“North Sea expeditions are a hobby of mine. I love wreck diving and I’m a keen treasure hunter.” These are the words of a man who has been diving for sunken ships in the North Sea since 1998. Andreas Peters was born in 1973, and raised in the town of Meldorf in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. As a professional technical diver, he is driven by an extraordinary passion.
Although actually a navigator with ship master’s certificate, he doesn’t mind being referred to as an ‘adventurer’. After all, wreck diving is very different to conventional scuba diving. “Being a technical diver, I work with extremes. I never know what to expect down there, so I have to be fully prepared. There’s no doubt that since my very first dives, I’ve been letting myself in for a new adventure every time. At first it was the fascination of hunting for lost gold and silver. Since then, however, the treasures that attract me down into the dark depths have assumed a very human aspect.”
His favourite place to dive is the North Sea, which doesn’t make his job any easier. Regarded as one of the most challenging stretches in the world, Andreas Peters is amongst the few who dare to search there. He is even considered a pioneer. The North Sea is said to be rough – and with good reason. Visibility is often poor, varying between 20 metres and virtually nil, with underwater lamps having little effect. Sometimes, there is no current, but suddenly, it becomes so severe that divers run the risk of being swept away. All of this, together with the weather conditions, can change abruptly – even during a single dive. What’s more, being a tidal water also means that the North Sea is prone to dangerous tidal currents caused by ebb and flow.
So why is Andreas so hung up on the North Sea? The answer lies in 2,000 years of shipping history. At the bottom of this deep dark sea lies one of the world’s biggest ship graveyards. There are 50,000 wrecks throughout the North Sea. Over 4,000 can be found in the German Bight alone. From medieval sailing vessels and warships to transport and passenger ships, fishing cutters and recreational craft. So far, he has dived down to around 450 wrecks.
One of his most spectacular coups was the discovery of the SS Cimbria, Germany’s Titanic. The immigrant ship sank in thick fog on 19 January 1883 near Borkum while sailing from Hamburg to New York. 437 people lost their lives. On making this discovery, wreck diving took on a whole new meaning for Andreas. “I began to realise that people, their stories and their fates are more precious than any amount of silver or gold. Since realising this, I’m convinced that stories are the real treasures to be salvaged. That’s because more is lost with the sinking of a ship. What were the dreams, hopes and fears of these people? How did they live? Where were they from? I search for the answers to these questions when preparing for the project and when diving”, he says, describing his mission.
Andreas Peters is therefore more of a ‘story finder’ and ‘restorer’. His role is to lend a voice to those who no longer have one. How? By bringing to light and giving a voice to finds, or artefacts, that bear witness to historical events. For example, in the case of the Cimbria, by way of an exhibition and a book, making it accessible to the public. There is a story behind each and every find. A story that I would like to tell and thus shape history. Often it comes down to chance, too. For instance, I got a call from the great-grandchild of the captain of the Cimbria. At times like this I realise that history is alive! I’ve also been contacted during other projects by surviving relatives. Such encounters set my pulse racing and give me goosebumps. These are my silver and gold. While diving, just imagining what dramatic scenes must have taken place affects me greatly and induces a sense of excitement and curiosity. Thanks to the artefacts and talking to those left behind, I am able to bridge the gap between past events and the knowledge we possess today.”
Aside from investigative attempts to recall the past, technical diving is the most extreme form of scuba diving, involving professionals such as Andreas Peters exploring territory unreachable by scuba divers. Technical diving is much more difficult, entails greater risks and leaves little room for error. In order to minimise the risks, specially configured diving equipment, knowledge of the area and waters, plenty of experience and good preparation is needed. Particular attention must also be paid to vital backup equipment. This is where the U1000 comes in. “Although I use a modern diving computer, every field expert knows never to dive without additional safety equipment such as the U1000. The battery on the diving computer could run out or computing errors could occur. This is ruled out with the U1000 mechanical chronograph which, for me, is essential diving equipment. It is 100% reliable.”
The demands placed on the watch are extremely high due to the rough North Sea conditions. “The name Sinn Spezialuhren has gained a reputation amongst technical divers for its high quality. And truth be told, the U1000 has never let me down. Not only do the functions work perfectly underwater, but unlike the small, often difficult-to-read digital numbers displayed on diving computers, the watch boasts perfect readability, which is paramount when visibility is poor. I also value the high level of wearer comfort, not to mention its durability, as the watch is constantly at risk of being hit. I would recommend this device to all extreme divers.” No wonder he rates the U1000 better than any other diving watch used. It will also be accompanying him on future exploratory missions, as there are still at least two wrecks out there that he has long been keen to find. One day he will find them, somewhere at the bottom of the North Sea, and tell their stories.