An interview with Κostas Thoctarides, by Gerasimos Beriatos.
Κostas Thoctarides is among the most well known Greek divers. An SSI Instructor and owner of Planet Blue Dive Center, is also the author of books about shipwrecks in Greek seas. Above all this, he considers himself an underwater explorer.
Κostas has discovered or searched for wrecks that haunted the imagination of Greek divers and now they are among their best diving experiences.
1. Mr Thoctarides you are recognized as a guru in the field of Greek wreck exploration and diving. How many wrecks lie in Greece and from what periods?
-Greece is the country with most wrecks than any other in the world! There are more than 1500 registered wrecks of modern times ships and aircrafts. An then again there are countless ancient wrecks, but due to their archeological value and legal status, I wouldn’t like to make any further comments about them.
2. As widely known, shipwrecks in Greece are not sunk on purpose as intended dive attractions or artificial reefs, like in other diving destinations, but represent minor or major maritime tragedies. How could this affect the emotions during a dive to such a wreck?
-In Greece there are not artificial wrecks, unfortunately if I may say. The added sentimental value of the wrecks lies in the fact that every wreck is unique and represents a piece of a long, naval history and tradition. The general conditions and the amazing visibility of Greek sea is an extra bonus for recreational divers, also.
3. Which ones you consider the most important among them? And which are the best for divers to your opinion?
-Every wreck has its own beauty and importance. For example, cement transport carriers are made with a unique building method and are very well preserved. My personal favorites are the submarines that are exceptionally hard to be located.
4. Greek sea is the resting place of HMHS Britannic, one of the most awe-inspiring shipwrecks worldwide, that holds a colossal historical value. At the same time a really hard and demanding dive, reserved only for the global elite of technical divers. Is it possible for more dives to be organized there?
-Yes, of course. Every year more than 5 diving expeditions visit HMHS Britannic. And our dive center supports many of those expeditions; not to mention that the shipwreck lies in our diving “yard”.
5. I understand that everywhere in Greek seas there are amazing wrecks and a vast number of them are accessible from Athens, right on the route connecting Piraeus port with major Eastern Mediterranean shipping lanes. Are those wrecks a dive attraction only for technical divers?
-Indeed, I think that wrecks are the highlight of Greek diving. Deep wrecks accessible only to experienced technical divers are a small portion and that is why not too many dive centers are capable of supporting deep wreck diving. But most wrecks, around Athens and nationwide are easily accessible to all recreational divers.
6. May I ask which shipwreck is your pick?
-Obviously the wreck of HMS Perseus submarine in Kefalonia!
7. After discovering the wreck back in 1997 you wrote a book sharing an amazing wartime story and a breathtaking diving experience. Can you describe the emotions of this unique underwater expedition?
-Yes, the first publisher of the book was the Prefectoral Authority of Kefalonia and Ithaca. The editor of the second one “H.M. Submarine Perseus- Whispers from the deep” is the Hellenic Maritime Museum.
The wreck was found on the last day of the expedition, on December 25, 1997. After many recon dives on targets that failed to be the right one, the figure of the shipwreck appeared on the sonar screen. The next day I dived to approach the intact, magnificent submarine in awe and admiration! Giant amberjacks and groupers welcomed me there. It is a legendary shipwreck in excellent condition. I have dived many times the submarine and still don’t want to miss a single opportunity to visit again.
8. You are persistent in maritime historic research and recently wrote the “Shipwrecks of the Greek Seas-Dive into their history”, published by E.Laskaridou Foundation http://www.laskaridou.gr/ekdosis-idrimatos/
Would you like to share your future projects concerning publications and underwater expeditions?
-Apart from a book about “Shipwrecks around Andros Coastline” http://enandro.gr/koinonia/2474-τα-«ναυάγια-στις-ακτογραμμές-της-άνδρου».html
we are publishing a book “Salvaging History- The epic story of salvaging wrecks in post war Greece”.In this book, written along my good friend and partner Aris Bilalis, we investigate the history and evolution of wreck salvaging in Greece, focused in the period 1945-60, when salvaging activity high picked. Mostly, we address cases of wrecks that were hard to be salvaged as partially or fully sank.
9. I realise that diving a wreck is a dive into history for you. So, what a diver should expect from wrecks in Greek seas and why you consider them worth visiting?
-Wreck diving is indeed a time travel, provided that one knows the history of the wreck he is diving. For me is an amazing experience, like been part of a documentary film!
10. A long, extremely variable coastline, underwater caves, archipelagos with diverse ecosystems and of course a countless number of wrecks from ancient to recent times, and high visibility that u/w photographers apreciate. Is there a blooming of specialized and technical diving in Greece imminent?
-I expect a rise in diving in Greece that can be developed further only by live aboard diving.
11. What would your word of advise be to a diver that now discovers the wealth of wreks in Greek seas?
-A wreck diver should master the maritime history and Greek maritime history is the richest in the world. It is a pity that divers, especially Greek divers, ignore this history when diving a wreck. The wreck itself has no story to tell them, it is like participating in a muted documentary film…
Interview by Gerasimos Beriatos OWSI, MSc Media & Communication