Chris Welsh, Chief Submersible Pilot for Virgin Oceanic
By Fredrick Gary Hareland
“Flight to the Bottom of 5 Seas”
Chris Welsh, Chief Submersible Pilot for Virgin Oceanic By Fredrick Gary Hareland “Flight to the Bottom of 5 Seas” Like the ancient mariners of Psalms 107, we modern, professional mariners,â€ Go Down to the Sea in Ships to do Business on Great Waters”. We still get to see the wonders of the deep but according to Sir Richard Branson, British billionaire and owner of the Virgin panoply of companies, only about 10 % of those wonders of the deep have been discovered much less seen by man. Sir Richard and California businessman and world class entrepreneur Chris Welsh intend to change that sad state of affairs for 21st century man with their recently formed Virgin Oceanic and challenging undersea agenda. These two men have collaborated in order to send another manned submersible, Graham Hawkes’ Deep Flight Challenger, the world’s only full-ocean-depth submersible back down to the deepest spot in all the oceans, the Marianas Trench, which has now been more accurately measured at the phenomenal depth of 36,201 feet below the surface of the North Pacific Ocean. Thus far there has only been one manned ascent down to this depth and that was way back in 1960,when U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss engineer/scientist Jacques Piccard piloted a 51 ton high technology elevator, the bathyscaphe (deep boat) “Trieste” down for a twenty minute look-see and then it was back up to the surface. One of these men, Jacques Piccard, died in 2008 at age 86, leaving 79 year old retired Captain Don Walsh as the only living human being, out of 6.92 billion alive today to visit the Challenger Deep. If Chris Welsh has his way there may soon again be two human beings alive who have dived that deep, but unlike the Trieste which was very lumbering and not very maneuverable, Deep Flight Challenger is a veritable underwater FA-18 which is actually flown underwater.
Chris is one of those multi-talented guys like his late friend and adventurer, Steve Fawcett who excel on the sea and in the sky, and soon under-the-sea as well! Chris was born in Newport Beach, CA. to a couple of real nautical parents who to this day are still members of the Newport Beach Yacht Club. Sir Richard Branson and Chris picked this club location to announce the start up of Virgin Oceanic on April 5, 2011. Chris grew up a sailor and his sailing accomplishments are numerous: five LA-Hawaii crossings and one LA-Tahiti-Tonga-Auckland-Tasmania crossing. In 2008 Chris won the Sydney-Hobart Race for his class of race boat and he also won overall in the LA-Tahiti Transpac Race. Chris also won the 2010 Double Handed Guadalupe Island Race. His sailboat racing passion has kept him in all west coast venues from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas. His latest sailing challenge will be skippering the mother ship for Deep Flight Challenger, one of the worldâ€™ s largest catamarans (125â€™ long,160â€™ mast), the record setting super catamaran Cheyenne (Play Station) the 25,000 miles necessary to complete their mission of diving to the bottom of the five deepest spots on earth, in five different oceans. These include deep dives in the Pacific (36,201â€™ ), Atlantic (28,232â€™ ), Indian (26,401â€™ ), Southern (23,737â€™ ) and Artic (18,399â€™ ) Oceans.
In addition to his extensive sailing experience and abilities Chris is an equally accomplished aviator who holds the following aeronautical ratings: Single Engine, Multi-Engine, IFR, Glider, Seaplane and Helicopter. He has flown his twin engine plane as well as his helicopter on cross countries from one coast of the United States to the other. Since their specially designed submersible has wings and a tail and hydrodynamic control surfaces and maneuvers in three dimensional space just like an aircraft does, his aeronautical training and experience will be a real asset during his underwater forays in Deep Sea Challenger.
Deep Sea Challenger is a fixed positive buoyancy craft that uses gravity to glide down to the bottom and will automatically return to the surface if its forward velocity stops. When it reaches the bottom its forward momentum is maintained by electric propulsion motors with enough battery capacity to allow it to explore over an 11 kilometer range. No other deep diving submersible has that extensive bottom range. This range will come in handy during subsequent exploratory dives because although Virgin Oceanic has the possibility of setting up to 30 Guinness World Records, its true purpose is scientific. To this end it is fitted with High Definition Cameras, Blueview high-resolution, compact multibeam imaging sonar and various environmental sensors.
Virgin Oceanic has assembled a prime scientific team which consists of no less than six doctorates, all luminaries in underwater science. These include Drâ€™ s Patricia Fryer, Sam Hulme, Geoff Wheat, Katrina Edwards, Edith Widder, Doug Barlett and a world famous underwater engineer Kevin Hardy. Kevin is in charge of designing underwater landing vehicles that not only act as a beacon for Chris to home in on ,but will sample and bring back microbes, water and possibly other small creatures from the deep dark depths.
As a military and commercial mariner, I have often looked down at the sea surface and wondered just what lies below. I loved the dolphins cavorting and weaving just in-front of the ships bow, the amazing flying fish, the many pods of whales checking us out, the bioluminescent creatures just below the surface, but what about those 90 % of sea creatures we have never seen? That is why this new push to explore the deep sea is so important!
Who can predict what monumental and fantastic discoveries that will be made during the next two years by Team Virgin Oceanic and Chief Submersible Pilot, Chris Welsh, but I look forward to following their progress and watching them make history, and just maybe getting to finally see some of those unseen critters!