Personal Submersible History
The Story, the Reason, and the Result
My facination with submarines goes back to my early childhood interests. I watched every submarine movie there was as a child. I was very interested in the concept of pipes, valves, tanks, pumps, and fluid flow in general. My dream as a child was to own a sub like the Cubmarine sold by Perry Submarine Builders in the early 1960s. This company founded by John Perry built the sub for use by the general public. This was a radical idea for that time, but one that greatly inspired me to do the same.
One unique memory that I have of the Cubmarine was from a an early TV program called "The Price is Right." This was not the later version with Bob Barker, but an earlier version of the show staring Bill Cullen. One night they allowed the contestants to bid on a Cubmarine. I was glued to the set. Just to see the small sub and to have the thought that someone was going to own it was enough to get my full attention. However, I was a bit angered when after the bidding was completed Cullen showed the audience what "else" the winner was to get to go along with their prize and it was a set of Turkish towels. It was a joke, but the thought that the general public has no faith that a reliable one-person sub could be built really irritated me.
Actually, my first sub project was attempting to weld together several steel oil drums in my shop. Not realizing that the pressure would have severely limited my depth, I attempted what I could nevertheless. I also focused my efforts to build a “wet sub” that could be ballast controlled and propelled by enclosed batteries. These early attempts were made when I was around 15 years of age.
My first major attempt at a serious submarine started in 1966 when I created a design our of “black” steel 0.75-inch pipe covered with 0.125-inch sheet steel. My good friend Paul Davis and I labored all one summer on this design and made great strides, as it took shape in my side yard. Unfortunately not building the sub in total secrecy led to a wealth of scoffing. Paul and I became the laughing stock of our high school. We were already nerds in the eyes of many, but this brought the whole school's focus on us.
As the fall of the year came around, we had just finished the majority of the hull when school activities seemed to make things much harder to work on our project. Eventually, it was abandoned—the project that is, not the ridicule for attempting such a thing.
For many years this stigma of “You tried to build a submarine!” followed me with a new laugh surfacing from time to time. I got to where I literally hated to hear the word submarine, as it reminded me of what everyone seemed to think was a serious failure of judgment in thinking that I could build my own sub. The final straw came in 1987, as I was teaching Physical Science at LSUS. After explaining about something I had done years earlier to my students, someone from the back of the auditorium raised their hand to be recognized.
“I heard you tried to build a submarine once!” came from the sarcastic student. I gritted my teeth and replied, “Yes, I did.” The student thought it was quite humorous, as many had in the past. I said no more than to acknowledge his initial statement, but right there on that day I decided, while standing in front of that class, that I was going to do it. I was going to build a submarine, and demonstrate that I could do it.
I had no plans. I had no books on sub design, just knowledge of physics and engineering practices and a good intuitive feel for how to approach the problem. I started work in designing the sub one step at a time. I did not design each and every component before starting to construct. I allocated a certain amount of space for internal systems and designed the pressure hull first. I worked on the hull design and construction for several years before moving on to internal systems. I was not able to work constantly, as I had many other duties, but I always came back to the project when I had available time.
Unlike many designers, I was severely constrained by budget and availability of components, so it was virtually impossible to know what would be available to me prior to a given step in the construction process. With many adaptations and changes in the internal systems, I finally in the summer of 1997 was finished and ready for testing. I named her the Vindicator for obvious reasons. After numerous test dives, she showed to be a proven design, as all systems worked as planned. I had my submarine or “submersible” as they are called in the field.
Newspaper coverage, as well as featured television spots, brought attention to my design. Three noted submariners who had either extensive experience in building or operating subs came to see the Vindicator. All seemed surprised that I had no prior knowledge of how sub design is done, yet I was able to almost follow the “book” when it came to proper design and construction practice.
I am vindicated! I no longer get ridiculed. What I see now more than anything else is the surprise on faces that have just discovered that an individual has designed and built a one-man sub of this class. I am pleased with my accomplishment, and looking back, it was worth all the money and effort.