flawed hull design which rendered them somewhat unstable in rolling, something that probably contributed to the capsizing of the Doria.
The line's final ships were the enormous Michelangelo and Raffaello, which were retired in the early 1980s, at which point ocean cruising had been largely replaced by air travel. Italia continues in operation today as a freight line, now a subsidiary of CP Ships ( Canadian Pacific. )
Doria was born at Oneglia of the ancient Genoese family, the Doria di Oneglia branch of the old Doria, de Oria or de Auria family. His parents were related: Ceva Doria, co-lord of Oneglia, and Caracosa Doria, of the Doria di Dolceacqua branch. Orphaned at an early age, he became a soldier of fortune, serving first in the papal guard and then under various Italian princes. In 1503 he was fighting in Corsica in the service of Genoa, at that time under French vassalage, and he took part in the rising of Genoa against the French, whom he compelled to evacuate the city. From that time onwards, he became famous as a naval commander. For several years he scoured the Mediterranean in command of the Genoese fleet, waging war on the Turks and the Barbary pirates.
In the meanwhile Genoa had been recaptured by the French, and in 1522 by the Imperialists. But Doria now joined the French or popular faction and entered the service of King Francis I of France, who made him captain-general; in 1524 he relieved Marseille, which was besieged by the Imperialists, and helped to place his native city once more under French domination. Dissatisfied with his treatment at the hands of Francis, who was mean about payment, he resented the king's behaviour in connection with Savona, which he delayed handing back to the Genoese as he had promised. Consequently, on the expiration of Doria's contract he entered the service of Emperor Charles V (1528).
Doria ordered his nephew Filippino, who was then blockading Naples in alliance with a French army, to withdraw; Doria then sailed for Genoa where, with the help of some leading citizens, he expelled the French and re-established the republic under imperial protection. He reformed the constitution in an aristocratic sense, most of the nobility being Imperialists, and put an end to the factions which divided the city. He refused the lordship of Genoa and even the dogeship, but accepted the position of perpetual censor, and exercised predominant influence in the councils of the republic until his death. He was given two palaces, many privileges, and the title of Liberator et Pater Patriae (Liberator and Father of the Fatherland).
As imperial admiral he commanded several expeditions against the Turks, capturing Corona and Patras, and co-operating with the emperor himself in the capture of Tunis (1535). Charles found him an invaluable ally in the wars with Francis, and through him extended his domination over the whole of Italy. Doria's defeat by the Turks at Preveza in 1538 was said to be not involuntary, and designed to spite the Venetians whom he detested. He accompanied Charles on the ill-fated Algerian expedition of 1541, of which he disapproved, and by his ability just saved the whole force from complete disaster. For the next five years he continued to serve the emperor in various wars, in which he was generally successful and always active, although now over seventy years old; there was hardly an important event in Europe in which he had not some share.
After the Peace of Crepy between Francis and Charles in 1544, Doria hoped to end his days in quiet. However, his great wealth and power, as well as the arrogance of his nephew and heir Giannettino Doria, made him many enemies, and in 1547 the Fieschi conspiracy to upset the power of his house took place. Giannettino was murdered, but the conspirators were defeated, and Doria showed great vindictiveness in punishing them, seizing many of their fiefs for himself. He was implicated in the murder of Pier Luigi Farnese, duke of Parma and Piacenza, who had helped Fieschi.
Other conspiracies followed, of which the most important was that of Giulio CibÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â² (1548), but all failed. Although Doria was ambitious and harsh, he was a patriot and successfully opposed the emperor Charles's repeated attempts to have a citadel built in Genoa and garrisoned by Spaniards; neither blandishments nor threats could win him over to the scheme. Nor did age lessen his energy, for in 1550, aged 84, he again put to sea to punish the raids of his old enemies the Barbary pirates, but with no great success. War between France and the Empire having broken out once more, the French seized Corsica, then administered by the Genoese Bank of St George. Doria was again summoned, and he spent two years (1553-1555) in the island fighting the French with varying fortune.
He returned to Genoa for good in 1555, and being very old and infirm he gave over the command of the galleys to his great-nephew Giovanni Andrea Doria, the son of Giannettino Doria, who conducted an expedition against Tripoli, but proved even more unsuccessful than his uncle had been at Algiers, barely escaping with his life. Andrea Doria left his estates to Giovanni Andrea. The family of Doria-Pamphilii-Landi is descended from Giovanni Andrea Doria and bears his title of prince of Melfi. Judged by the standards of his day, Doria was an outstanding leader.
The name Andrea Doria has a long-running tradition in the Italian Navy:
Andrea Doria of 1885; an odd ship, to say the least,
but typical of the freakish designs of her day.
Andrea Doria's namesake battleship, circa 1940.
Launched 1913, extensively rebuilt 1937-1940, scrapped in 1957. She survived World War II war mainly by staying out of it - her 13" guns would have been no match for the British ships in the Mediterranean. Scrapped in 1957. This battleship was smaller than the liner Andrea Doria.
Cruiser Andrea Doria C553, 1963-1991
( also had a sister Caio Duilio )
The newest Andrea Doria - frigate D553, launched 2005