Juneau man takes homemade submarine for test cruise

Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Cal C. Giordano has been building a homemade submarine in a garage near Juneau Airport since late June. Recently he took the 20-foot craft, for a test float.

''And I came home with a Coast Guard escort,'' Giordano said, chuckling. ''I didn't have my AK (boat registration) numbers yet.''

Giordano built the homemade sub from an industrial buoy and a large propane tank. Giordano christened it Arch Duke Grand Excelsior Ruler of the High Seas, and it looks like an enormous, wingless, extraterrestrial mosquito with three oversized port hole eyes. An outboard motor in the back makes it hum.

''The design is 100 percent my own,'' Giordano said. ''I'm an artist, I come from an art background, plus I have a pretty good grasp on physics. (The design) combines my love of art with basic submarine science.''

Giordano also describes himself as an ''ace mechanic master craftsman'' who taught himself welding and boat mechanics. He hasn't taken a science class since he was in high school in Bethel. He learned most of his submarine-building physics from experience, reading books and watching science shows on cable television.

''The Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel, that's about it,'' he said.

Giordano said he has designed and built cannons and several vehicles, including a steam-powered go-cart and a steam rocket. He started drawing a sub in a notebook in his spare time.

''I didn't stop designing it until it looked real neat,'' he said.

The craft cost about $2,500 to make. Many of the parts were salvaged or purchased at a discount.

''The only real cash outlay was for the portholes and the buoy,'' he said.

The 48-inch diameter buoy is the pilot house. Inside, he mounted a plastic seat, throttle and steering wheel. Eventually there will be a bilge pump, he said.

The propane tank in back is a completely separate chamber that can keep the pilot house afloat if the front compartment takes on water, he said.

The run-in with the Coast Guard last week ended with the inspectors warning him to get a license and proper safety equipment.

''They were really nice about it and asked if they could take pictures,'' Giordano said.

Aside from the Coast Guard snag, the Arch Duke's first dip was a success. The boat was stable and could right itself when tipped.

''She passed with flying colors,'' Giordano said. ''When I came in, people were saying, ''What the heck is that? Hey, that's cool!'''

Kurt Iverson was walking the Auke Bay dock and saw the Arch Duke moored.

''My first thought was that it was a submarine and then I saw an outboard motor on the back and I noticed the wheels on the bottom and I had no idea what those were for,'' Iverson said.

The wheels are part of the Arch Duke's built-in trailer. Giordano has been hauling the craft with a Peterbilt tractor. The wheels are filled with water and antifreeze to keep them from disturbing the buoyancy balance of the craft and to keep them from freezing. Giordano has built the boat to withstand freezing temperatures. The bow is designed to break ice, he said.

The next step is to submerge the Arch Duke. Giordano plans to test it at a depth of 8 feet with the help of an internal propulsion system -- the outboard motor installed inside the propane tank, which he has yet to construct. His oxygen will be supplied by a tube that will extend above the water. Another tube will release exhaust. Eventually he plans to have an oxygen supply attached to the pilot house.

Giordano realizes being inside a small metal buoy under water could be dangerous, especially if something were to go wrong deeper than 8 feet, where the water pressure is high. Giordano said he has built the boat with safety in mind.

Giordano also wants to make cosmetic upgrades -- including welding a large metal shark fin on the back.

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