"You could just go and buy a submarine for $4,000"
August 21, 2019 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Marine biologist Shanee Stopnitzky is on a mission to spend as much time under the ocean's surface as possible. To achieve her goal, she bought two used and broken submarines, and is fixing them up, making them functional again, learning as she goes (Wired Video, 10 minutes with English captions) She's not alone in this effort, and to that end she founded the Community Subermersibles Project, a 300-strong cooperative of volunteer engineers and fabricators dedicated to upgrading the machines and piloting them at sea, supporting the goal of submarines for the rest of us (MakeZine).

See also: The Wacky, Risky World of DIY Submarines (Gizmodo Earther) for a bit more background on Fangtooth, formerly a bright yellow 2-person sub with a top-hatch painted to look like Captain America’s shield, and Noctiluca (formerly S-101), is a diesel-electric sub with a storied history.
posted by filthy light thief (62 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know why this seems more terrifying than becoming an amateur pilot, but holy shit this seems much more terrifying than becoming an amateur pilot. I am impressed and also sort of internally doing the oh god no get it away from me dance.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:41 AM on August 21 [26 favorites]


The drug cartels are way ahead of you.
posted by blob at 8:42 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it would make sense that drug cartels have the money to make their own subs that are significantly more reliable than Captain America's Yellow Submarine, aka Fangtooth, which is only allowed to go down 30 feet, because a view port is made of flat plexiglass, and would buckle under further pressures.

And if you wanted to know more about the myriad of official sub classes by country, Wikipedia has a list for you.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:48 AM on August 21 [2 favorites]


I don't know why this seems more terrifying than becoming an amateur pilot, but holy shit this seems much more terrifying than becoming an amateur pilot.

There is a healthy, active community of amateur aircraft homebuilders. It's been part of aviation basically since the beginning.

If you build a shitty airplane, the catastrophic failure mode is usually instant traumatic death. If you build a shitty submarine, the catastrophic failure mode is drowning.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:01 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


I don't know why this seems more terrifying than becoming an amateur pilot, but holy shit this seems much more terrifying than becoming an amateur pilot.

When you're at cruising altitude, you get lots of time to correct any mistake you make. Even if you have something go spectacularly wrong, you can usually glide to an emergency landing.

Not so with submarines.

The interval between making a mistake and being doomed can be shorter than a second.
posted by ocschwar at 9:13 AM on August 21 [7 favorites]


A simple aircraft is a vehicle, a simple submarine is a life support system that's also a vehicle, except I'm lying because there's nothing simple about life support systems.
posted by Eleven at 9:13 AM on August 21 [23 favorites]


If you build a shitty submarine, the catastrophic failure mode is drowning.

Or being crushed, depending on how deep you are.
posted by TedW at 9:16 AM on August 21 [3 favorites]


submarines for the rest of us

Someone else can have mine.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:21 AM on August 21 [20 favorites]


I would go into space in your homemade rocket before I'd go into the ocean in your homemade submarine.
posted by Reyturner at 9:23 AM on August 21 [10 favorites]


If you have the cash, you can always just go buy one ready made.
posted by TedW at 9:24 AM on August 21 [2 favorites]


If the Mad Scientists' Club could do it, how difficult can it really be?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:27 AM on August 21 [16 favorites]


The Argonaut Jr is a 2010 replica of first successful submarine built in 1894.
posted by peeedro at 9:29 AM on August 21 [3 favorites]


Or being crushed, depending on how deep you are.

Not to worry about being crushed, there are so so many failure possibilities far above crushing levels, that's just not happening with an amatuer sub.
posted by sammyo at 9:42 AM on August 21 [2 favorites]


I’ve been down to about 800 meters on the homemade sub Idabel. These folks have a lot of catching up to do.
posted by snofoam at 9:44 AM on August 21 [3 favorites]


TedW: If you have the cash, you can always just go buy one ready made.

I'm sure the standard rule applies: If you have to ask how much they cost, you can't afford them.
posted by clawsoon at 9:48 AM on August 21 [2 favorites]


Sure, but a lot of them, their mortgage is under water.
posted by Quindar Beep at 9:52 AM on August 21 [20 favorites]


From the link titled S-101: “…each of the prospective vessels selling for anywhere from $750,000 to the stratosphere (there’s a $70 million model on the company’s Web site”.
posted by JiBB at 9:53 AM on August 21


> Not to worry about being crushed, there are so so many failure possibilities far above crushing levels, that's just not happening with an amateur sub.

Not with that attitude }:(
posted by boo_radley at 9:56 AM on August 21 [13 favorites]


god the whole concept of The Open Water is already so terrifying, why would you want to be UNDER it. in a tube. aaaaaa
posted by poffin boffin at 10:07 AM on August 21 [7 favorites]


It's interesting how she describes all of her anxieties going away the instant she goes under the water, while a number of commenters here say that anxieties would come flooding in the instant they were completely submerged.

I guess we all have different sets of anxieties and ways to soothe them.
posted by clawsoon at 10:17 AM on August 21 [5 favorites]


Here's a 10-year-old article from The Stranger: The Quest for Depth Or, How to Make a Homemade Submarine

Also, check out the Personal Submarines Organization, psubs.org
posted by ShooBoo at 10:25 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


The thing is, buying a boat is the, cough, tip of the iceberg. Maintenance is constant, seawater is really corrosive, like regular heavy bolt from a hardware store last months. Not just stainless but 822 (?) stainless or it dissolves.
posted by sammyo at 10:25 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


clear flat windows
on amateur submarine
yields a crushed pop can
posted by Schadenfreude at 10:27 AM on August 21 [3 favorites]


I guess we all have different sets of anxieties

mine tend to focus on the unimpeded availability of oxygen in a form compatible with my lungs
posted by poffin boffin at 10:31 AM on August 21 [7 favorites]


 Or being crushed, depending on how deep you are

Being crushed while burning to death is also an option. Rapid compression heats air above the flash-point of many organic materials. So that's a big oh fuck no to being in or near a submarine from me.
posted by scruss at 10:42 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


'Steering thingy'
I'm sure that adds to one's confidence.
posted by MtDewd at 11:08 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


on the other hand without submarines humanity would not have been given the precious gift of the cinematic masterpiece The Meg so i guess i support them.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:09 AM on August 21 [6 favorites]


The one thing that bothers me is that if something goes really wrong, not crushing wrong but short of that say resting comfortably on the bottom 100' down with water seeping in somewhere, who is going to be able to help you? I'm not stridently against amateur built things, its just that this seems less forgiving than most.
posted by Pembquist at 11:11 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


who is going to be able to help you?

academy award winning director james cameron
posted by poffin boffin at 11:17 AM on August 21 [23 favorites]


Innerspace Science coordinates the non-commercial use of several privately owned submersibles and ROVs for education, scientific research, and other expeditions.

Two of these subs — the two-man Nekton Gamma (former owner/modifier Hank Pronk) and the sleek, one-man R300 (operating manual, owner/builder Cliff Redus) — recently completed a research project at the Flathead Lake Biological Station* north of Polson, Montana.

(*I went to the 2019 FLBS Open House, saw the subs up close and hands-on in the boat house, and spoke at length with the enthusiastic owners. Best field trip ever!)
posted by cenoxo at 11:34 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


If the Mad Scientists' Club could do it, how difficult can it really be?

Bless you, GCU, I thought I was the only one who remembered.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:05 PM on August 21 [6 favorites]


I recently learned about some of the earliest submarine/submersible designs, and holy shit are they nuts. Like, I had no idea that they dated back to the civil war. There was one (that I'm trying to track down) where the design effectively looked like one of those old-timey drawings of a dude with a twirly mustache riding a huge wheeled bicycle - except instead of pedaling, the dude is manipulating a large handle connected directly to the propellor, and it was inside of what was effectively a large bourbon barrel. The weaponry consisted of a mine on a stick that was manipulated by the operator.

If I remember correctly, It was similar to the turtle linked above but not QUITE the same, although I also admit it's possible that I'm confusing two different early submersibles.

I found it strangely inspiring to see just how rudimentary it was, and that it seriously really was no more than just a very large reinforced wodden barrel with a human driven propellor. Like, it looked like something I would have drawn when I was a kid, the whole thing was just so comically improbably - yet it worked, I was also immediately surprised at how easily the drawing of both the person operating it and the contraption itself seemed totally like it could just depict some bored person up here in the PNW during the present day and age.

Anyways, long story short, I want to make a barrel based submersible.
posted by MysticMCJ at 1:09 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


I recently learned about some of the earliest submarine/submersible designs, and holy shit are they nuts. Like, I had no idea that they dated back to the civil war.

Civil War, shit, they tried to use a half-assed single-person human-powered submersible in 1776. EDIT: I'd thought you were linking to Hunley and didn't see that you were linking to Turtle, which is the Revolutionary War "sub" itself.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:32 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


There was one (that I'm trying to track down) where the design effectively looked like one of those old-timey drawings of a dude with a twirly mustache riding a huge wheeled bicycle - except instead of pedaling, the dude is manipulating a large handle connected directly to the propellor, and it was inside of what was effectively a large bourbon barrel

Do you mean the Turtle? It dates back to the Revolutionary War though not the Civil War.
posted by jmauro at 1:41 PM on August 21


You can buy this Triton 1000/2 (2010 model year) used for the low-low price of just $1.6 mill.
posted by flug at 1:48 PM on August 21


Since I can’t drive Harper Goff’s Nautilus submarine from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954 film), I’ll just have to make do with Pat Regan’s Nautilus Minisub.
posted by cenoxo at 2:03 PM on August 21



The one thing that bothers me is that if something goes really wrong, not crushing wrong but short of that say resting comfortably on the bottom 100' down with water seeping in somewhere, who is going to be able to help you? I'm not stridently against amateur built things, its just that this seems less forgiving than most.


Given that these boats have a sharply limited safe dive depth, well within the length of winch cables commonly found on fishing boats, I see no justification for diving without tethering them to a companion ship, for exactly that reason.
posted by ocschwar at 2:40 PM on August 21 [5 favorites]


really though i feel like i'd be a lot happier in general if i could just have the memory of the byford dolphin incident permanently expunged.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:19 PM on August 21 [3 favorites]


It's interesting how she describes all of her anxieties going away the instant she goes under the water, while a number of commenters here say that anxieties would come flooding in the instant they were completely submerged.

Anxieties aren’t the only thing that might come flooding in.
posted by elphaba at 4:33 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


WRT my comment above, the two submersibles used for the Flathead Lake research project were restricted to a maximum depth of 250 feet. Although both subs are rated for deeper dives, this was the maximum depth allowed for two safety/rescue divers assigned to the project.

The Nekton Gamma can descend to 1000 feet, but it has a small, detachable escape pod (YT video with former owner/modifier Hank Pronk narrating) built into the tapered aft section of the hull. In case of entanglement with fishing nets, ropes, cables, etc., the sub’s single propellor can also be jettisoned.
posted by cenoxo at 4:44 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


My favorite part of reading this thread is learning that the first known propellor for watercraft was on a revolutionary war submarine.
posted by flaterik at 5:36 PM on August 21


I think I first read about this story on Metafilter awhile ago: a disturbing but fascinating homemade submarine murder mystery.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:41 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


I was similarly all "But there are so many things that can go wrong with those, this hobby could so easily gruesomely kill you!" then she said she had spend a year underwater so far, and that flipped it around and I was thinking "Wow! That's amazing experience and expertise! If anyone can survive this nightmare deathtrap hobby, it's you. Way to go that's so awesome!". A year underwater would be eg. 2+ hours a day every day for twelve years! Without being a sailor on a nuclear submarine, that's incredible.

(I mean even if it does end badly, it just seems different when a seasoned expert meets their end doing what they know and love. You can be confident that no-one could have done better in their shoes, that there will be no "if only they'd known to...", and that they must have been hit by something truly insurmountable that no-one could have survived)

I'd actually love that hobby so I'm also envious, but I am enamored of enough Bad Ideas that I've implemented a no-deathtrap-hobbies rule for myself, and home-made subs was already on that list. Plus the costs and space and facilities... ouch. Glad to see at least someone is living the dream though.
posted by anonymisc at 12:10 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


Being crushed while burning to death is also an option.

Even better if there's any fuel vapor in the air. You might get to see what the inside of a diesel engine looks like.

Without being a sailor on a nuclear submarine

You rang? Heh.

Yes, the sea pretty much tries to destroy your machine every time you look away. Plus, water is very patient and will eventually get where it wants to get. I'd be less afraid that the amateur sub wouldn't work the first time and way more that I couldn't maintain everything fast enough to keep ahead of the sea eventually. Dive number one two, sign me up! Dive number 10, 20, starting to take a pass on that idea.
posted by ctmf at 12:32 AM on August 22 [6 favorites]


It's interesting how she describes all of her anxieties going away the instant she goes under the water

I feel the same about flying in single rotor helicopters with just a bubble canopy. Your left leg just has to hang out hundreds of feet above the ground, and you're strapped in with just a little piece of belt. But once you re committed, and up in the air, there s no point in panicking
posted by eustatic at 5:46 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


I've got family who were submariners and nothing they've ever said has re-assured me that they're something I'd want to be involved in.

On the plus side, I was christened on an Oberon-class, I think HMAS Onslow.
posted by Acid Communist at 6:44 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Just leaving this comment so I can find this thread easily when the inevitable happens to this poor woman.
posted by Optamystic at 7:07 AM on August 22


I'm sure the standard rule applies: If you have to ask how much they cost, you can't afford them.

$6.98 when I was a kid. Including rockets and torpedoes.

I expect the price has gone up since then, but still.

(See also Assault on a Queen.)
posted by BWA at 7:31 AM on August 22


Not just stainless but 822 (?) stainless or it dissolves.

316 is the norm for marine applications and works pretty well in my experience. I've got a sort of reverse submarine made of that and, aside from some cheap "316" parts from China, no issues.
posted by bonehead at 8:33 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


. . . a sort of reverse submarine . . .

So, a flying boat?
posted by whuppy at 9:04 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


the water is on the inside?
posted by poffin boffin at 9:13 AM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Okay, it's a bucket
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:35 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]


Yes, water on the inside. With currents, waves and ice now, hopefully full weather systems in a couple of years.

8m3 saltwater tank. We put things into it to see what will happen.
posted by bonehead at 10:34 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]


Presumably they get wet.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:51 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


To be a true reverse submarine, tho, you'll need to put it on wheels and let the fish drive.
posted by whuppy at 11:59 AM on August 22 [6 favorites]


We put things into it to see what will happen.

You should talk to Geordi. He knows things.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:08 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


It is on wheels. And it has four viewing ports. Sadly, it's only externally steerable; we have a little golf-cart pusher thing to move it about.

Fish are waiting on the animal care committee approval, but are in current plans. We're also in talks for frogs in a fresh/brackish configuration.
posted by bonehead at 12:40 PM on August 22 [8 favorites]


Yes, water on the inside. With currents, waves and ice now, hopefully full weather systems in a couple of years.

bonehead is Slartibartfast and I claim my $5.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:45 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Okay, I am sad now that Metafilter works the way it does and we can't just demand a Bonehead's Inverse Submarine thread.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:24 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


The thing that struck me most is the sheer joy that this woman radiates. She's so incredibly delighted by the fact the she gets to work with these subs.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 6:02 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Bonehead's Inverse Submarine

Isn't that the title of a lost Beatles album?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:52 PM on August 22


Once upon a time, plenty of imaginative minisub adventure was packed into Tom Swift and his Jetmarine by Victor Appleton II, 1954. From the dust jacket:
The Jetmarine, the second great invention of Tom Swift Jr., takes the young inventor into a desperate battle with bold modern pirates who have been ravaging the sea lanes off our southern coast.

The atom-powered, two-man submarine is launched just in time for Tom and his pal Bud to set out to rescue Tom's father, who has fallen into the hands of the pirates. The wily enemy pulls no punches in trying to wreck the amazing Jetmarine that outspeeds any sub and is able to plunge miles to the ocean floor. Breathtaking running battles through hurricanes and gunfire, thrilling struggles with undersea monsters, imprisonment and escape from the pirate stronghold are part of the excitement of this second book in the new TOM SWIFT JR. series.

From the moment Tom innocently picks up a strange coin imprinted with the head of a dog, things begin happening -- not only to Tom, but also to his father, his uncle, to Bud Barclay, and Chow the cook. The pace continues from the Swift plant at Shopton to the Caribbean -- on and under the sea, in the air and inside the pirates' secret hideout.
In reality, the smallest operational nuclear submarine was the wheeled, 145 foot long USN Deep Submergence Vessel NR-1 “Nerwin” that carried out scientific and classified missions from 1969-2008. More details, diagrams, and photos at Covert Shores.

After decommissioning, the NR-1’s control room was disassembled and sent (for future exhibition) to the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington. Some external components of the sub are displayed at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut.
posted by cenoxo at 12:18 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


« Older Trails of Wind: The architecture of airport...   |   Dep’t of Corrections Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments