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In honour of an inspiring cousin

Memorabilia belonging to a very talented cousin of mine is being auctioned, I found out this weekend.

Carl Spencer was a world-renowned deep sea diver, widely acknowledged as one of the best in his field. He was one of two divers who have seen the wrecks of both the Titanic and the Carpathia. He worked with the film director James Cameron and on documentaries with National Geographic, Channel 4 and ITV.

He was one of the team who raised the body of Donald Campbell, the world water-speed record holder, from Lake Coniston and was a pall bearer at the burial service.

Carl also took part in a number of pioneering research projects into decompression modelling projects.

Not bad, he would say, for a plumber from Cannock.

He was a brilliant diver and helicopter pilot (I never did get a ride in his ‘copter, despite his promises!) and his death in May 2009 while he was leading an expedition in Greek waters to carry out research on the Britannic – Titanic’s sister ship – was too soon.

The retired Explorers Club flag, which hangs in the Explorers Club, New York

He was just 39.

When I went to New York last summer, I visited the Explorers Club in 46 E. 70th Street. There is a flag dedicated to Carl – a rare honour and a wonderful privilege. The Explorers club flag (Flag No 68), which was on the expedition, was officially retired out of circulation after Carl’s death.

The Explorers Club flag has been carried on hundreds of expeditions by club members since 1918. There are just over 202 numbered flags and they have flown at both poles, travelled to the moon and outer space, and accompanied explorers on expeditions to the depths of the oceans and the highest mountains.

According to the Explorers Club: “A flag expedition must further the cause of exploration and field science.”

The citation

It was a peculiar feeling to see a member of my family being honoured alongside such greats as Sir Edmund Hillary, Dian Fossey and Neil Armstrong. To say I was proud was an understatement; there were also prickles of tears in my eyes as I read the citation about Carl’s work.

The Explorers Club is a venerable institution. Housed in an imposing townhouse that is built in English Jacobean style, its surroundings are suitably grand for such an august body. It was an incredible honour to be given a tour of the building and to see the artefacts and photographs from hundreds of explorations undertaken by some of the bravest men and women in history.

I couldn’t attend Carl’s funeral, so visiting the Explorers Club was my way of respecting his memory and saying goodbye.

If you’re ever in NYC and the Explorers Club is holding one of its open days, I recommend a visit. It is awe-inspiring.