National Geographic : 1961 Jul
National Geographic, July, 1961 record time to conceive, design, and assemble a radical departure in marine architecture. We mounted the outboards on the fantail and operated them in teams of four. While we waited for our jets, they would give us an idea of how the ship performed. I think none of us will ever forget the dedi cation ceremonies on December 10, 1960. A week before the date, it was evident that Alinat's people could not finish in time to take the ship apart, truck it three miles to the waterfront, and put it together again -a six day job in all. Distinguished guests had been invited, including Their Serene Highnesses of Monaco. I hated to postpone the event. That would be a poor debut for an outfit that was supposed to pick up and go on short notice. So we decided to transport the ship fully assembled through the streets of Nice, from the yard to the quay. The crowd on that rainy day in Nice watched the most animated street spectacle since the Turkish pirate Barbarossa sacked the city in 1543. Mobile cranes lifted Amphi trite for the slow, wet march to the water front. With police escort, we reached the heart of the old city during the morning rush hour (pages 144-5). Linemen snipped tele phone and power wires to let the strange float through, and briskly dismantled a traffic sig nal while French motorists cheered. At the quayside a flag-decked honor guard of ships looked on while the cranes placed Amphitrite gently on the blue water. She floated like eider down. The Princess chris tened her, and horns and whistles saluted. Rollers to Launch Ship From Beach I conducted our charming godmother and the Prince, who is a free diver and an ardent lover of the sea, aboard the portable ship. I asked them to imagine what happens when Amphitrite and Denise go on operations. "Everything arrives in air-freight cartons," I expanded enthusiastically. "Saout, Falco, and three other men truck the expedition to the seashore. It doesn't matter how primitive the port. They assemble the ship on inflat able rollers and, if necessary, can push her into the water without mechanical power." Within ten days of a mission order, I added, Amphitrite and Denise can be on distant div ing grounds. The little submarine can chart the Continental Shelf with her echo sounders, take electronic-flash photos and color movies, collect specimens with her hydraulic claw, and apply the finest scientific instruments of all, the eyes of expert human observers. I got the surprise of my seagoing career when I took Amphitrite out on her first run. I set four motors ahead and four astern and she spun around on the spot, as though fixed on a pivot. She was stable and responsive, a vessel related to the water in a new way. I realized that my quarter of a century as a navigator was useless aboard a pneumatic ship. I would have to learn all over again. Because she weighs so little, the raftlike Amphitrite does not roll or pitch. In a choppy sea the small wave shocks are distributed on the bottom, giving the sensation of riding a truck on a bumpy road. She sails well in a sea coming on the beam but is rougher in a head sea. A moderate drift is entirely over come by her ease of maneuver. We have not yet encountered high waves, but we think Amphitrite will safely ride out storms with power shut down and the mainhouse sealed. Infrared Cooking and Plastic Chairs The seaman's life on the great nylon boat is strange but not uncomfortable. The men and the diving saucer and all living and work ing facilities are housed in a watertight main house of translucent vinyl stretched over the mainframe. The house is slightly pressurized to swell the vinyl into smooth aerodynamic form and to keep water out. The crew cooks on an infrared broiler, sits on plastic chairs, and sleeps on foam rubber. At night the interior electric lights shin ing through the vinyl tent make Amphitrite glow like some great phosphorescent jelly fish wandered up from the deep. The deck house will get terribly hot at diving stations in the tropics, but a portable air conditioner will overcome that. After the first trials, we found a hydrojet propulsion system-light, compact diesels from Hispano-Suiza in France and jet drive pumps from the Berkeley Pump Company in California. Berkeley engineers were so taken with Amphitrite that they pushed production a year ahead to outfit her. By the time you read this, it is likely that Captain Sa6ut and his four-man crew of Air borne Undersea Expeditions will be winging from Nice to some lonely shore, where they will assemble Amphitrite and launch her by means of the air rollers. They will jet across the sea at 30 knots, carrying Denise to a ren dezvous with realms never seen by man.