Diver Down: For this underwater shot at the Scuba Shop, in North Richland Hills, Vescovo wore the same “flight suit” that he wore to the bottom of earth’s five oceans. Jeremy McKane

Nature

Into The Deep

Victor Vescovo was a Naval officer. He summited the seven highest mountains in the world. He skied both poles. And then he did the unthinkable: he conquered our oceans.

Victor Vescovo sat down at the kitchen table in his Preston Hollow home in September 2014 and wrote a very expensive email. He needed something to do. He’d spent the past 26 years of his free time climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. He’d had a couple of close calls that warranted second tries: frostbite on Everest, altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro, a rock slide down Aconcagua, in South America, that could have paralyzed him. But he eventually—stubbornly—made it to the top of them all. He then skied both poles, becoming the 38th person ever to conquer the so-called Explorers Grand Slam.

Now, for the first time in his adult life, he had nothing to do but go to work at his private equity firm in Southlake.

He considered space travel, but it wasn’t feasible. And, besides, there were parts of the planet that were still uncharted, as unknown as the sky above. Vescovo wanted to explore the darkness of the oceans. The deepest point on earth is the Challenger Deep. It’s about 7 miles down in the Mariana Trench, a few hundred miles off the coast of Guam, a wound in the Earth’s crust where two tectonic plates meet. That had been dived twice. But the floors of the other deeps—the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic, the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean, the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean, and the Molloy Hole in the Arctic—had never been reached by a human being. Whatever submersible that person climbed into would need to withstand up to 16,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. For comparison, normal sea-level pressure is about 14.5 pounds per square inch. The latest U.S. nuclear submarines can dive to about 1,600 feet and sustain about 700 psi. Sperm whales can dive to about 3,300 feet and survive about 1,500 psi.

In landlocked Dallas, Texas, Victor Vescovo decided he would be the first to venture to the bottom of the five oceans. And he wanted to do these deep dives all in one year.

He’d done some cursory googling and found a Florida-based submarine manufacturer named Triton. It mainly built custom subs for rich people to deploy from their yachts. Its most ambitious products could tolerate a max depth of roughly a sperm whale’s dive. But there was a rendering of a curious prototype tucked away on its website that piqued Vescovo’s interest. It depicted a glass sphere that could travel safely to the bottom of an ocean. If it worked, it would be just the third such deep-diving vessel built in more than half a century. In 2012, the filmmaker James Cameron had helped develop a sub called the Deepsea Challenger, a narrow, neon green ship that resembled a giant Nerf gun turned on its head. It got him the world’s record for deepest dive—35,787 feet—but suffered damage at the bottom of the Challenger Deep and was no longer operable.

Vescovo began his email to Triton:

“To be quite direct, my intention is to partner with a firm and support team to journey not just to the Challenger Deep, but the other deepest points of the world’s four other oceans. This has never been done, and I would very much like to expend the resources and time to be the first to do so.”

By the summer of 2019, Vescovo’s Five Deeps expedition would become the first to map many of the deepest points in the five oceans through sonar, a geographic area equal to the combined size of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. It would discover new species and find animals at depths well below what was considered possible. It would give some of the world’s foremost oceanographers their first chances to see the environments they’d dedicated their lives to researching. But this Danny Ocean-style recruiting effort would come later. Vescovo’s original pitch was far simpler: build a windowless sphere, tie a line to it, drop it all the way down, bring it back up, then do it again and again until he had conquered the oceans just as he had done the mountains. He pressed send.


Five years after he sent that email, Victor Vescovo is telling about 75 recent St. Mark’s graduates that they are going to die.

“We’re all actually in a teenage horror film. None of us make it out of here alive,” he says. “Take advantage of it.”

He has turned away from the audience of parents and family members to face the Marksmen grads, who are sitting tall on risers atop a stage. Vescovo, 53, is wearing his hair as he usually does, pulled into a ponytail that falls just below his shoulders. It’s a faded auburn that has yet to yield to the snow white of his pointy beard. His presence is more warm than imposing, despite the macabre preamble of his commencement speech. We will all leave this earth. He believes we have a duty to make the most of it.

Victor Vescovo underwater
Waterworld: Vescovo is a graduate of St. Mark’s and wore a patch to honor his alma mater.

He can say as much because that’s how he has lived. A St. Mark’s grad himself, Vescovo went to Stanford University with enough credits racked up in high school to essentially skip a year of college. He graduated in three, double majoring in economics and political science. He’s fluent in two languages and knows his way around four others. He is a pilot, licensed to fly airplanes and helicopters. He spends some weekend afternoons flying to kill shelters to rescue dogs on behalf of a nonprofit called Pilots N Paws. He spent decades as a Naval officer reservist after earning a degree from MIT in defense and arms control. With an MBA from Harvard Business School, he made his fortune in private equity, following stints on Wall Street and at Bain Consulting, as well as a dot-com startup in San Francisco that eventually sold to Monster.com. At Bain, his boss recognized that Vescovo knew enough to start his own firm and asked if he could found it with him. Insight Equity, which focuses on industrial and defense turnarounds, has raised $1.4 billion since 2002.

As adventurous and wealthy as he is, Vescovo is also a goofball and a nerd. His closest friendships were forged over a mutual love of science fiction and fantasy. He credits Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with his fascination with adventure. Matthew Lipton, who met Vescovo in the seventh grade at St. Mark’s and is now his attorney, says they connected through Dungeons & Dragons. And Vescovo lapped up anything that required strategy, especially if it involved maps. He says the first book he ever checked out from the Preston Royal library was historian Stephen Sears’ Desert War in North Africa, a hardcover Time Life book that included detailed maps of desert battles in World War II. He was 6.

Vescovo’s original pitch was far simpler: build a windowless sphere, tie a line to it, drop it all the way down, bring it back up, then do it again and again until he had conquered the oceans just as he had done the mountains.

Today, he calls himself “an introvert by nature,” one who had to work to learn to communicate and relate to people, a necessity for a man whose trade is buying and growing businesses. His friends remember that hard work, too. More than one likens him to a Vulcan.

Enrique Alvarez, a future roommate and close friend who is now a cyber crimes investigator with the FBI, says they bonded over a fantasy noir book, Jhereg. “Once we established that we’d both liked this book, we pretty much became instant friends,” Alvarez says. “He was very introverted at that time. We used to have to drag him out to parties.”

Vescovo’s father worked in commercial real estate. His parents split when he was 16. The elder Vescovo dated a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and drank vodka sodas with lime. He encouraged his son to study business instead of filling his head with military history. He was the opposite of Vescovo, gregarious and jovial, a bon vivant who competed with Trammell Crow.

“A joke among my friends is that my dad stayed out later than I did,” he says.

He was much more like his mother, who trained as a nurse and was, as Vescovo describes, “much more reserved, cerebral, methodical.”

So while he struggled with social interactions, he eagerly undertook personal challenges. His life changed when he was 23 and took a solo trip to Nairobi to safari in the Serengeti. Mount Kilimanjaro loomed in the distance, jutting through the clouds. His guide caught him staring up at it.

“You know you can climb that, right?”


Patrick Lahey had for years wanted to build a submersible that could reach the bottom of the ocean. The president of Triton Submarines and his team had taken the idea seriously, but the company didn’t have the money to bring the idea to life. Then came that email.

“I co-founded a private equity firm 12 years ago (Insight Equity) and have been fortunate enough to have had enough financial success to allow me to credibly commit to significant expenditures to make this endeavor possible,” Vescovo wrote. “I have no illusions about the scale of cost we would be discussing, but am more than eager to engage in those discussions and prove my ability to support them immediately.”

Lahey had never heard of this mysterious Texan, but he began trading emails with him. He knew how rare this opportunity was. Other than James Cameron, the only people who had ever successfully ventured to the bottom of the Challenger Deep were French engineer Jacques Piccard and American Naval officer Don Walsh. They did their dive in 1960. Piccard was responsible for the Bathyscaphe Trieste, which was loaded with 16 tons of iron pellets that took the submersible down; when the pellets were released, the Trieste shot to the surface. Piccard and Walsh got about 20 minutes at the bottom before ascending, their viewports blocked by silt that was stirred after the sub violently met the ocean floor.

Vescovo was initially looking only for adventure. Now in his 50s, this was a chance to push himself but avoid the physical demands of climbing, a pursuit that had nearly killed him. On Aconcagua, in Argentina, the highest point in the Western Hemisphere, Vescovo was navigating a steep spread of rocks and gravel near the summit. He stepped on a boulder and it gave, sending him cartwheeling backward. Rocks hit his face, chipping his teeth. A 70-pounder struck his spine. He blacked out. When he came to a few seconds later, he couldn’t speak. But he could understand what his climbing team was discussing: the possibility of leaving him and returning the next day with help, whether the incoming cold would kill him. The three didn’t think they had the strength to carry him back to camp.

Patrick Lahey, the president of Triton Submarines, had wanted for years to build such a sub; all he needed was the right person to pay for it.

Luckily, a group of French climbers had seen the accident and trekked down to him. They dragged and carried him to an emergency shelter. He recovered in Mendoza, Argentina, until he was able to return to the United States and rehab. Two years later, he successfully climbed the mountain.

Vescovo has a high tolerance for risk. But he knew that mountaineering could eventually do him in. He still sought a challenge—just something more cerebral, less physically demanding.

“Initially when Victor came to us with his concept, he just wanted a steel ball that he could go down in that had a cable to the surface, like a guy on the end of a fishing lure,” Lahey says. “We had no interest in that.”

If this Vescovo character was serious, Lahey figured, science should also drive the project. He had just read a book by Englishman and Newcastle University professor Dr. Alan Jamieson called The Hadal Zone, which details the deepest portions of oceanic trenches. (It is named for Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.) Jamieson had designed landers that could travel to the bottom of this hellscape and collect samples. They looked like tripod-shaped robots, packed with instruments and traps and high-definition cameras. But he’d never been down himself.

About 80 percent of the underwater terrain on this planet hasn’t been explored or mapped. If they were going to do this, Lahey wanted serious sonar. And he wanted an oceanographer who could study the geologic formations.

His life changed when he was 23 and took a solo trip to Nairobi to safari in the Serengeti. Mount Kilimanjaro loomed in the distance, jutting through the clouds. His guide caught him staring up at it. “You know you can climb that, right?

But first the team had to build their submersible. Lahey had his own demands: it would need viewports. It would accommodate two people. It would have an external arm to collect samples. And he wanted it accredited. “That’s so other people would be encouraged to use it and not be afraid that it would be dangerous or unsafe,” he says. “If you put the word ‘experimental’ in front of something, it is not generally a confidence builder.”

Vescovo says he started with such a crude description to attract engineers. He didn’t believe that the glass sphere presented on Triton’s website would be possible. He says he learned that from Richard Branson, who failed to build a submersible that would reach the depths Vescovo had in mind.

“I have seen this over and over again in my business career, because I deal with high-technology companies,” he says. “Engineers love to push the edge of technology beyond where it should go. I was trying to anchor them on the far left, going, No, you don’t understand who you’re dealing with. I’ll just go down in the steel ball if that works.”

It took nine months for the Triton team to come up with a development plan that met their needs. A few things broke the right way at the right time. Most notably, they could afford titanium since China had upped production, causing its price to drop by about half.

“I don’t know that we could have built that sub even five years ago,” Lahey says.

They imagined what looks like an overstuffed envelope, a titanium sphere encased in an elliptical design of syntactic foam. Vescovo would call it the Limiting Factor, named for a spaceship in science fiction author Iain Banks’ Culture series.


In June 2018, the submersible lay in pieces, spilled across a Florida warehouse like so many Legos. The team had a tight timeline. Sea trials were planned in a month. They needed to be at the Norwegian island of Svalbard by the end of August to dive the Molloy Hole, the deepest point in the Arctic Ocean. They needed a southerly wind to scatter the ice. They had a window of just a few days.

“And the only thing assembled was the sphere,” says Josh Young, an author who was embedded with the team and is writing a book about the Five Deeps. “How are you going to get this together in a month?”

All told, the expedition would cost Vescovo more than $50 million. He ran the operation like a startup. He had to buy a ship to ferry the submarine and the crew around the globe, which he found in Seattle. Called the Pressure Drop, the boat was built in 1985 and had to be retrofitted after stints hunting Russian submarines for the Navy and performing research projects for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He had to hire an expedition leader and a captain. Stuart Buckle had piloted Cameron’s team to the Challenger Deep. Rob McCallum had led the expedition. Both were hired. Then he had to pay the crew. There was the film crew with the Discovery Channel and the PR company handling all the press. Triton also built three landers that would be able to take footage and collect samples from the seafloor. Vescovo paid for it all.

The trenches are marvels of geological change. There are mountain ranges equal to those of the Rockies. The bottom can be as flat and expansive as the Great Plains. Cliffs can rival those of the Grand Canyon.

He’d also found another use for titanium: a wristwatch, the first that could survive the extreme pressure at the bottom of the ocean. Vescovo had strolled into the Omega store at NorthPark Center and bought a watch that could go to 2,000 feet. He casually mentioned to the store manager his plan for the Five Deeps, but the manager didn’t take him seriously. McCallum later connected Vescovo with Omega’s CEO, who ordered his engineers to develop the watch for him. They wound up using leftover titanium from the sub’s sphere.

Then came a hiccup. Jamieson broke the news to Vescovo during a meeting in a conference room at DFW Airport’s Grand Hyatt. They knew where they needed to go in the Mariana and Puerto Rico trenches. But the other deeps hadn’t actually been defined. Vescovo was facing yet another expense: a multibeam sonar attached to the bottom of the boat that would emit sound waves to gauge the depth of the water.

“How are you going to prove you’ve been to the deepest point if you don’t know where it is?” asked Heather Stewart, a marine geologist at the British Geological Survey who was in charge of mapping the geomorphology of the seafloor. “We can narrow it down to a trench, but a trench can be 1,300 kilometers long.”

Technology has come a long way. When Piccard and Walsh did their dive in 1960, they hurled blocks of TNT off their boat and counted the seconds on a stopwatch until the sound reverberated back to a hydrophone. Buying the sonar system allowed the team to map entire trenches, some of which are as long as the Himalayas. The data gives us a new way to look at our planet’s geologic history.

But first, the sub had to work. After two years of design and fabrication, it took another two months for the Triton crew to assemble. And then sea trials were a disaster. The sub had never gotten wet by the time it arrived in the Bahamas, where its systems were to be tested at a depth of about 16,500 feet. It didn’t work, and it was August 10. A hurricane was coming. Vescovo scrapped the trip to the Molloy Hole and redrew his plans.

“He’s commissioning a highly complex piece of equipment,” Lahey says. “It would’ve been pretty unrealistic to think that you’re coming out of the gate and everything is going to be roses and sunshine.”

The decision was made to postpone sea trials. The Five Deeps would instead begin by plunging into the Puerto Rico Trench, a seafloor that no person had ever reached.


The submersible bobs between the surface and the abyss as the ballast tanks swallow seawater to weigh it down. Eventually, it plunges. The submersible falls through shades of blue, as light starts to disappear. The blue turns to black, and the sea is illuminated by an army of plankton and jellyfish that fly by in hordes. It can take about three hours to reach the bottom, where sulfur deposits glow yellow and orange and chemical reactions from rock formations blink light blue from the brown seafloor.

On the first dive, it wasn’t clear that anyone would get to experience this. Lahey says the expedition almost ended before it really began. The boat was sitting over the Brownson Deep of the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Limiting Factor sub looked like it was only going to discover its own limit. Vescovo’s deal with Lahey was that the first dive of each deep had to be solo, so that he could become the first person at the bottom of each ocean. Then he’d hand off the sub for science dives.

In his garage back in Preston Hollow sat a replica of the inside of the sub. Vescovo would climb into it for hours on Sundays so Lahey could train him. What happens if your oxygen system fails? What if a thruster blows? By December 2018, Vescovo was ready to go it alone in the Atlantic. But first came a series of tests.

Victor Vescovo sonar system
You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat: Vescovo bought a sophisticated sonar system to map the bottom of the ocean.

The first was derailed by a leak in the hatch. Vescovo and Lahey bobbed on the surface for about an hour, making the explorer seasick for the first time in his life. Water trickled in—not life threatening, but it risked shorting the electronics. Same thing happened on the second attempt. During the third, the leak continued, forming a steady drip even after it reached 3,000 feet. Typically, water pressure at that depth would snap the hatch into place. That wasn’t happening. Systems began to fail. Alarms sounded. And the two men looked out the viewport as the $350,000 external arm seemingly ejected on its own and fell to the bottom of the sea. A bolt had come loose. Vescovo called it off again, emptying the ballast of seawater and returning to the surface. And when the submersible was raised out of the ocean, a swell flung it into the stern of the ship.

The window to dive the Brownson Deep was closing, and Vescovo retired to his cabin and began weighing whether to return to port. The series of failures troubled him.

Lahey convinced him to give Triton’s team another day. “We had a sheer unwillingness to fucking quit,” Lahey says. “Thirty-six hours later, Victor climbed in that sub and went down 8,376 meters [more than 5 miles]. He executed a perfect dive just as he did in the simulator in the six months we’d been training.”

That was the turning point for the mission: a shot-chaser of failure into success. Vescovo spent about three hours cruising the depths and recording footage for the Discovery Channel before beginning the trip back to the surface. He emerged from the Limiting Factor and announced what he would each time he conquered another deep: “One down!”


There was a tension between Vescovo’s goals and those of the scientists. Jamieson, the expert on the Hadal Zone, had already spent months waiting for something to do. Vescovo’s insistence on solo diving the first trips risked precluding dives that would be devoted to science. This had happened on the very first deep. After Vescovo became the first person to reach the floor of the Puerto Rico Trench, there was no time for a science dive. In Antarctica, Jamieson spent weeks “getting our asses kicked” and also didn’t get to go.

“He dives to the deepest point, and we can’t use it,” Jamieson says. “He crashes on the seafloor and goes in circles. He’s just there to grab the flag and say I went the deepest. It’s scientifically useless, and I mean that as respectfully as I can.”

Lahey and his team would reattach the arm to the Limiting Factor, but Vescovo quickly realized that another person would need to operate it. After four dives, Jamieson says, the sub hadn’t collected any samples, although the landers had. Other problems had arisen. During a second dive into the Tonga Trench—another part of the planet in need of more accurate mapping—a water leak short-circuited a junction box. That caused a small fire outside the sub and drained the Limiting Factor’s electricity. Vescovo aborted the dive. Seated next to him was Stewart, who was planning to take Vescovo down an enormous cliff face. The marine biologist would have been the first British woman to venture into the Hadal Zone. All they’d get was the solo dive; a storm was coming. She would have to wait until the Molloy Hole, the last dive of the expedition.

The researchers say they had to get Vescovo to take the science as seriously as he took the adventuring. Stewart thought up a plan, and it involved appealing to Vescovo’s interest in the mountains. It was similar to how they’d convinced him to invest in the pricey multibeam sonar: without it, how will you know how deep you went?

The trenches are marvels of geological change. There are mountain ranges equal to those of the Rockies. The bottom can be as flat and expansive as the Great Plains. Cliffs can rival those of the Grand Canyon. With the sonar, Stewart worked with the team’s mapper, Cassie Bongiovanni, who processed all the data.

Victor Vescovo Pressure Drop boat
His boat, Pressure Drop, sails around the world with the sub onboard, and he meets it for dives. Limiting Factor, the name of his submarine, came from a spaceship in a science fiction book.

“I could show him these pictures and show him the topography,” Stewart says. “He’s like, ‘Hang on, shit, you’re going to send me there? What?’ Yes, down that big cliff. And he says, ‘How steep is that cliff?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s 40 degrees.’ I don’t think he thought that you could get such interesting topography. And this is a man that has been in the highest mountains all around the world. So once we started working on that and realizing what it is that he’s interested in, then we could start to speak the same language.”

Jamieson leaned on high-definition footage caught by the lander. By the time they finished Antarctica—without much success in terms of sample collection—Jamieson was considering abandoning the expedition altogether. He stayed out of loyalty to the crew. And he was rewarded by the rich Java Trench.

One of the landers captured a translucent animal that floated past the bait of a dead mackerel. It resembled a disembodied head of a pit bull covered in goo, a narrow tail trailing behind it. It was a new species of sea squirt, and it was dramatic. Generally, sea squirts—technically known as stalked ascidians—are anchored to the seafloor. This one was floating above it, like “a balloon on a string,” Jamieson later told a science publication. It was an evolutionary change that would allow it to eat food that floated a few feet above the ground.

“That video is fantastic,” Jamieson says. “But if you find a new species, you end up with this bottleneck, because someone’s gotta draw every single hair on its ass before you can call it something.”

Jamieson recalls Vescovo and the rest of the team being glued to the screen, eager to find more footage. “Victor picked up on that, and he realized that there were people who really want this stuff and need this stuff,” Jamieson says.


They’d leave the sonar on as the Pressure Drop sailed from deep to deep. Vescovo has promised to give that data to the Nippon Foundation’s Seabed 2030 project, which aims to map the entire ocean by the start of the next decade.

Jamieson did finally get to make his first dive. “Being in the sub is fucking awesome,” he says. “You lean forward and you look out this little hole and you’re looking at the deepest place in the world.” He started noticing amphipods present in each of the deeps, something that hadn’t been observed. How did these animals, which look like a translucent cockroach crossed with a shrimp, turn up in similar depths thousands of miles apart? Jamieson observed a dumbo octopus, which looks like a gumdrop with propellers, nearly 6,000 feet below where scientists previously thought possible. How? The researchers brought these questions back with them.


The Limiting Factor landed at the bottom of the Challenger Deep with a thud, sending up a cloud of yellow-brown sediment into the water around it.

“Life support good,” Vescovo said into his comms system. “Depth: one zero niner two eight meters. At bottom. Repeat. At bottom.”

On the surface, almost 7 miles above him, the team yelped and cheered.

“Roger LF, understand you are on the bottom,” Lahey replied. “Congratulations, Victor. Congratulations.”

On April 28, 2019, Vescovo ventured deeper underwater than anyone had before: 56 feet below where Cameron claimed to have gone, a technical achievement that has been compared to landing on the moon. Vescovo, as he always did, wore a St. Mark’s patch on the left arm of his royal blue dive suit.

He went back on May 1, and this time a lander got trapped in the mud in the eastern pool of the Challenger Deep. Vescovo decided to leave a quarter of a million dollars on the ocean floor. Lahey was scheduled to take the third dive and was bringing along a man named Jonathan Struwe, an accreditor who would certify the vessel as the first-ever submersible capable of traveling to full ocean depth.

Aboard the Pressure Drop, Vescovo suggested that Lahey try to rescue the lander. It had been there two and a half days and had stopped sending signals back to the surface. There was something else besides the lander at stake. Vescovo had strapped to it one of two watches produced by Omega using the leftover titanium. Lahey and Struwe did the dive, making it to the bottom. They sent out a signal and got a chirp back from the lander. It was stuck in about 6 feet of “ooze,” as Lahey calls it. They used the sub’s arm to jostle it loose, and it shot back to the surface. The Omega watch—now a priceless piece of human history—started ticking.

“It was, and will always be, the deepest marine salvage operation in history,” Vescovo says.

“It was, and will always be, the deepest marine salvage operation in history,” Vescovo says.

The Challenger Deep dive came with other baggage, too. Months after the announcement, Cameron called a New York Times reporter and disputed Vescovo’s claim that he had dived deeper. The filmmaker contended that the bottom of the Challenger Deep was as flat as a pool table—there was no way Vescovo could have gone deeper. Vescovo maintains that the team “assaulted each of these locations with a level of technology that had never existed before” to find the deepest point, which was in the eastern pool. And even the margin of error, give or take 26 feet, would still put him deeper than Cameron.

“It’s the equivalent of going to Preston Hollow in the pitch black of night with a flashlight and going from Northwest Highway to LBJ on one line, seeing no variation, saying, ‘All of Preston Hollow is completely flat,’ ” Vescovo says. “That is the equivalent.”

It was a very public tiff for a man who would prefer not to be very public. Yes, Vescovo had scaled the Seven Summits, but it wasn’t until the Five Deeps that his name started popping up in the press. In Dallas, we know Dick Bass was the first man to climb those summits. We know Ross Perot Jr. was the first to fly his helicopter around the world. Before this, Victor Vescovo was just a successful private equity guy who liked to go up mountains in his spare time.

“I’m not on Facebook or Instagram. I really do not care about celebrity,” he says. “I do this to do the thing. It’s almost like people don’t understand that anymore.”

Vescovo is cagey about some personal details. He has never married or had kids. One of his longest relationships was cut short when he was activated by the Navy following 9/11. He lives with his partner of eight years, Monika, whom he says he was hesitant to approach. (He recognized her Albanian accent, and the two hit it off.) His home isn’t nearly as ostentatious as many in his neighborhood, although he did purchase his neighbor’s house to turn it into a workshop for his cars and the custom pens he makes.

He has lost his parents. One of his sisters suffered from a lifelong depression and took her own life. He nearly died when he was 3, after shifting his father’s car out of park. He hit a tree, which cracked his skull and broke his jaw, hand, and ribs. He carries the remnants of those injuries with him today.

Despite all that he has done, things out of his control still threaten him. In October, a tornado tore through his neighborhood and ripped up several mature trees in his front yard. He was relaxing on his couch.

And so he cannot stop. He has conquered the deeps, but more remain. This year, he will try to dive the deepest point in the Red Sea. Next will be the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. He wants to explore two World War II wrecks, the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the U.S.S. Johnston. He wants to take another seven or eight dives to the Challenger Deep and map the entire Mariana Trench on his way to the Pacific Rim, where he’s eager to see the results of his team’s research.

Upon seeing the ocean mapping and the flora and fauna that the team discovered, Vescovo understood that there was more to explore. There is always more.    

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