A Man of Extremes : Victor Vescovo Isn’t Afraid to Push the Limits

He has reached the Earth’s highest and lowest points and is one of the world’s few people to have ventured into space. At 56 years old, Commander Victor Lance Vescovo is nowhere near done.

Article by T Australia

VV_1Victor Vescovo and Cliff Kapono hike to the summit of Mauna Kea on 3 Feb 21. Photography courtesy of OMEGA.

Private equity investor, former naval officer, mountain climber and undersea explorer, Commander Victor Lance Vescovo, has a penchant for extremes. As a young boy he spent his days exploring his home city – Dallas, Texas – on his bicycle, “Probably pushing myself further than my parents wanted me to go,” he says.

His disregard for limits continued into his teenage years, at age 19 he learnt how to fly an aircraft and at 21 he began scaling mountains. “You can get more comfortable operating in these intense environments and you definitely miss it when you come back to a more normal existence,” he says. “Out on the edge, that’s where the fun is.” In 2022, Vescovo became the first person to achieve the “trifecta” of exploration – venturing to both the world’s highest (Mt. Everest) and lowest points (a depth of 10,928m at the Challenger Deep, in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench) and, alongside Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, into space.

Here, Vescovo speaks with T Australia about his groundbreaking discovery of the USS destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, his relationship with OMEGA, navigating fear and the destinations still on his bucket list.

Vescovo holds the national flag of the United States of America, and the state flag of Texas, atop the highest point on the planet, 29,035-ft. Mt. Everest. Photography courtesy of OMEGA.

What does it feel like at the bottom of the ocean? Can you describe the sensation?

Ancient. That is the word that most easily comes to mind. And quiet, peaceful, but also ominous. You can’t see that far, maybe 20-30 meters with all the lights blasting so it always feels like the deep ocean is hiding its secrets from you. You don’t know what is near you until you are almost on top of it, so there is that feeling of being in a huge, dark, quiet house and you know you really shouldn’t be there – the outside pressure would kill you instantly. But it is so old, and has amazing and unusual life forms that exist no where else on Earth. It has to be as close to exploring another planet as anything else on our world. It is so different than going into space, which is loud and violent with amazing thousand-kilometer views, or climbing Everest with the wind, noise, cold, hypoxia, and raw physical danger. No, the deep oceans are ominous, brooding, and perhaps most of all, mysterious.

Tell us about your relationship with OMEGA – what initially drew you to the brand? What synergies do you share?

OMEGA was the first company to produce a commercial dive watch, so it felt very fitting to partner with them to make the first descent to all five of the worlds oceans. They were also very enthusiastic about making a timepiece that could accompany my vessel and I down to nearly 11,000 meters, in an extraordinary engineering feat. The company is not only extremely passionate about new technology, but also precision, elegance in design, and these are values that I also hold very dear. Honestly, there was just a perfect fit between their culture and organizational personality and my own. They are also an absolute delight to work with.

Vescovo in the North Pole. Photography courtesy of OMEGA.

Last June you located the deepest wreck in history, USS destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts (“Sammy B”). Can you tell us about what the discovery meant to you?

It was a really special moment for me on multiple levels. First, as a retired US Navy officer, it was an honor to be the one to find her and pay respect to the extreme heroism of her Captain and crew, and hopefully give some closure to the families of those who lost loved ones during the battle in 1944. Technically, it was extremely exciting because we were using a first-of-its-kind multibeam sonar system that can operate any depth in the ocean – a first. We put in a great deal of work to narrow down the search area, plan the exploration dives, use the sonar, and eventually, yes, we found her. It is not at all easy, extremely difficult actually, to find sunken vessels in very deep water. This was a wreck that was 70 percent deeper than even the Titanic and was one-quarter its size. I’m not sure people understand what a technological tour de force it was to find her.

What are some of the other destinations on your bucket list?

I was fortunate enough to go into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket in June, so that was simply amazing and something I had always wanted to do. However, it only whetted my appetite to go up again and stay longer. I’d love to go up on their orbital New Glenn rocket that is in development and orbit the Earth. I also hope to live long enough that I may have a chance to visit the moon. Nearer term, there are still many deep ocean trenches that have yet to be visited by humans, so I would like to continue my efforts to one day explore all of them, while also pushing the technology to make the ocean more accessible to more people.

Photography courtesy of OMEGA.

Do you ever experience fear? If so, how do you navigate the feeling?

Well sure. We all experience fear, but I think the real difference among people is how we deal with it. I actually think it is like many other things where practice, familiarisation, and training can help you deal with it much better. Training to be a jet and helicopter pilot, in particular, trains you to deal with very intense emergency situations and when you practice your responses over and  over again, you learn to control your fear. It is a great warning system, and enhances your awareness, sharpens your responses, but you can’t let it debilitate you. You train and you train some more to learn how to control it. You have to just let it pass through you and on the other side, there’s just you, focused and clear.

Your work requires a significant amount of drive, grit and risk – what advice would you give to others when it comes to innovation and pushing the limits?

Ha, grit. A great word and one I’m familiar with here in my home state of Texas. Yes, well, it comes down to just committing to doing things and then having the self-discipline to seeing them through. If I have to think of what the greatest human virtue is, I would have to say self-discipline because with it, all you have to do is point yourself in whatever direction you want to go, and you will begin the path to making it happen. But so, so many people give up, or say this or that is too difficult, or don’t adapt to the thousand little setbacks we all face. But determination, commitment, and self-discipline pushes you through those challenges and if you just keep at it, you can make extraordinary things happen. I am not Olympic athlete, or Nobel Laureate, or billionaire… but I am very persistent and I do think I have the self-discipline to see things through to their difficult end.

Do you have any upcoming projects you could tell our readers about?

I recently sold my diving system to support future scientific exploration in the deep ocean, so that should help me to plan and focus on new technology and expeditions in a couple of years.

Some times you just need time to step back and carefully plan, away from the day to day pressures of expeditions. I’m now on the Board of Advisors and investor in Colossal Biosciences, which is seeking to “de-extinct” species like the Wooly Mammoth and the Tasmanian Tiger – so there’s that. However, I will be continuing my explorations in the deep ocean, but I can’t be more specific than that right now. I have to confess it is a bit fun to surprise people.