Q&A with Expert Bob Ballard

There’s nothing quite like traveling with people who have made history with their feats and their finds—and they join us on every one of our private jet trips. On our new Islands and Oceans of the World by Private Jet expedition, we’ll be joined by Dr. Robert Ballard, an ocean explorer for whom discovering the wreck of the Titanic was only one of many highlights over a 45-year career with National Geographic. We caught up with him to hear more about his life and work.

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO TO SEA?

I was born in Wichita, Kansas six months after Pearl Harbor. After World War II, we moved to San Diego and that’s where it all happened. We bought a house right on the ocean, and I learned how to scuba dive and body surf.

San Diego was a Navy town back then. And then there was the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s great ocean research centers. Here’s this kid from Kansas who reads 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and wants to be Captain Nemo. My dad took me down to where the diesel subs had been during the war. Between Scripps and the Navy, you get Bob Ballard, who wanted to be in the ocean.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE OCEAN?

I do! The Pacific is my favorite ocean. My first cruise on the Pacific was on a high school scholarship. I was 17, it was 1959, and I got rescued by the Coast Guard. I was aboard a Scripps ship, 500 miles out to sea, and we got into one hell of a storm. These were gargantuan seas, big, giant rollers. We had to pull our gear and just hold on. Then a rogue wave hit us. I was on the bridge. Out of the sea came this monster, and it just took us under. Fortunately, we popped out the other side and I said, “That’s a wave!”

YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED SO MUCH OVER YOUR CAREER AS AN EXPLORER. WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOU?

Discovering Titanic was clearly cool. And there was Project Famous, diving the Great Rift. That got covered in the May 1975 issue of National Geographic. That was my first article in the magazine. Then going to the Earth’s interior, my deepest dives in the Cayman Trough down to 20,000 feet. In 1977 we dove thermal vents, and then in 1979 black smokers. Dive to the Edge of Creation became my first TV special. Then there was Titanic, and Bismarck, and finding the perfectly preserved shipwrecks of the Black Sea. But my favorite discovery is always the one I’m about to make. If people visit NautilusLive.org, they can learn what the Nautilus is all about and where we’re going next.

Photographer Emory Kristof and Bob Ballard during Operation Titanic.

WHICH STOPS ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO ON THE JET TRIP?

Hawai’i, where we begin this private jet expedition, is fascinating. The trip starts in Kona, and I’ll have just been doing work on the Loihi seamount off the Big Island’s coast. Hawai’i is the most isolated rock on Earth. It took forever for people to find the place! The islands are so young. Kauai, the oldest of the main islands, has only been around for five million years.

I also love Bali and the Balinese people. It is such a beautiful place, and the people have passed down ancient artistic traditions—wood carving and stone carving. And volcanically, it’s a pretty crazy place. And Bora-Bora is where my wife and I went on our honeymoon.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE WHO’S THINKING ABOUT JOINING THE TRIP?

Explore the oceans with the people who are actually doing it. He’s fresh out, his clothes are still wet—right out of the trenches, literally! You’re grabbing someone in midstream who just came off, is about to head back. That’s what it’s all about: Someone in the heat of the battle, a real active explorer.