Interview with Kostas Thoctarides

During a stay at Kea, U-Boat Navigator crew met Kostas Thoctarides. Kostas is the most accomplished professional diver in Greece, with a real deep passion for history and wreck exploration. He owns Planet Blue diving center in Lavrio, conducts wreck research and  also writes books. “Shipwrecks of the Greek seas. Dive into their history” (Kostas Thoctarides – Aris Bilalis), published by Aikaterini Laskaridas Foundation, is the latest. It is huge, nearly 500 pages, and 20 prominent wreck stories, in Greek and English.

:: Tell us about your books, please!

Kostas: I spent eight years to write this very book because all the information comes from prototype sources. We travel and we search, in national archives, in England and Germany, in many locations; taking only data. Sometimes books have mistakes, and it comes from a book to another book, and we have the same mistake for many years. That’s why we start researching from the beginning.
This book is my third. And we are preparing another two. I have already another one; it is about the salvage of shipwrecks after the WWII. It is ready, and I am trying to find somebody to print it. It is very difficult at this time to print a book! The “Shipwrecks of the Greek seas”, I gave it to Foundation Laskaridas as a gift, they published it and have money for their purposes. And the second part of the book, it is also 20 wrecks, volume 2, is almost ready.

:: How did you start wreck exploration?

Kostas: All my life I do this. The Naval history, which I love very much, it is my hobby, and also I search in many archives, Hellenic Navy, Greek national archives, collect for many-many years all the prototype sources for wrecks. There are more than 1500 wrecks in my collection, and I try to search historical data and do diving.
When I was about 19, I occasionally visited Piraeus, Naval Museum and met there the president of the museum. He was a very old admiral, I thought, he was a visitor. The museum was empty, with only 2 of us. He had a tremendous passion for history. When I started looking at some object, he came and explained details to me. It was very interesting for me. We continued walking over the museum, and the admiral explained all the details and important things about Naval history. For me, that was excellent! Magic!
In the end, he asked if I wanted to buy a book from the museum shop. There were lots of books! I saw one book with very short title U-1, and I chose it. It was a story of the famous Greek WWII submarine. I read the book the same day. I started in the afternoon and stood the whole day and whole night, it was a fantastic book, with humor, serious things, and also written with great passion. I decided to go back and buy more books. Thus is the time when I started collecting books; now I have about 5,000books. After several years I realized, that books are not the best source of information, and for the last 15 years I was collecting only prototype sources, which is the best way to obtain information.

:: Do you dive to wrecks yourself?

Kostas: Yes-yes, I dive wrecks myself. But it is crucial to know the story, because, when you dive the wreck without knowing its history, it is like a movie without sound – you know nothing. If you know the story, it is very convenient and very exciting, because with your imagination you will go back in the time, in the past. When you find the location of torpedo hit, and you know all the story and details. You would know how the ship was lost, what happened exactly, – all these is very interesting.

:: What about “Britannic” – the most famous wreck?

Kostas: My first dive to “Britannic” took place in August 1995, that was solo dive, first dive after Cousteau, and before Ballard expedition. . It was immense project for me. I spent almost two yeas in preparation. Being member of Cousteau Society, I wrote a letter to him, at that time we weren’t using emails, and Cousteau sent me huge packets, with signature and with stamps. There were a lot of information, his dive plans, the tape with documentary. For me, it was very easy to dive on 100 meters, as from my first dive I start mix gas diving. I have two specialties: Deep Diving and Wreck Diving. Of course, that time I stayed 20 minutes only. It is not possible to see the whole wreck! But it was very interesting for me, and after that first dive every year I do three to four dives to Britannic. I try to find the best conditions, because of the bad weather or strong current, especially from the straits.

:: Do you guide expeditions to “Britannic”?

Kostas: we do not do that often because it is perilous. Many people, who try to do that, they don’t understand and are’t prepared well. We don’t want to be involved in deep diving with people, we don’t know. A lot of divers want to dive at Britannic just because this is Everest for the divers, but they lack experience.
Also we do our own expeditions, of course, we try to find specific wrecks with interesting and significant history. I like submarines very much, especially British, because they are big, like “Perseus”.
“Britannic” is very famous, but we have more! Only in Kea tunnel there are 17 wrecks, WWII, WWI, and also between wars, new ones. In Greece there are more than 300 WWII wrecks.

:: Was it interesting for you to visit U-Boat Navigator?

Kostas: For the last two years we exchanged with mails discussing information, about Perseus, and etc, but we haven’t meet each other. This year I had an opportunity to visit U-Boat Navigator, and it was very nice, they are very nice people and very professional.
I also have a lot of experience in submarines and in ROVs. For me it was very interesting, as I can understand the quality of this ship and equipment on board.

:: Describe your diving center, please.

Kostas: Planet Blue is situated in Lavrio, quite close to the port, from where we go to sea. We dive all year round, six months wet-suits, six months dry-suits. Since 2007, we do nearly 5,000 dives per year. Eight members of staff and three boats. Compressors, gas blenders, we do both recreational and technical diving. We don’t have any store, don’t sell anything – just dive center and school. A number of people – max 180 persons a year – both diving and having classes. Some people might think that we have high prices. Being excellent in what we are doing we specialize in providing top level service – and we do our best. Up to now we have zero accidents, and this is crucial.

It is my lifestyle, and I like it very much.