Anyone with a fascination for Clive Cussler will eventually become aquatinted with Ralph Wilbanks, a man I find to be a true gent and as he is an important feature amongst Clive Cussler's / NUMA expeditions I felt I owed him his own presence here on my website.
Ralph is possibly most remembered for his role as part of the team which found the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submersible that demonstrated the advantage and danger of undersea warfare. Although not America's first submarine, the Hunley was the first submarine to engage and sink a warship, the USS Housatonic on the 17th February 1864. Unfortunately however, the Hunley itself was lost with its crew of eight, its final resting place remaining a mystery until Ralph and NUMA discovered it in 1995.
I like to think of myself as a trusted friend to Ralph and although we meet up each year during the expedition to locate the final resting place of the Bonhomme Richard, it is only recently I took the opportunity of getting to know him on a more personal note. We shared a lengthy chat and I was able to ask about how he has gone to be became one of Clive's treasured specialists, called upon to help in many of NUMA's famed expeditions. Ralph explained that as a Coastal Surveyor and Underwater Archeologist he had been involved in more than 250 underwater projects since 1975.
Ralph, is the principal investigator and owner of Diversified Wilbank's Inc. of Yonges Island, SC and has more than 35 years experience in underwater archaeology. As an underwater archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, USC he often gives presentations about the various projects he has overseen. He has worked all over the world and John Paul Jones' ship Bonhomme Richard is simply the latest project he is involved with. He revels in his role as one of NUMA's Advisory Board of Trustees specialising in side scan sonar search techniques.
Even when he is not working on a NUMA assignment he is happy to travel towing his boat "RV Divercity" some distance to the Great Lakes on personal projects. His told me that the area is littered with wrecks of shapes and sizes and in all depths with some very interesting side scan images. It is clear that it is an area his favours and he openly admits that he has spent many weeks looking for something that corresponds to his research and is always happy to nail down something unique.
(Ralph tending to his treasured electronic feed at the rear of his boat)
With his record of achievements Ralph will undoubtedly have many tales to tell and I asked him when we could expect to see a book about his exploits, his reply was that he didn't feel worthy of a book, that his life has been pretty normal! Ralph went on to tell me about a book that he has contributed to called "Diving With Legends", written by Dr. Peter Millar.
In Peter's words "it is a book not just about the legendary figures from the underwater world, it is a book by those legends." Ralph's chapter makes the book look a very interesting book. With Ralph's permission I contacted Peter to see if I could reproduce the chapter but Peter explained his hands are tied at the moment whilst pursuing a publisher. The book not only reads like a whose who within the diving fraternity with chapters on:
Jacques Piccard, Stan Waterman, Dr. George Bass, Rickie Kohler, David Trotter, Burt Webber, Dr. Joe MacInnis, Leigh Bishop, Dr. James Delgado, Tony Groom, Karl Shreeves, Howard Hall, Mike O'Leary, Paul Oberle, Carl Spencer and much much more. If you would savour more information then check out a website featuring Peter's book and read about some of its contributors.
Although I am not able to reproduce Ralph's chapter Peter kindly directed me to a web page he has created, centred around the ill fated "Flight 2501" lost on the 23rd June 1950 in Lake Michigan and his day spent with Ralph looking for the wreck site. It was without doubt a very interesting day and I am grateful to Peter for allowing me permission to host a recreated page about his Day With NUMA something I know you will find most interesting. Lake Michigan seems to be a intriguing resource for divers and the following website Michigan Shipwrecks Research Associates gives just a glimpse of what there is to see and do.
There is without a doubt more to learn about Ralph Wilbanks and I hope to be able to add to this page soon.
© Dr. Peter McClean Millar - June 2009