CAMERA PANS, CAMERA ROLLS AND ACTION! Emmy Award-winning director/executive producer Kirk Wolfingers words launch presenter John Chatterton into describing where in the world he is - in this case, Littlehampton. Deep Sea Detectives is broadcast on the History Channel, www.thehistorychannel. co.uk Catch John Chatterton and Richie Kholer in person at LIDS, ExCel Centre,1/2 April 2006.
Chatterton pauses a moment before identifying himself. Then his partner steps into the frame to introduce himself as Richie Kohler. Between them they hope to say just enough to convince their million or so first-time viewers to stay with them for the next hour of screen time. Ultimately up to 5 million people watch their shows.
This mornings shoot, or stand-up, is the show opener. For this episode the team are looking into the sinking of the Duke of Buccleugh, wrecked off the Sussex coast.
Chatterton and Kohler have a tight schedule. Alongside their research, interviews and camera stand-ups, they have only two or three days scheduled in which to dive on the wreck.
Until Wolfinger pronounces his film to be in the can, they will continue to shoot footage that will be edited back in the USA for a series of eight shows, commissioned by the History Channel.
Over the past three years, John Chatterton has made 57 episodes of Deep Sea Detectives. Thats a lot of travelling and a lot of shipwrecks. He has been a presenter from the beginning. Kohler was with him at the start but dropped out for a couple of seasons to work in the family business before rejoining.
The guys are armed with the latest underwater technology and driven by their own diving expertise. Along with other detectives, they aim to bring to the surface tales that have been submerged for generations.
But despite the title of the show, not all the sites they investigate are deep. Neither are they all shipwrecks.
How did these American wreck-divers become professional television presenters I had dived with them both in the 1990s but was now meeting two very different people.
Richie and I worked closely with producer Kirk Wolfinger on a documentary called Hitlers Lost Sub for PBS and NOVA, says Chatterton. That two-hour programme, made in 1997, was about the discovery of the U-boat U-869, and was aired in the UK on Channel Four.
We had a great working relationship and became close friends. When Kirk was working on another project for the History Channel, he was asked if he knew any actors who could dive to host a series. Kirk suggested not one but two hosts - Richie and me.
He cautioned the channel that we were not actors, but sent the History Channel a copy of Hitlers Lost Sub. They wanted to give us a try.
We assumed that wed have some fun, and probably be fired by episode two on the grounds that we didnt know what the hell we were doing. That was 57 episodes ago!
After the Hitlers Lost Sub documentary, the duos discovery of U-869 became the subject of Robert Kursons book Shadow Divers, and top director Ridley Scott recently announced that he would be directing and producing the movie.
John Chatterton, a commercial diver for more than 20 years, is passionate about deep shipwrecks. He has explored the most famous, including the Lusitania, the Britannic and the renowned Andrea Doria off Nantucket, Rhode Island, and last year he and Kohler mounted a submersible expedition to the Titanic.
This is way too much work to not have fun, he says of his lifestyle.
Kohler has been diving and exploring shipwrecks, mostly in deep waters, since 1980. His thousands of dives include some 120 to the Andrea Doria, and in the past few years he has identified historically significant shipwrecks, including USS Murphy, a World War Two destroyer, off New York in 2002, and U-215 off Nova Scotia in 2004.
Diving is how Ive identified myself my whole life, says Kohler. Its not just what I do but who I am as well.
Given this chance, the rare opportunity to give up my day job, sell my glass business and work full-time as a professional diver has been a dream for me, like winning the lottery.
I now travel the world diving new shipwrecks and sites, places I would have never seen in a million lifetimes of dive vacations. Were always interviewing experts and survivors, going to museums and archives, so Im hip-deep in the very thing that so attracted me to diving shipwrecks in the first place - the tangible feel of history and the pursuit of answers.
I watched some of the existing programmes to get a feel of the shows style. One episode, Winter of Disaster, focused on tragic events of January 1999, when three clam-fishing boats and 10 men were lost off the USAs eastern seaboard, two off New Jersey and one near Cape Cod, in less than two weeks.
The Beth Dee Bob, Cape Fear and Adriatic all sank almost without warning. The programme looked to find common denominators and to provide answers for the still-grieving families. It considered whether the weather might have been a factor in each sinking, though the experienced crews had survived worse in the past. How were the boats run in terms of safe practice, and was there any element of clamming that might provide a clue
Chatterton, himself a former clam fisherman, had his own theories and, with Kohler, dived each wreck in turn in search of answers.
The show focuses not only on historic sites but also on those that could potentially remain crime scenes. And along with the wreck mysteries there have been cave-diving episodes and even some deep dives into Loch Ness in search of its celebrated cryptozoological inhabitant.
The double act of Chatterton and Kohler has gone from strength to strength. The wonderful thing about Deep Sea Detectives is that the oceans cover so much of this planet, and we try to cover so much of those oceans, says Kirk Wolfinger. Well never run out of stories to tell.
Wolfinger believes the show featuring the submarine 09 represents the high point so far.
Shortly before World War Two, 09 was on a training and refitting mission, and had submerged to periscope depth to travel along the surface for a planned distance on a test dive. She went down with all hands, but was this due to technical failure or operator error
Sixty years after the accident and an attempted salvage/rescue operation, 09 had all but been forgotten by the US Navy. But the Deep Sea Detectives, with the help of Navy veteran Glenn Rheme, relocated her off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 130m.
Using an ROV they established that the superstructure had undergone massive damage, but was it caused by compression, hitting the bottom - or something else Chatterton and Kohlers submarine expertise proved invaluable in answering these questions.
B-29 in the Lake was another classic example of underwater detective work, Wolfinger recalls. After World War Two B-29 bombers, similar to those that dropped their deadly load on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were employed by the US government to conduct classified high-altitude operations for defence purposes. The B-29 was the only aircraft capable of extreme altitudes while carrying a scientific crew and equipment.
At 55m in Lake Meade, Nevada, only a few miles from Las Vegas, one of these behemoths sits in almost pristine condition. Why is it there, and what was it carrying Chatterton and Kohler dived to extremes: the surface temperature in the Nevada desert in July was 43C, but on the bottom the water was about 9C.
They dived with drysuits, though after putting them on they had to enter the water very fast or risk heat prostration. After exhaustive research, the team discovered that the B-29s cargo was an innocuous-looking device called a Sun Tracker.
It seemed that even many of the scientists who had worked on it didnt know what it did, so secret had the operation been, but it had played a significant role in the development of weapons from the 1950s to the present. What was it, and how did the plane end up in the lake I fear you need to watch the History Channel to find out.
For the cave-divers among us, Secret of the Mayan Caves involved spectacular diving - and seeing John Chatterton being cave-trained. Ten years ago and a mile back from the nearest entrance, divers Jeff Bozanic and Steve Omerid located a cache of ancient Mayan artefacts, but they could not explain how the relics got there when the divers had needed dozens of gas tanks to make the journey.
Returning to the cave system with Chatterton, the two divers this time had a technological advantage - rebreathers that would make the dive a mere bag of shells, as Chatterton would say.
Which did he consider the strongest programme I always think that the show Im working on is going to be the best. I cant pick a single show that outshines the rest, he says.
Tragedy struck Deep Sea Detectives with the death of British diver Michael Norwood. A former Scotland Yard detective, Norwood lived near Wolfinger in Maine, and during Kohlers absence the producer auditioned him and hired him immediately.
Norwood and Chatterton had a terrific chemistry between them both and that its stars are over-blown, over-publicised and over-rated divers.
Wolfinger agrees that the duo are a little overweight and perhaps a bit over-extended, but you have to hand it to them, he says, these guys are great divers.
Deep Sea Detectives is also criticised by historians who say that sometimes the mysteries really arent that mysterious. That may be so, but whether or not the mystery has already been resolved, the audience usually gets a compelling story in an interesting setting, and the research is always thorough. The audience ratings indicate that the series has a strong and faithful following.
The average episode is more enjoyable than a dental appointment,
is Kirk Wolfingers modest assessment. We arent performing brain surgery or curing cancer, but hey, thats television. He says the guys take tremendous pride in what they do, whether as divers or as film-makers.
All we ask is that you enjoy the show - or you can always send money.
While in Britain, Chatterton and Kohler were set to visit the Flying Enterprise as well as the Duke of Buccleugh before moving on to Alexandria in Egypt, investigating antiquities on underwater sites that few get to see.
I just hope they dont break anything, says Wolfinger.