Friday, November 17, 2023

Don Walsh Belongs To The Ages 1931-2023


U.S. Navy Captain

Don Walsh Ph. D

Belongs To The Ages


King of The DEEP

Legendary Deep Sea Explorer, Don Walsh passed away this week on November 12, 2023. I met and spent many hours interviewing Don Walsh back in 2008 for an article I worked on celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Challenger Deep all-time record set by the U.S. Navy's Bathyscaphe Trieste back in 1960. I really enjoyed the time I spent interviewing Don, and will always remember him as an amazingly intelligent and accomplished Rolex brand ambassador. I remember Don as being very down to earth, humble and extremely knowledgeable.

Don Walsh was one of three Rolex history characters aboard the U.S. Navy Bathyscaphe Trieste back in 1960 when it set an all-time depth record by traveling down 7 miles, with the Rolex DEEP-SEA Prototype (pictured at the top of this story) attached to the outside of the submersible.

The DEEPEST Dive In History

In the late 1950s, the U.S. Navy purchased the Bathyscaphe Trieste submersible from the Piccard's, and hired Jacques Piccard to continue overseeing its testing. 

The U.S. Navy and Piccard were extremely ambitious and after significantly reinforcing the Bathyscaphe Trieste attempted to take it down to the deepest known point in the earths ocean, which was a place named The Challenger Deep, located near Guam in the South Pacific, in the Marianas Trench. Once again, the Trieste was equipped with another Rolex DEEP-SEA Prototype attached to the outside, and of course it came back-up unscathed.

The 1953 Rolex DEEP-SEA Special Prototype

The following ad from Rolex shows the early prototype of the Rolex DEEP-SEA Special that set an earlier record in 1953 on the Bathyscaph Trieste when it set a record of 10,350 feet. This watch differs from the one version that was attached to the Bathyscaph Trieste in 1960 in that it has what appears to be a spinning bezel.

The 1960 Rolex DEEP-SEA Special Prototype

This next ad is from early 1961 and Rolex shares its stunning story of accomplishment. It is fascinating to note that Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex was born on March 22, 1881 and passed away on July 6, 1960 in Geneva, just 6 months after the Rolex DEEP-SEA Special prototype had set the world depth record. 

Han's Wilsdorf's Oyster Perpetual had successfully conquered the top of the world and the bottom of the ocean–his work was done and he must have passed away one satisfied man.


The U.S. Navy mission patch below for Operation Tekton says "Pensate Profunde" which, when translated from latin means "Think Deeply." It also has the Navy dolphin and Bathyscaphe Triest logo.

The illustration below shows the exact location of where the Bathyscaph Trieste set the all-time world depth record in the Challenger Deep section of the Mariana Trench. The Trieste during the time of Operation Tekton was located at the U.S. Naval Station at Apra Harbor, Guam, which is approximately 200 miles north-east of the Challenger Deep.

The Challenger Deep

The following diagram gives a fascinating perspective on the Mariana Trench and the Challenger Deep. It is profound to note that the Challenger Deep at more than 35,000 feet is deeper than the highest point on earth which is Mt. Everest at just over 29,000 feet.

Pictured below, we see a diagram that illustrates just how deep the Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench is at 36,070 feet. Notice the Challenger Deep is significantly deeper than Mount Everest is tall. This excellent illustration really puts things in an accurate and easily understandable perspective.

Anatomy of The

Bathyscaph Trieste DEEP-SEA Submersible

The Bathyscaph Trieste was a work of engineering art and science. In the late 1930's, Jacques Piccard's father, Auguste Piccard came up with an amazing idea to build an "underwater free balloon" that would allow mankind to explore the deep seas.

Auguste Piccard was a mad-genius who had already built the first balloon that allowed a man to reach the earth's stratosphere, and next he applied this same principle toward the ocean. The Bathyscaph Trieste (as diagramed below) was essentially a balloon which Piccard referred to as a float. The float consisted of a thin metal shell that was filled with gasoline. Gasoline is lighter than water, which would allow the float to ascend or climb in the water, once ballast was released.

The float had ballast tanks (as seen in the diagram above) which allowed for positive buoyancy while the float was floating on the ocean surface. The ballast tanks could be vented which would result in filling them up with sea-water, which would, in-turn, allow the Bathyscaph to dive. The dive or descent rate could be controlled or stopped by the release of solid weights which consisted of metal pellets that were in the shot tubs, that could be easily released.

The two member crew stayed in the observation gondola–as seen abovewhich was located at the bottom of the float. The observation gondola sphere was made by Krupp Works in Essen, Germany and was designed to be able to sustain a maximum depth rating of 50,000 feet, which significantly exceeded the deepest point on the ocean floor which was the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench–off Guam. 

The Krupp observation gondola sphere was a magnificent piece of structural engineering and it had walls that were between 5 and 7 inches thick!!!! The photo above of the Trieste model has part of the gondola cutaway so you can see inside, but the actual gondola (as seen below) did not have this feature. Instead, the team would enter from the top of the Bathyscaph and climb down the entrance tunnel–like on a Submarine.

The photo below shows the Bathyscaph Trieste flying the American flag, since it was owned by the U.S. Navy, along with the Swiss Flag, since Piccard was Swiss as well as the Italian Flag, since it was originally constructed in Trieste, Italy.

After they returned from their record-shattering dive, Jacques Piccard sent Rolex of Geneva a historic telegram that simply said:

"Happy to announce that your watch works as well at 11,000 meters as it does on the surface." –Jacques Piccard

The press release below tells the story of the actual Rolex DEEP-SEA Special Prototype watch, and how it ended up in the Smithsonian Institute.

All Time DEEP-SEA Depth Record 

Trieste Descends To 36,070 Feet

January 23, 1960

The photo below shows the Bathyscaphe Trieste out in the Pacific Ocean as she prepares to set the all-time depth record of 36,070 Feet on January 23, 1960.

The Bathyscaphe Trieste submersible took 4 hours and 48 minutes to descended to the ocean floor.

Don Walsh retired from the U.S. Navy as a Captain and went on to earn his Doctorate in Oceanography from Texas A & M University. 

Don continued to be an extremely active explorer and he is pictured below standing in front of the Mir DEEP-SEA Submersible as he prepared to travel down 15,000 feet on an expedition to explore the wreck of the Bismarck. Captain Don Walsh USN (ret), PhD., maintained the title of Honorary President Of The Explorers Club.

–James Cameron 

[National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence].

In the photo below we see James Cameron posing with the National Geographic Society flag, just after he attempted to break Don Walsh's depth record in the same Challenger Deep. I think James Cameron is an amazing explorer, and I LOVE this photo, which has a definite  modern Jacques-Yves Cousteau vibe.

In the photo below we see James Cameron shaking hands with Captain Don Walsh, who successfully set the all-time depth record in 1960 while piloting the U.S. Navy Bathyscaphe Trieste in the same waters. 

Not only was retired U.S. Navy Captain Don Walsh on board, but as a Rolex ambassador, it was his idea to have Rolex collaborate with James Cameron to put a new Rolex DEEP-SEA to this test on this fantastic journey. 

Captain Walsh also served as an indispensable consultant to James Cameron on this epic project, and in the photos above and below we see them after the record dive and Captain Walsh is proudly posing with the original Rolex DEEP-SEA Special prototype that accompanied him on the outside of his Bathyscaphe Trieste, and James Cameron is also proudly posing with the Rolex DEEP-SEA CHALLENGE watch that accompanied him on the outside of his DEEPSEA CHALLENGER Submersible.

In the photo below we see James Cameron's DEEPSEA CHALLENGER on deck in the background, and we see Captain Walsh standing behind a scaled model of the original Bathyscaphe Trieste. It is amazing how cool and historical these images are. Talk about iconic worlds colliding. This photo really captures the core-essence of The Rolex Spirit of Enquiry and Exploration. This is as real as the real deal gets–the OG hanging-tough with the OG. 

I live-blogged James Cameron's conquest of the Deep-Sea on Jake's Rolex World with minute by minute updates as the whole thing unfolded live. It is fascinating to note this is the most outstanding action related Rolex event I have ever witnessed in my lifetime as an adult! 

In this next photo we see three of the greatest explorers alive; Captain Don Walsh, Doctor Robert Ballard (who discovered the Titanic), and James Cameron. Even though Don Walsh has stepped back into infinity, his amazing lifetime achievements will no doubt continue to inspire future generations of explorers and trailblazers.