victor vescovo

“It’s like managing a start-up”: Explorer Victor Vescovo on diving the Five Deeps

The entrepreneur and explorer on his expedition to the deepest point on earth and how it resulted in the world’s most waterproof watch…

It was 2015 and Victor Vescovo was bored. He’d climbed the world’s highest mountains, skied to both the North and South poles and now he needed a new challenge. Which was when he discovered no-one had been to the bottom of most of the world’s oceans. Bingo.

“I wanted to do it because it’s never been done before,” he explains. “I’d been mountain climbing for 20 years and had done the seven summits. I heard Richard Branson had attempted to do the ‘five dives’ but had technical difficulties with his submarine. I wondered what it would take to create a submarine that was reliable enough to dive to those depths repeatedly.”

Limiting factor submarine
Vescovo's submarine Limiting Factor off South Georgia Island

And so he set out to build one. The genial Texan, who made his fortune as a private equity entrepreneur in the engineering and tech sectors, was already an accomplished jet and helicopter pilot. This was merely another technical problem to conquer. The real challenge, he says, was in organising a project on such a massive scale, “When I started it was simply an interesting adventure that was symmetrical with climbing the highest mountains. The most challenging thing about the expedition was leading it. It’s almost like managing a venture capital start-up – we had between 60 and 100 people working on it at any one time.”

Three years later Vescovo’s submarine Limiting Factor was complete. The process culminated in six months of intense work with Triton Submarines who even put a dive simulator in Vescovo’s garage to prepare him for the intensity of life under the waves. “You have to stay thin because the hatch to the sub is very narrow but it’s really more of a mental than physical challenge,” he says. “You have to know your systems inside and out so if something goes wrong you can fix it immediately. If you’re at the bottom of the ocean and something goes wrong you’re four hours from the surface. I’ve had systems go wrong at extreme depths and it’s my job to do what I have to do to get back up on top.”

In December 2018 Vescovo successfully completed his first mission to the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean. By May 2019 he had also ticked off the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean, Java Trench in the Indian Ocean and Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The fifth and final dive, to the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean, will follow later this year. He is now the first and only person in the world to have conquered both the world’s highest summit and deepest depth.

What started as an attempt merely to go where no man had gone before has turned into something of great benefit. “As we did more and more dives the scientific aspect really caught my imagination and now we’re mapping huge areas of the sea floor,” he explains. “People think the bottom of the ocean is a barren moonscape but within 10 minutes [of our Mariana Trench dive] we saw a sea cucumber surviving in this incredibly inhospitable environment. However, even that deep down I did see human contamination. It was just one piece of plastic but it’s unfortunate.”

limiting factor submarine

And, while a feat like this doesn’t go unnoticed, it was almost by chance that Vescovo found a partner in watch brand Omega. “I wasn’t considering sponsorship because I wanted to keep control of the expedition but I realised I needed a reliable timepiece to take with me,” he says. “I knew Omega had been involved with Nekton and the dive work they’re doing so I just went to my local boutique and bought a Seamaster Planet Ocean. It wasn’t until my project manager got in touch with Omega after the first dive that we even thought about working together.”

The product of this most organic of relationships is the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional – an impressive feat of engineering which, at 15,000 metres, is certified as the world’s most waterproof watch. Of course, such claims must be verified, so Omega strapped three prototypes to the Limiting Factor and its support vessels and asked Vescovo to take them 10,928 metres down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Vescovo fails to hide his admiration as he describes the moment he looked out of the sub’s window to see the arms steadily ticking round. “Omega means final and that’s what we we’ve done – there’s nowhere more extreme you can take a watch underwater now.”

Not everything went quite to plan though. On the return journey one of the three autonomous support vessels accompanying Limiting Factor got stuck. Unfortunately it was the one to which the third Ultra Deep Professional was strapped. Not prepared to admit it was lost, the team undertook an unplanned dive, nudging the vessel back to life and rescuing the watch. “It is and always will be the deepest marine salvage operation ever executed,” beams Vescovo.

So, having reached the highest heights and plunged the deepest depths, what’s next for Vescovo? “I’d love to go to space.” There’s almost no doubt he’ll make it.

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