Marine Archaeologist, Shipwreck Hunter, Southern Gentleman

Ralph Wilbanks is probably best known for discovering the Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley. However, this extraordinary accomplishment pales when viewed against the fullness of this singular individual’s life.  Ralph is the principal investigator and owner of Diversified Wilbank’s Inc., and has over 35 years of experience in underwater archaeology.  Ralph has worked all over the world in search of history’s lost maritime treasures and is an advisory board member of Clive Cussler’s  NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency).  He has participated in more than 300 underwater and archaeological projects since 1975.

When he is not working on a NUMA assignment or traveling the world for many other organizations, he can be found towing his boat RV Divercity as far as the Great Lakes on personal search projects.  This past year he was involved in charting the lost ships and equipment off the WWII invasion coasts of Normandy. This extensive exploration discovered over 200 shipwrecks, many tanks, personnel carriers, and much more. 

Ralph’s expertise includes Side Scan Sonar, sub-bottom profiler, video and still photography, proton procession and cesium magnetometers, fathometers, range/range positioning systems, laser-track positioning systems, differential GPS, computer navigation & mapping programs (HYPACK, Sextant), SCUBA, surface-supplied air diving supervisor for Assoc. of Diving Contractors, Nitrox, NOAA and EPA diving certifications, US Coast Guard licensed captain, dive safety supervisor, ROV pilot.

Besides all that, Ralph is one heck of a story teller.

D-Day’s Sunken Secrets, 70 Years After the Fact

On June 6, 1944, the Greatest Generation did what most thought could not be done. They launched the largest armada ever to sail and eventually freed Europe from the Nazi’s.  2014 was the 70th Anniversary of the invasion and a group of international explorers, historians, divers, archaeologists and surveyors returned to map the site and discover the secrets left behind from that day.

A detailed underwater survey of the invasion beaches was first conducted. That was followed by high resolution images of some of the targets, ROV work on them, diving and finally submarine trips to several of the sites.

This survey led to the establishment of the Normandy Beaches as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and production of a documentary of both the invasion and the survey that was sponsored by television stations in 5 countries. Ralph was part of that survey and will bring the inside view on this worthwhile project of massive undertaking.

H. L. Hunley, The World’s First Successful Attack Submarine

Sunk 1864, Found 1995, and Recovered 2000

During the American Civil War the North blockaded the southern ports. In an effort to re-open the ports and because war brings innovation, a group of men led by Horace Hunley partnered to develop a new kind of weapon.

Starting in New Orleans, moving to Mobile, Alabama and finally to Charleston, SC where the successful attack was carried out on February 17, 1864. In 1980 the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) led by its founder, bestselling author Clive Cussler, started the search for the submarine.

It was finally located in 1995. It was recovered in 2000. Since then it has been systematically disassembled and documented and placed in conservation. Ralph Wilbanks, the NUMA archaeologist and leader of the successful search will be presenting the entire project in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.

Recommended Articles