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Exploration

The Devil In Your Dive: My 70-km Traverse of the St. Lawrence River

Award-winning filmmaker, explorer and tech instructor Nathalie Lasselin spent 30 hours underwater braving a 70-kilometer stretch of the St Lawrence River surrounding Montreal, in the interest of water conservation—the river supplies 80% of Montreal’s drinking water and 50% of Quebec’s. How do you prepare for a scooter dive that includes drinking, eating, and sleeping underwater, while avoiding becoming Seadoo fodder? Nath tells all.

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by Nathalie Lasselin
Images courtesy of N. Lasselin

You must have heard that idiom: “The devil is in the details.”  
If there is a god for the divers, trust me there is a devil as well.
Let me tell you how I met him.

Everything started years ago, when I began to ask myself  a recurrent question. I live in Montreal, and each time I come back home by plane, we fly over the St Lawrence river, and I couldn’t stop asking myself: What would it be like to traverse the entire island of Montreal in that river? If you take a closer look at the St Lawrence from up there, you will see a dark, greenish-brownish body of water flowing with rapids in different sections, being spanned by seven bridges, and containing lots of heavy ship traffic going to the great lakes.

But still, I had to see it with my own eyes, to feel it with my own body!  A dive so different from all my past experiences, having dived deeper than 110 meters in caves, in strong currents, in nearly no visibility, filming wrecks, and in the freezing water of the Canadian Arctic. I’d had years of training, teaching, exploring, and had always questioned the best way to do things (meaning the most suitable way to achieve my goals) And now I wanted to check it out, I had to try it. I had to do a lengthy, 70-kilometer/44-mile traverse in an impetuous river. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It looked insane and not sexy at all for a dive plan, but my options were to attempt it,  or to one day become an old woman and regret that I hadn’t at least tried. Regret seemed worse.  

I started the preparation for my Urban Water Odyssey: The 70-km scuba diving traverse of the Saint Lawrence River from one end of the island of Montreal to the other, knowing I had to be obsessively meticulous about all the little details in the preparation for the dive on many different levels. There would be equipment, logistics, team, training, environment, a dive plan, mindset, as well as mental, physical, and psychological preparation. I was headed for a different kind of dive, one that would involve more than 30 hours of immersion in the water. 

So where to start? There was no guidebook, no written instructions for a dive like that. The challenge: A 70-kilometer obstacle course with a total time of more or less 30 hours in water, in rapids, strong currents, in low visibility, with structures—including ships and other hurdles such as  big rocks—to avoid.   

People didn’t understand why this project was so important to me. I  explained that one of the most important reasons for my passionate curiosity about this magnificent river had to do with the fact that the St Lawrence river is the source of drinking water for 80% of Montreal and 50% for the population of Quebec. We humans cannot live without water for more than three to five days, and we tend to take it for granted that clean water will flow when we simply turn on our taps. This alone was enough motivation for me to pursue my ambitious plan. 

In addition to the dive, I also wanted to collect water samples from the river, and planned to do so every 15 km/9.3 mi in the countryside and every 4 km/2.5mi in the city over a 350 km/217.5mi distance. My hopes for these samples was to determine how many and what kind of contaminants were present. The analysis would be handled by the chemistry department at the University of Montreal. As an underwater explorer, I felt privileged to be able to witness this environment first hand, and felt the need to do whatever I could to protect this most critical source for all life and make the public aware of the situation.



Preparing To Make The Dive

Going back to the basics, physically I needed to be on the top of my game and be fit for the dive, and I had to train differently to have a perfect core.  In order to do the dive safely, I would be towed by a DPV in one direction with a surface marker buoy attached to me that was going to pull me in the opposite  direction. My team had to know at all times where I was in order to give me an azimuth to follow so I would stay on my path. Anyone who had ever done a couple of hours of DPV with a CCR, bailouts, and some extra equipment, would understand easily how the pain slowly makes its home in your body. 

Of course, even if the water was around 20ºC/68ºF, after hours of immersion, cold could be an extra challenge, and I would have to eat and drink underwater to keep my energy. I trained to use a Kirby Morgan M-48 MOD-1 full face mask. My only option to go from OC to CCR, in order to have communication, would be to remove the mouthpiece part to eat and drink at the same time, as my safety diver would be keeping an eye on me. So I trained myself to be able to eat, drink and even sleep underwater using auto-hypnosis. 

More on Nath’s training: Drink, Eat, Sleep Underwater

Mentally, I had to be prepared to face doubt, adversity, fatigue, and pain. I had to  trust in the dive plan and my safety team. My motto, once I was in the water, would be that I had one job to do: go from A to B. The rest would not be in my hands anymore. 

To complete the picture, the logistics was undoubtedly the most time- consuming and delicate task when faced with the unknown. With a constrained budget, I had to figure out so many aspects to follow: the divers had to be trained to help me replace equipment underwater, to take samples for the scientific aspect of the mission, to obtain all the required pieces of equipment for the dive itself, and finally to put together three independent surface teams to relay with each other at specific points with five different boats. No one boat could follow the entire dive because of the nature of the river.

Over the months of planning, I gathered tons of equipment with the help of partners, manufacturers, and individuals in order to have the famous redundancy for every single item, from different pairs of fins in case it hurt too much on the arch of my feet, to back up CCR, and DPV. I decided to do the entire dive with my AP Diving Evolution CCR except for the 5 km of rapids that I would do on open circuit. 

Nearly one-third  of the dive is in non-navigable waters. The marine map is just white, no data, which means shallows, insane current, and numerous hazards. In that portion, I would face currents from every direction and intensity, as well as currents that were too strong to fight. Basically the river would beat me up and make me do loops and turn 360 in every direction. So for the rapids, being light on OC seemed to be my best option, which went nearly perfectly. 

Asking the Right Questions

Here some tips about how to ask the right questions. When preparing a dive—an expedition—we are not just divers anymore. At the end of the day, diving may be the easiest part, since we have the training, the skills, the equipment, the redundancy, and our regular dive buddy. But before, after, and during the dive, we are a traveler, a potential first emergency responder, a cook, a boat captain or passenger, and a guide. And, we might face adversity we had never encountered before with people in our group that we never worked with during a high stress situation. What we can do to make sure:

  • We agree on our what-if solutions
  • We know and are ready for our dive plan
  • We prepared our dive trip to perfection  
  • We have a harmonious, collaborative, and fun group of people who all agree on their roles and positions, on their strengths and weaknesses, without judgment.

With all these components, what is funny is that to a certain extent we do have control over them, and that may be why it is easier to list them, plan them and think about them. So if we do your job, a decent one at least, we should be all good to go for our next challenging or adventurous dive.

We took some time with the teams to train the divers and I told each of them, don’t trust yourself, don’t trust me, I may make mistakes. So everything should be double-checked and logged in the “Project Bible’’. As it got closer to D-Day, I asked myself what it was that I hadn’t thought of. I wondered what it was that would be obvious afterwards.

D-Day At Last

My dive started Friday September 14, early in the morning. At that time of the year in Montreal, mornings were usually filled with fresh humidity, and temperatures didn’t rise much. Except that day! 

One could think, “Well that was good news for the team on the safety boats. They would just drink less coffee or hot chocolate to keep them warm.” Nobody could be against a warm, sunny day on the river, right?  Nobody except me.  Because of that amazing, warm temperature, every single person who could take a day off from the office and who had a boat was on the river. Even if the river is pretty wide in Montreal, there is not a lot of water. The deepest part is in the seaway channels that need to be dredged. 

Sharing the rivers between marine traffic, pleasure boating, seadoo, kayakers, and stand-up paddle boards was not a good mix. Adding a diver into the equation, knowing that most of the people did not understand what a dive flag was, did not bode well for my project.

So guess what my beautiful path on paper and waypoints on the GPS became in a couple of hours? Nearly useless. Sharing the rivers between marine traffic, pleasure boating, seadoo, kayakers, and stand up paddle boards was not a good mix. Adding a diver into the equation, knowing that most of the people did not understand what a dive flag was, did not bode well for my project.

Finally I ended scootering with the shallows. In the St Lawrence river, like in many other bodies of water nowadays, invasive plants are taking all the sun and warmth of the water to grow up to the surface. In a matter of hours, I had transformed myself into an underwater lawn mower, overusing the batteries of the scooters and having to clean the props way too often.  


Nath’s harrowing incident: Close Calls: Nathalie Lasselin

That little warmer weather detail had a huge impact on the entire project.  What was supposed to take me an hour, based on all the proof of concept dives, took me twice, triple the time. I did all I could do not to stop, to go in the straightest line possible with my divers giving me a fresh DPV, a syringe of avocado or some high protein soup in a soft bottle. 

We worked all together with the first team that was supposed to be out of duty around 1 PM. Instead, by 10 PM, my dive supervisor said, “Either we pull the plug and you try it another time next year, or you agree to get out of the water and wait until sunrise to keep going.” It was true that I couldn’t cross the rapids in the dark. It was too dangerous and the supervisors knew they couldn’t guarantee the safety of not only me, but the entire support team, so they called the dive for that day. 

Braving The Rapids was No easy feat!

It was my own dear project. A project that couldn’t be completed without a support team, and in circumstances so much more different than any other dive.  The entire team of 25 persons involved agreed to stay with me no matter how long it took. 

The next morning at sunrise, I dove back in the river for another 15 hours.  The challenge was not easier on this day because marine traffic was even more intense than the first day.  Being in low visibility, low contrast, for a very long period of time, with fatigue, I started to experience the Charles Bonnet syndrome. Basically I saw things—colors, shapes that did not exist. At first I was surprised and then amused by what I saw as free entertainment to help me complete what was a monotonous scooter dive with not even five feet of visibility. My body was exhausted, my vision was impaired, but my mind was all there, so happy to imagine the point B.

At the finish line at last.

By Saturday at 10 PM, 12 hours after the planned ETA, I finally arrived at the finish line with the support of all my team. After the dive, it took me a couple of days to get back to a normal level of energy without any injury. The dive gave me the media visibility to talk about the adventure, to describe the team work, and to explain about the importance of the river as the source of our drinking water. 

My second piece of advice: No matter if it is a small dive or a big adventure, prepare for it the best way you can, with reminders and lists. Practice your skills with well-maintained equipment. By keeping an open mind, a close team working toward the same goal, with the humility and the flexibility to switch to the safest back-up plan, your adventure might be a different one, but still will be the most rewarding one, and the dream of one individual may become larger than themselves, “plus grand que la nature.” 

Additional Resources

Nathalie Lasselin’s Urban Water Odyssey Facebook Page

Discovery Channel: Nathalie Lasselin prepares for her traverse through the St. Lawrence River. 


Nathalie Lasselin is an award-winning filmmaker and producer. She trained at the National Film Board of Canada and is an arctic dive expedition leader, CCR, cave and wreck explorer and instructor. As an international speaker, a writer, and on-camera talent/technical dive specialist for TV shows, she shares her passion for discovery in a challenging environment. For the past years with her project, Urban Water Odyssey, diving the 70 km/44 mile long shore of Montréal, she brings people together to raise awareness and better action towards the preservation of fresh water. She is also a Women Divers Hall of Fame (WDHOF) inductee, Royal Canadian Geographic Society (RCGS) member, and a member of The Explorer’s Club.

Exploration

Stefano Carletti: The Man Who Immortalized The Wreck of the Andrea Doria

Poetic Italian explorer and instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini reveals the inside story of Italian adventurer Stefano Carletti, who wrote the first book—Andrea Doria – 74—on the wreck of the Doria. Carletti penned his work after participating in the first expedition to film the failed luxury liner in 1968, led by Italian cinematographer Bruno Vailati, along with cameraman Al Giddings.

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Text and archives research by: Andrea Murdock Alpini

Header image: The dive deck of the Narragansett used by Vailati’s expedition.

Restored Images from the Book “Andrea Doria-74” (2021, new upcoming press by Magenes Editoriale). Courtesy of Luca Maresca

Original images from Ansaldo Archive based in Genoa: Antonio Pacucci, chief curator of Archivio e Fototeca Fondazione Ansaldo

Stefano Carletti is an adventurer, scuba diver, aviator, fisherman, and storyteller. He has told many stories about his great love, the sea; he has searched for hidden treasure on the seabed; and he is a man with a soul that mirrors the many moods of the sea—sometimes calm and placid, and other times stormy and unpredictable. The story of Stefano Carletti’s life is an extraordinary tailor-made adventure illustrated by sea life and narrated with books and articles which have fascinated audiences in the past as well as today. One of the stories he is likely known best for is that of the ship the SS Andrea Doria. 

The Andrea Doria was a fascinating ocean liner that sailed from  Italy to New York City. She was a symbol of class, taste, and refinement. The ship was launched on June 16, 1951, for its maiden voyage crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Genoa, Italy, to New York City on January 14, 1953. Andrea Doria remains a symbol of a bygone era. To travel on the Andrea Doria was a dream for many—from the anonymous third class passengers to the rich and famous first class voyagers whose names were well known: Magnani and John Ford, Orson Welles, Cary Grant, and Spencer Tracy, amongst others.

Andrea Doria in the shipyard – Archive Rare Image Fototeca Fondazione Ansaldo

On a damned night—July 26, 1956, to be precise—the magnificent ocean liner sank off the Nantucket shoal after a long, agonizing struggle in the ocean’s current. The cut in her hull made by the MS Stockholm tore apart the right side of the Doria. Commander Piero Calamai was the last man to disembark from the doomed ship, the accident having struck his soul so deeply that he spent the rest of his life obsessed by the event. 

As the Atlantic Ocean closed up its waters, surface foam was all that was left of the most beautiful ship ever built in the modern era. Nationwide, TV channels broadcast scenes of the abandoned dreams of a nation as the muddy seabed of the ocean welcomed the magnificent Andrea Doria vessel and transformed it into a myth. 

In the summer of 1968, Bruno Vailati, the Italian film maker and scuba diver, gathered a crew of adventurers to travel to the USA to film the wreck of Andrea Doria. They were the second film crew to visit the wreck, though the first led by James Dugan, a colleague of Jacques Cousteau reportedly were not successful. Vailati’s crew was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei, Al Giddings, and finally Stefano Carletti: the man who made  Doria’s wreck immortal. The expedition was “provocatory” and demanding.

Coming back from the expedition to Rome, Stefano Carletti wrote the first book ever about the wreck of the Doria entitled, Andrea Doria -74 (the -74 refers to the depth of the shipwreck in meters). The book is a collection of feelings and rare images caught during scuba dives onboard the expedition’s side ship, Narragansett, where Stefano and the crew spent a month. 

Historic poster

The first edition of the book has now become treasured possession for collectors world-wide, and a new updated edition with restored images, a new introduction from the author, including a critical essay from me (Andrea Murdock Alpini) will be soon available. The book will be a stunning new opportunity for wreckers and historians to own a re-edition of the extraordinary book into their private library. 

Similarly, more than fifty years later, Bruno Vailati’s documentary by the same title, Andrea Doria -74, has become a cult classic. Thinking of the Andrea Doria invokes hundreds of emotions for Italian scuba divers. History, for us after all, is a foundation on which we build our lives. In the end, the wreck of the Doria will disappear into the Atlantic seabed, but her story will live on. After all, immortality is a destiny reserved only for the great beauty of the world.

I was honored to be able to interview Stefano and bring his thoughts and words about the Doria, which had been hidden by time, to a new audience.  

Interestingly, the Doria was, of course, launched in Genoa in 1951. Two decades later, in 1971, a son of the same city, Fabrizio De André, composed a vinyl album inspired by The Spoon River Anthology from the American poet Edgar Lee Masters. The disc title, “Non al denaro non all’amore nè al cielo” (Nor to money, not to love, or the heaven) well describes the pure spirit of Stefano Carletti. [Listen to the track here] He loved, dived, flew, discovered, wrote, explored, and bequeathed his stories throughout his life. Here is the story that he told to me.

Andrea Murdock Alpini: Who is Stefano Carletti, today?

Stefano Carletti: Stefano Carletti is an eighty-year-old man, a kind of living anecdote. In fact, on May 1 [2021], I will turn 82 years old.  

Congratulations! Do you remember the winter evening dinner we had in Rome with Paolo Barone? He granted us a small ink bottle which he had taken from the wreck of Laura C., sunk off Calabria’s shore. Our story started with an ink pen and some stories to be remembered and told.

Of course, I remember that great dinner we had together in Rome. One of the first ice-breaking questions was about my writing practice, a world we both love. Writing is an activity that has been with me all my life, and by the way, one I never gave up to go to the Sea. 

Stefano Carletti entering the water to dive the Andrea Doria

At present, I own a small fishing boat that makes me happy during the summer time, from early June to September. Usually, I sail the central and southern Mediterranean Sea: Sicily, Sardinia, Tunisia, and Libya are favorite spots where I have fished for decades. Fishing is an expression of freedom to me. This activity allows me to return to a special place where I have been going for forty years.

I am also still a scuba diver. I haven’t abandoned diving, I don’t miss an occasion to go scuba diving with good friends. However, I look at the sea with different eyes from the ones I had as a boy.  

Before we started our interview you said, “The sea is a kind of amniotic fluid.” Can you tell me what you mean by that?

The sea has a moral and aesthetic sense for me. It has become a primary biological requirement over the years for my state of mind. It enables me to tell sea-based stories in my novels, and in this way I feel that the sea loves me.

Do you think of yourself as a scuba diver or a fish hunter with scuba gear?

Stefano Carletti sull’Andrea Doria

The world has changed.  Once a long time ago, the main goal of scuba diving was hunting fish. All was born by the limits that freediving imposed at that time, but scuba gear opened a new world, and we went deeper and for a longer time. We had, for the first time, a chance to catch huge-sized fish. We saw ourselves as hunters more than scuba divers. 

Fifty-sixty years later I am aware that I have taken advantage of the Sea. My confessions are not those of an old man, for I was aware of what I was doing at those times too, but surviving to live this long has allowed me to admit my transgressions.. I wrote a book some decades ago titled “Naumachos”, and one chapter reads as a sort of regret. By the way, it was another time with different rules. 

Sponges, red coral, fishes, ancient Roman urns and wrecks—that was what I hunted in my life to earn my daily bread. We did things that were so close to being illegal that probably today if you tried them, you would go to jail. The sea belonged to all who were crazy enough and brave enough to explore it.  Wrecks? Those were considered “Res Nullius” (nothing) as ancient Latin people used to say, wrecks never belonged to anybody. There were no rules on this matter.

So what is a shipwreck to you today?

A wreck, first of all, is a terrible loss. Economical, psychological, and human. The wreck signifies the loss of mortal human beings who end up on the seabed. 

How did the idea to film Andrea Doria’s wreck come about?

That is a very funny story that occurred while Bruno Vailati was onboard the Giaggiolo minesweeper, a ship which belonged to the Italian Navy. In 1967, Bruno was sailing onboard the Navy ship and went to Lampedusa Island (a remote and small Italian island close to Tunisia’s shores). At that time, I was living on the island and working as a shark hunter, and you know the Doria is famous for sharks. Bruno Vailati was preparing a set of documentaries about sea life titled, “I Setti Mari” (The Seven Seas) and was interested in filming some wrecks from WWII that I had discovered on the seabed that were unknown.

Bruno Vailati filming Stefano Carletti on the Doria’s wreck, photo by Al Giddings

One evening Bruno invited me onboard the Giaggiolo to meet with him. He told me that a group of French explorers who worked with J.Y. Cousteau did not succeed in filming the wreck of the Doria, and had lost an ROV off Nantucket shoal. Intrigued by this little-known information, I played a joke on him and told him that I had a connection with a member of Cousteau’s crew and boasted that “If the Andrea Doria were here, I would be able to break her down, bolt-by-bolt,” as I had dived many, many wrecks

Some months later, during winter time, I saw Bruno and we worked together on the film we had planned since summer. Once again, Bruno Vailati caught me by surprise, “Stefano! Set up a press conference, and we will announce that we are planning an expedition to Doria’s wreck!”

You were surprised?

I was. I didn’t know anything about this beautiful ocean liner except the chronicles of its sinking. I didn’t even have an exact idea of where it was. The Expedition Board asked us to provide accurate historical research and to write a report after each scuba dive we made on the wreck. As I began to work on this matter, I found an air of mystery about the sinking and the wreck. 

We had the Doria’s Loran coordinates which were taken by Doria’s Commander Piero Calamai, and we had been secreted by the American Coast Guard and Marine Navy. However, most of the information I found about the wreck was inaccurate; articles were in contradiction with one another, and a lot of the details were wrong. We spent almost a week at sea trying to get a signal from the wreck, while calculating currents, fog and wind, before finding the Doria on the bottom.

I believed the whole story must be told. Our expedition was known to history as a large-scale expedition, but in truth we sailed only for a great adventure. 

So how did you feel about the expedition? Were you drawn by the Doria or the shipwreck itself? 

The Andrea Doria expedition was born as kind of an afterthought. I merely followed the intention of the filmmaker, Bruno Vailati, to film an Italian wreck that had sunk in difficult conditions—not only the sea’s surface conditions, but also the surrounding waters. All contributed to the factors that piqued our interest about the wreck. 

Our goal was to produce good quality images of the luxury liner on the seabed as an episode for the “I Sette Mari” Italian TV series. At the time, we were not yet fascinated by the Doria; we simply went to the US to do a job. Emotions initially played little part in our trip. We were not engaged with either the ship or the wreck. 

Stefano Carletti si prepara all’immersione sull’Andrea Doria.

Every time I watch the movie Pulp Fiction I love the way Samuel L. Jackson says, “Hamburger: The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast!” Stefano, nowadays, as I’m sure you know, decompression diving is to tech diving, what hamburgers were to Jackson’s Pulp Fiction breakfast. LOL! Please tell me a little about your nutritious decompression diving.

Ha! Well Andrea, first I do remember our expedition breakfasts onboard the Narragansett quite well. I can tell you we had a black coffee, milk, and a healthy Italian breakfast prepared by Chef Mimì Dies and his assistant. After breakfast, we made two consecutive dives on the wreck of the Doria, which we planned according to the tides, fog, swell, and current.

We dived on air with 12-liter twinsets, wetsuits, deco tables, and watches with a bottom timer. We didn’t carry any deco cylinders. I used to drag a hemp rope to the bottom as a main line to find the way back to the boat.  Typically, we spent 20 minutes on bottom each dive with an average depth of 55-75m (179-245 ft), and our decompression times varied from 35-45 minutes breathing air and later oxygen, which was supplied by the surface at 9 meters, 6 meters and 3 meters. Sometimes we spent that deco time inside a shark cage we built. 

Stefano Carletti revealing the name Andrea Doria one letter at a time.

Diving the Doria was hard; the ocean was cold, visibility was often poor, and our lamps seemed like candles in the night. Of course we were also carrying heavy movie equipment. We recorded more than 2km of film, and made thousands of photos. We each spent about 21 hours diving the wreck in the month we were there! We had a great expedition.

The Doria has been called a death wreck, a fatal scuba dive, the Mount Everest of scuba diving. What is your perspective?

Today, you can see videos on YouTube of scuba divers diving the wreck of the Doria. Most of them carry large amounts of equipment they may consider necessary; whereas simpler, more streamlined technology would be more efficient and might even save lives. The excess equipment itself makes Doria’s dive dangerous, not the wreck. 

I’m also sure, in some cases, inadequate skills and lack of fitness put many divers at risk. It’s true, too, that so many divers are interested in retrieving artifacts from inside the wreck, which puts them in danger. They have transformed a mid-level difficult dive into a “fatal dive.”



And that’s why it has a bad reputation?

The Andrea Doria does not deserve to fill the black chronicles of scuba diving. Too many poor souls have lost their lives, which is why it has been called “fatal dive.” I trust that the Doria is not a “fatal” wreck, and not even a difficult dive; however I think it is necessary to rethink the current way to approach diving this amazing wreck. If this were done, lives could probably be saved. A dive becomes “fatal” if the scuba diver makes it so. The wreck has no responsibility at all. 

The Andrea Doria, what an amazing fate; from Dolce Vita’s luxury liner to a shipwreck. People say that today there are more Doria artifacts stored in American households than there are on the Nantucket shoals seabed. Each year the Doria is cannibalized by scuba divers from around the world. Did you keep any memorabilia from your exploration?

I have never removed any relevant memorabilia from the Doria’s wreck. Most of our scuba dives took place in the exterior part of the ship. I have gone inside the wreck only a very few times. I went to the commander’s deck, and I remember the helm and the stunning windows. To tell you the truth, I dived the Doria to tell a story, to write a book, and to make a film—that is to do a job—not to gather souvenirs. During my dives, I took just five or six First Class forks from the Doria’s dining room, and I gave them all to special friends. All I have left are my memories.

At the end of the final dive, filmmaker Bruno Vailati said, “We turned back and we looked at her.” For the first time he appears melancholic. It seemed like the great filmmaker finally put aside the job and revealed his feelings about the ship. 

The last dive we made was during incredibly flat and calm sea conditions with no current. The visibility for the first time was stunning. I can say it was the only dive I had on Doria with crystal-clear visibility. It seemed that the wreck showed herself to us. During the previous 21 dives we had never really seen the Andrea Doria; we had only an idea of it because the strong current and the cold water with tons of plankton had hidden the wreck from our gaze. In fact, the majority of our dives were more tactile than visual. 

Those times, what was in front of our eyes could have been a common ship. But on our last dive, when I brushed away the silt from her beautiful name letter-by-letter, I will never forget when the name “Andrea Doria” finally appeared to me. Yes, it is true, when we did the last amazing dive, we turned in awe, and said, “Arriverderci” to the ship.

The commemorative plate that Carletti placed on the wreck of the Doria. It says, “We come here to do a job, to enable the impossible and the Andrea Doria turns back to the light”

Additional Resources:

LA Times (1990): Bruno Vailati; Producer Known for Sea Footage

Bruno Vailati’s Andrea Doria-74 (In Italiano)

Andrea Doria-74 is a 1970 documentary directed by Bruno Vailati, a film director specializing in marine and underwater films. The film was the first documentary able to show, in an organic and complete way, the wreck of the Italian ship Andrea Doria, which sank 14 years earlier. He received the David di Donatello Critics’ Award and the “Jury Prize at the Paris Film Technology Congress.” Filming took place in July 1968, during 21 dives on the wreck, with a diving group composed of Bruno Vailati, Stefano Carletti and Al Giddings, while the surface assistance group was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei and the crew. ship Narragansett, chartered for the purpose. Source: Wikipedia.

Newsreel: Divers Go Down to Andrea Doria One Week After Sinking

Alert Diver (2016): Remembering the Andrea Doria by Michael Menduno


Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and CMAS technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming, and writing. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of Phy Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. Recently he published his first book entitled, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti.

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I trained with self hypnosis prior to the dives in order to help me to be more at ease with pain resulting from the long hours being towed by the DPV and pulled by my buoy and the weight of a full face mask and helmet. It also helped me to fall asleep underwater.

The technique initially uses mental concentration on a visual focus point (in my case it was my thumb) as well as introducing a well-rehearsed mental suggestion to induce a specific state.  After some minutes, your head becomes so heavy that you just fall into a state of sleep. It is not real sleep that occurs when you are asleep in your bed. It is more like a trance state in which you can be aware of your surroundings—in my case, I was aware that my safety diver was holding my hand and observing my breathing—but you simply can't move. You don't want to anyway, because you are so peaceful and relaxed; 20 minutes in deep hypnosis can feel like four to five hours of sound sleep. 

I trained for several months nearly every day in order that my brain and body would know exactly what to do without my direction, without the guidance of my audio commands. With training, it became like a muscle memory in a sense. Practicing auto hypnosis underwater is very different than doing so on your couch at home. I thought It would be hard to breathe, but it worked very well.

 

 

NATHALIE LASSELIN

UNDERWATER CINEMATOGRAPHER

EXPEDITION LEADER / SPEAKER / TECH INSTRUCTOR 

 

LOCATION OF INCIDENT:

ST LAWRENCE RIVER, MONTRÉEAL

On Saturday, I kept on going, diving the rapids and the bridges. I didn’t reach the end before night. With heavy boat traffic and other challenges, everything took more time. We changed gear again for night set-up, but we were getting close to the end, finally.

 

We were just 3-4 km/1.8-2.4 m from the end. In the pitch-black night of Montréal, in the pitch-black waters of the river, I was scootering my way, looking at my compass when I heard Anne Marie screaming: “Nath, come up, come up now!”

 

Her tone of the voice did not leave room for question. I tried not to come up too fast, and when I reached the surface, something hit me directly at the bottom of my CCR tek frame, and it pushed me fast. I was under a boat; if I slid, I would have my legs directly in the props. I tried to free myself, but I couldn’t. I was trapped!

 

"Nath are you OK?"

I couldn’t understand. Was I OK?!

I was stuck under the boat!

 

The seconds passeds in slow motion. I realised this was my own boat pushing me. I  recognized the sound of the hull of the pontoon against the CCRframe. I didn’t want to slide and reach the props. I asked myself: “Why don’t they stop? Don’t they know I can’t free myself?”

 

Find the rest of Nathalie’s story in Close Calls. You can order the book here. Fifty-percent of the net proceeds got to DAN Europe’s Claudius Obermaier Fund