THE QUEST Hey, rich-guy adventurers like Steve Fossett and Richard Branson: Now that the earth has been circled (twice) by hot-air balloon, whaddya gonna obsess over next? We suggest the Seven Plummetsthe deepest, darkest places in each of the Seven Seas. Almost all of these crannies are unvisited by man or probe, and for the first time in history, a small, speedy diving craft has been devised that could take you down and back in hours. All you need is a few million bucks and a hearty appetite for danger. At 37,000 feet, the water pressure is 17,000 pounds per square inchthat's like stacking three SUVs on your big toe. The slightest crack in your craft would cause it to implode, turning you into plankton-size giblets.
THE VESSEL In 2000, Graham Hawkesfounder of Hawkes Ocean Technologies in Point Richmond, California, and a prolific submersible designercompleted a blueprint for a 5,000-pound "underwater airplane" called Deep Flight II. This battery-powered, ceramic-and-aluminum craft can fly through the water at six knots, withstand 25,500 pounds of pressure per square inch, and descend 500 feet per minute. The only catch: It hasn't been built yet, because Hawkes can't raise the dough. "The work is done," he says. "We're just stalled on funds." He needs $5 million to get the thing built. Add an additional $2 mil for incidentals, and you're ready to go deep. Which seems doable: Fossett spent at least $4 million in his six attempts to circle the globe.
Eurasian Basin, 17,257 Ft.
(Arctic Ocean: 81°20'N, 120°45'W)
Better act fast on this one. Former U.S. Navy sub captain Alfred S. McLaren is leading a team planning a 2003 plummet in a Russian Mir submersible.
Java Trench, 23,376 Ft.
(Indian Ocean: 10°19'S, 109°59'E)
Call it the Deep Muddy. This gloopy trench collects sediment from much of the Indian Ocean, including India's Ganges River, 2,000 miles away.
Romanche Fracture Zone, 25,780 Ft.
(south atlantic: 0°16'S, 18°35'W)
This spot is paradise for plate-tectonics wonks. Thanks to the wafer-thin surface of the ocean floor, extremely rare rocks from the earth's lower crust and upper mantle are exposed and accessible.
South Sandwich Trench, 27,312 Ft.
(Southern Ocean: 55°43'S, 25°57'W)
Your challenge here: getting Deep Flight II in the water at all; 50-foot surface swells are not uncommon.
Puerto Rico Trench, 27,493 Ft.
(North Atlantic: 19°42'N, 66°24'W)
Be on the lookout for three-legged fish: Each year between 1973 and 1981, the United States dumped about 121.2 million gallons of chemical waste here.
Tonga Trench, 35,499 Ft.
(South Pacific: 23°16'S, 174°44'W)
Practice saying, "The void down there was huge!" You could fit all of Mount Everest in this trench, with room for a Great Smoky thrown in.
Mariana Trench, 35,827 Ft.
(North Pacific: 11°22'N, 142°36'E)
Deepest spot on the planet. American adventurer Don Walsh and Swiss explorer Jacques Piccard kerplunked it in 1960 in a 366-ton bathyscaphe. They didn't hit bottom, though, so the nadir is still up for grabs.
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