He’s spent days alongside Fidel Castro on his private island, built the world’s first underwater hotel, and discovered underwater graveyards. Absolute Travel sits down with undersea explorer, Ian Koblick, who’s bringing his passion for the seas, and the chance to be a part of them, to the rest of us on an extraordinary Explorers Club Trip to the Aeolian Islands.
Update July 10: Ian and the Subsea Explorers have completed their first submarine excursion in the Aeolian Islands. We checked in with him to find out what it’s like to journey to the bottom of the sea in the “Lexus of submarines” and spot amphora no one has seen in thousands of years.
Ian, you have just returned from your Aeolian islands submarine exploration trip tell us about it.
Ian: I have been exploring the oceans for 50 years and I can honestly say that this was one of the most awesome underwater experiences I have ever had. To travel to the bottom of the sea in comfort and safety is wonderful. To come up on an ancient Roman shipwreck and be the first person in 2000 years to actually lay eyes on the cargo, still in tack in its original cargo configuration, is beyond words. To think of the last person who handled the cargo but never made it home is eerie and fascinating.
Seeing the remains at the bottom of the ocean unfolds a torrent of questions. The ships were carrying mundane, everyday goods—a Roman delicacy spicy fish sauce called Garam, wine, and brass statues all headed to Rome—but disappearing and lying wait for so many centuries brings a whole new meaning to the everyday act of transporting these products. To think of who the sailors were, their life stories, the interactions they had on shore just before they set sail becomes a whole screenplay and puzzle.
You were traveling in a state-of-the-art-submarine. What was it like?
Ian: The C Explorer 3 U Boat Worx sub is a Lexus of submarines. Not only is it safe, comfortable, and reliable, but the best aspect are the crystal-clear 360-degree views that make it possible to carry out all photography from inside the sub—no need for expensive underwater cameras. This was essential as our mission was to create a 3-dimensional photo mosaic of the wreckage. In order to do this, we needed to capture about 500 to 700 photos of each site.
Tell us about the A-Team you had on board.
The expedition was a world class team of experts. There was my partner Craig Mullen who is an expert in deep-ocean recovery, Cosimo Malesci a photojournalist from Italy, Gerhard Seiffert our photo mosaic computer expert came from Germany, our ROV operator Daniel Nordstrom came from Norway and the Sub operations staff of U boat Worx from Holland. We were directed and assisted by the Superintendent of the Seas.
What did you accomplish?
Ian: Our mission was to recreate the wreckage on land using a complex 3-dimensional mosaic of photographs, to verify the size of the wreck, determine the type of amphora that it was carrying, and determine how much damage had been done to the ships from fishing over the past centuries.
We’ve been invited back for a second dive next year! So if you did not make it on this expedition there is another opportunity.
Is it fair to say that you live in the ocean?
Ian: The ocean has been my life. I have lived in it, explored it and carried out research in it. I have tried to make others aware of how important it is to our lives and our children’s lives. I built the Jules Undersea Lodge, first as a research habitat where we lived for weeks at a time on the edge of the Continental Shelf, and then as the world’s only underwater hotel. This was to allow the average person a chance to experience what we were so fortunate to live.
You have unlocked the secrets of the seas for more than half a century. You have been on the forefront of underwater exploration searching and discovering buried treasures and living a life similar to Jacques Cousteau. What sparked your passion for ocean exploration?
Ian: As a kid I wanted to be an explorer but I did not like the idea of climbing cold mountains. My father showed me a National Geographic where William Beebe had descended in a sphere to the ocean depth and seen strange things that no one had seen before. I said, “That’s where I want to go.”
Your extraordinary discoveries include finding an underwater graveyard of five ancient Roman shipwrecks off the coast of a Mediterranean Island, which was featured on the National Geographic Channel the Lost Ships of Rome. How did this impact your career? Will participants on this trip visit the same or similar sites?
Ian: The ships near Panarea Island, Sicily are similar but one in particular is very interesting because it is not a typical Roman cargo. We will know more after this summer. With respect to my career, I don’t know that it has or will have any impact. We have found about 28 Roman ships and a submarine and many World War II wrecks. They are all fascinating parts of history and I get excited every time we find one.
An underwater moment you’ll never forget?
Ian: A couple of the most memorable include when I brought up the emerald cross and Bishops ring from the Atocha, on my birthday. These days you can see that cross in the Mel Fisher Museum in Key West. When I went spear fishing with Fidel Castro was pretty exciting and sailing across the Atlantic with my wife and two boys was a great experience.
You must elaborate on spearfishing with Castro!
Ian: I was invited as part of a congressional delegation to visit Cuba. We were looking at normalizing relations and how we could establish positive trade relations. There were only ten people in the delegation. We went to his private island and spent two days just diving and talking.
You have gone to great lengths to share this love for deep sea discovery with the more typical traveler including working with local governments to gain access to areas previously off-limits to travelers and acquiring a $3 million private submarine. What motivated you to do this?
Ian: There is so much out there. Every time you find something you open a little window into the past. It brings the past alive. I found a Spanish sword one day and the next day I found its matching dagger. I looked at them and thought about the soldier who last held these things as the ship broke apart and what were his last efforts to save himself.
You mentioned there are archaeologists and researchers involved on this trip. What kinds of interactions will participants have with this special crew?
Ian: The participants will become part of the team assisting in data collection and reviewing the day’s work. For example, learning to identify Amphora by their shape and size, where they came from and what they might have been carrying and how old they are will be part of the experience.
You’ve said that during this ocean exploration travelers will have the chance to discover relics that haven’t been seen by human eyes for over 2,000 years! Unbelievable. What can people expect to do with these discoveries—pick them up? Dust them off? Where will they go?
Ian: We will see thousands of artifacts. Some will be common, but others will be unusual and they may be recovered and taken to the local museum for conservation and identification. Participants will have the opportunity to be part a part of this fascinating process.
Your passion and love for the ocean is crystal clear. Your desire to protect it and share the ocean with others is honorable. We are compelled to protect what we know, after all. Why did you choose to promote this special trip with Absolute Travel?
Ian: Absolute Travel’s travelers are explorers and adventurers—they have the spirit of discovery we are looking for. And of course you are the travel partner for the iconic Explorers Club!
Speaking of, you have been an Explorers Club member since 1978, the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award, teacher, revered ocean protector…what do you do when you’re not living on the bottom of the ocean?
Ian: I like to ride horseback in the mountains. I have ridden in more than 9 countries. And I sail around the world with my family whenever I can.
More information about this extraordinary Explorers Club Trip offered by Absolute Travel and SubSea Explorers:
Participants can undergo three two-hour missions in the $3 million submarine built with 360-degree views and can safely travel to depths up to 1,000 feet. The submersible can carry two guests who will work with a marine archaeologist and the personal submarine’s pilot. Together, they will have the opportunity to uncover the mysteries of the wrecks, whose wooden frames have deteriorated but whose amphora and cargo remain intact. Under the supervision and direction of the Superintendent of the Seas of Sicily, Sebastiano Tusa, some artifacts are to be removed from the seafloor to be curated and displayed in local regional exhibits. Participants will work alongside archaeologists at their excavation sites to get an insider’s perspective into their work.
The program offers eight one-week missions in 2015: June 20-26; June 27-July 3; July 4-July 10; July 11-July 17; July 18-July 24; July 25-August 7; August 8-August 14; August 15-August 21. One week archeology submarine program includes: 3-person air-conditioned submarine, support ship, support crew, all required equipment, villa hotel and meals. Program cost per person is $19,700; 6 person maximum. Up to $9,700 of the total cost per person may be treated as a charitable contribution to Aurora Trust Foundation.
Alternatively, travelers can choose to stay on their own yacht. The cost is $145,000 for a group of up to 10 people. Up to 75% of the total cost may be treated as a charitable contribution to Aurora Trust Foundation.
Koblick and his not-for-profit Aurora Trust Foundation in conjunction with the Superintendent of the Seas of Sicily; SubSea Explorers, a marine archeology expedition company; and U-Boat Worx, a Dutch mini-submarine manufacturer, offers the program.