A pre-dawn thunderstorm had purified the air and brought comfortable temperatures after days of 100-degree heat. As we exited the port of Seddulbahir, I could see, on the Asia Minor side of the Dardanelles, the hilltop site of the ruins of ancient Troy – first excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1870. Behind us, on the European side, rose the Canakkale Memorial to the Martyrs, an austere marble arch with four columns dedicated to the 250,000 Ottoman victims of the Gallipoli countryside. Much of the peninsula has been turned into a national park, preserved as it was a century ago. Scattered among pristine beaches and rugged pine-covered hills were cemeteries and memorials commemorating one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war.
The skipper of Eftelya Dina headed southeast towards the site of the Majestic, just off Cape Helles, keeping an eye on a large screen that displayed sonar images of the seabed. The entrance to the Dardanelles is littered with British and French ships, Mr Kasdemir told me: They include HMS Goliath, a pre-dreadnought battleship, like the Majestic, which an Ottoman torpedo sank two weeks before the loss of the Majestic and which now lies mostly buried in sediment at a depth of 207 feet. (The pre-dreadnought classification refers to boats built before the commissioning in 1906 of the HMS Dreadnought, a faster, more heavily armed ship that revolutionized naval warfare.) After 20 minutes, we anchored both boats. Then I put on my wetsuit, strapped on my tank and vest and, along with the three Turkish officials and two dive guides, dived into the sea.
The water temperature rose from 74 degrees at the surface to 60 degrees as the wreck approached, although my wetsuit protected me from the cold. Soon I found myself hovering over a field of entangled iron and steel – a vast underwater dump, or graveyard, stretched for hundreds of yards to the bottom of the sea.
Visibility was surprisingly clear, considering the currents that often flow through the area. As I followed Deniz Tasci through the wreck, I could make out the ship’s curved and intact stern, the remains of several decks, two sturdy standing chimneys and one of the ship’s two masts, lying on the port side of the ship. .
Towards the remains of the bow, a long tube tilted steeply upward – possibly one of four 12-inch MK-8 naval guns that pounded Seddulbahir to cover Australian and French ground troops landing at Cape Helles. I spotted a huge cylinder that could have been part of one of the ship’s steam turbine engines, and cigar-shaped torpedoes covered in rust, but with their explosive warheads still in order.
Mr. Kartal had told me earlier that divers had counted “more than 200 torpedoes” scattered around the Majestic alone. There is almost no chance that these will explode without a powerful jerk, but the experienced guides stay close to the divers and discourage them from touching anything.
The wreck was teeming with marine life, including double-banded sea bream, silvery, oval-shaped fish adorned with two parallel black bands along their heads and caudal fins; cuckoo wrasses, with bright blue scribbles on their elongated orange bodies; pig-tooth corals, fungal organisms growing inside the hollow spaces of the wreck; and pink and orange tubular sponges hanging from many surfaces. Halfway through the 35-minute dive, one of my companions pointed a flashlight at a vault-like space in the wreckage, where an octopus, now fleeing the unwanted intrusion, had secreted itself. .