As chief pilot for the remotely operated vehicle Jason II, Will Sellers says his job is to put a few million dollars worth of equipment over the side of a ship on a daily basis (and bring it back!). He’s been doing that for a long time, having first signed on with the Alvin group in 1982. “I was on the street after eight years as a U.S. Navy aviation electronics technician and supervisor and needed a job,” Will says. “The unemployment office sent me to WHOI, I interviewed with Barrie Walden, got a job offer at 6 that evening, arrived early the next morning to do the necessary paperwork, and boarded Lulu for a cruise to Georges Bank.”
After qualifying as an Alvin pilot two years later, Will made 61 dives (including training trips), among them the third and tenth dives to Titanic with Bob Ballard in 1986. The second of these included the prototype ROV Jason Jr.’s excursion into the ship’s grand ballroom with Martin Bowen at the joystick. Will wrote: “The glass dome covering [the grand staircase] was long gone, leaving a gaping hole forty feet across on the uppermost portion of the wreck. The current was very strong here and I had a hard time holding Alvin still. I let Alvin lean against a pipe sticking up from the deck and reached out to hold onto the lip of the hole with the starboard manipulator. That did the trick. We were stable in our perch, looking down into the hole. Martin flew Jason Jr. from its cage down into the dark interior of the ship.”
Will decided to take a break from long months at sea with Alvin later in 1986 and spent the next four years free lancing on deep-sea vehicle teams before returning to WHOI to join the Jason team. As chief pilot, he not only drives the vehicle using a bank of monitors in the Jason control van, he’s also responsible for vehicle maintenance, developing and interfacing instrumentation for the vehicle, training pilots and technicians, and general troubleshooting and problem solving. The only cruise he missed with the first Jason was for a hip replacement eight years ago. This last summer he damaged the replacement in a fall, and the fix kept him out of action for more than three months. He took the opportunity to begin writing about his experiences with piloting oceanographic vehicles and has so far written about 40,000 words just on the Alvin years, including the Titanic quote above. Watch for the book—it will be a good read!