The Hearse Ride...
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Andrea Doria
Considered the Mt. Everest of scuba diving, the shipwreck of the Andrea Doria is the ultimate deepwater wreck diving challenge. Over the years a small but fanatical group of extreme scuba divers have ventured over 100 miles out into the Atlantic, pushing themselves to the very limits of human endurance to explore her remains......and, like Mt. Everest, not all have returned alive. Over a dozen divers have met their fate while exploring this leviathan of the deep looking for their brass ring. A brass ring in the form of treasure, artifacts, photos, or the challenge that would take them closer to the edge than they had ever imagined just to be able to say, "they made it back alive”! What is the lure and who are these adventures drawn to dive deep into the belly of beast of which so many others have not returned, willing to risk it all for the challenge of diving Everest at the bottom of the sea, “The Doria”.
**During World War II Italy's premier trans-Atlantic fleet had been decimated to a mere ten percent of its nearly four million gross shipping tons prior to the war. After the devastating war Italy could not afford to be left behind by the British, French and American shipping lines in the competition for the booming post war Trans-Atlantic passenger trade. Italy began one of the most aggressive ship building campaigns the world has ever seen. In 1951 the most ambitious of those ships would be graced with the name of Italy's most famous admiral, the 15th century naval hero, Andrea Doria. At the time the Andrea Doria was widely believed to be the most beautifully designed ship ever built. The forward sweeping angled lines of the superstructure gave it the elusion of motion even when she was tied to the dock. Her interior was graced with the popular art-deco stylings of the time and the partitions and public rooms were filled with Italian works by some of the most famous Italian artists of the time.
Unfortunately, it would not be the ship's design or the works of art that adorned her common areas and passageways that would make her famous. It would be the catastrophic sinking of this modern ship that would bring her notoriety, making her one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world, second only to Titanic.
Unlike Titanic, the Andrea Doria's sinking would not be known as a disaster, but as one of the largest and most successful rescues ever mounted. Only 56 people died in the initial collision of the two great ships while all the remaining passengers were rescued before the sinking by the ship that stuck her, the Swedish ocean liner Stockholm. Other of her brethren ships would come to her aid.
This would not be the final chapter for the Andrea Doria. Instead, it would be the start of an entirely new career that has lasted to date, or nearly ten times longer than her short career as an opulent ocean liner. After the Doria had settled on the bottom it took only one day before the ill-fated passenger liner would be photographed where she lay. The underwater photographer was adventurer and Gimble’s Department store heir, Peter Gimble. Gimble would become obsessed with the wreck returning to her time and time again. Gimble was involved in the famous commercial salvage operation that cut open the first class foyer doors to recover two of the ship safes rumored to have untold treasures. The bank safe was located, but the purser's safe remained elusive. The dramatic opening of the safe on national live TV was an event of the year in broadcasting. The Doria, however, would keep some of her secrets. The commercial salvage was the last trip to the Doria that Gimble would ever make. He and his wife's remains would later be placed solemnly in the wreck by divers as per their last wills and testaments.
Gimble's commercial endeavor documentary has aired on PBS as, "Andrea Doria, the Final Chapter." But there is no “Final Chapter” when it comes to the Andrea Doria. Although not a living breathing entity the “Doria” lives on. Gimble was not the only one interested in the Andrea Doria. Other divers and film-makers had made their own sojourns to the depths looking for their own brass ring. An Italian film-maker hired then fledgling underwater cinematographer Al Giddings to shoot footage of him and his divers for a documentary to be aired on Italian TV. During Gidding's attempts to film the wreck he made reference to his efforts as to what he imagined it would be like filming a climb on Mount Everest. The strong currents and heavy particulates in the water and the near-freezing temperature were akin to filming in a blizzard. From that day forward the wreck of the Andrea Doria would be known to divers as “the Mount Everest of Shipwrecks.” That moniker would only serve to draw more intrepid divers to explore her mysteries.
July of 2006 will mark the 50th anniversary of the ships fateful plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic. In those 50 years the wreckage of the Andrea Doria, like the fabled mountain Mt. Everest, has had an inexorable draw to men and women who love the adventure and challenge of exploring the depths. Unlike Mt Everest where the only real tangible evidence of your achievement would be photographs. The “Doria” offers hundred if not thousands of brass rings in the form of artifacts. Artifacts like the safes that Gimble sought out as well as countless other objects such as the ship’s bell, brass widows, bridge equipment, helm wheels, fixtures, art work and china. These relics that divers began scavenging from the rusting leviathan initiated a yearly migration of divers from around the globe looking to bring home there own trophy. A physical piece of evidence that says, “I was there”.
Once Gimble had removed the first class foyer doors it was analogous to opening Pandora’s Box and like Mt. Everest, not everyone would make it back alive! The moniker, the challenge, but mostly the bootie makes the “Doria” the most famous, dangerous, and mesmerizing shipwreck in the world. Any diver intent on pushing their underwater envelope would relish an opportunity to plunge into the dark, deep depths and explore the Doria’s last remains for a chance at a brass ring.
Over the years there have been many documentaries produced about the Andrea Doria as a grand passenger liner and of the tragic collision that sent her to the bottom along with the controversy that loomed over the incident for years. But the ship’s career as a shipwreck has now over shadowed her short life as a passenger liner; this is the story of the “Mt. Everest of wreck dives” and the 50 years of divers who have surrendered to the siren call to explore the Mt Everest of shipwrecks, known to them as simply “The Doria”.
The project is being scripted as an indie style film documentary instead of network sponsored so that we can maintain creative control. The basic idea is to interview as many divers from the past through the present day to get their perception on why they wanted to dive the Andrea Doria. What was the lure that made them want to take the chance to dive a shipwreck where so many others came back in body bags. We plan to maintain the divers view by using as little or no voice over as possible. For the lay it’s not just difficult to understand it’s just as difficult to explain. So we thought it best to leave any conclusions that might be contrived up to the viewer.
(** Ship Story).