This image of a real mini submarine inside a factory is, "A True Story," so to speak, as this little sub has been the primary business for her owner, Douglas Privitt, his partners and submersible pilots for the last 26 years. In this photo, we are recreating, in a sort of whimsical fashion the scene from when the hull was first rolled at this same facility over 26 years ago. I´m trying to imply a sort of Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn feeling of "painting the fence," mixed with a sort of Norman Rockwell flavor too. I want people/ kids, to view this very large print on the wall of a museum some day and say to themselves, – Wow! We should build a submarine too!
Motivation for me was not so much the really cool look of the mini sub placed against a backdrop of a rough factory environment, the welding torch or sparks from the grinder. Rather it is the passion of the owner, Douglas, pictured in the open hatch (now in his late 70´s) who had the determination to pursue his vision, and by doing so is allowed to live out his dream of actually building a mini sub and using it as a business for all those years. They still do operate it to this day. Writing the article for the image (not that anybody will read them,) I think helps others understand some of the motivations that compel some individuals. The ingredients, that taken in total, make up a man´s life and help define him to a degree. His passions, hopes, the fruits of his creativity, maybe also the pursuit of happiness that is one of the cornerstones of our great country. With all the very bad things in the world these days, I like to offer something that is positive and real.
Maybe subtly, I would hope that people might intuitively understand that this photo is not just a pretty picture of a mini submarine, but speaks to a much broader issues of passion, determination, capitalism, free enterprise, the pursuit of happiness, and the skills needed to build such a wonderful jewel of engineering. (Stay in school!)
Douglas started building submarines in the 1950s, coming from a career as a tool and die maker, he was also a winning motorcycle racer. Over the course of several years now, he has built five different mini submersibles, Delta, pictured is the last in a line of highly successful diving rigs. In addition to the physical construction of the sub´s structure, Douglas constructed most of Delta´s original support systems on board, including the tracking and sonar systems, mechanical and hydraulic arm, along with the lights and camera housings. Several of these separate systems (tracking and sonar specifically) have since been upgraded with high tech off the shelf electronics as developments in technology have allowed. To date, the sub has performed 6,978 dives with a perfect safety record.
Interestingly, and so in keeping with the spirit of the picture, on the right side of the photo, is the foreman of this fabrication plant, Armando. He is actually the nephew of the original foreman who rolled the hull all those years ago. On the left hand side of the frame, grinding away is the primary pilot, Chris Ijames, the sub´s pilot for 18 years now. Chris is also the guy who runs the day–to–day operations of their joint business, Delta Oceanographics, as they are partners. Chris has logged about 2000 dives to date.
Notice the bucket of paint, and little Beatles Yellow Submarine included in the photo– just for fun. All of the equipment on the foreground floor is from the sub itself. We had to drag the sub and some of the loose equipment from Torrance where it lives in Doug´s machine shop, Marfab, via a flat bed truck to the city of Santa Fe Springs for the purpose of creating this image. This photo took almost a year for all the different schedules to align so we could collectively work on making such a pretty picture. It was truly a collaborative effort. The company is Paramount Roll and Forming of Santa Fe Springs. Paramount was so very generous to us by allowing the picture to take place. In addition to granting access for the photo over the course of two days, they were very accommodating by cutting and welding several large pieces of scrap metal which were used in the photo as props. All this effort in exchange for a finished print– wonderful! From start to finish, the shot took over 16 hours of moving sub and equipment, propping, and then finally shooting that evening when it got dark enough to paint with light. Over 700 frames were exposed that evening. The following day– Sunday, we hauled it all back again.
This submarine Delta is a two–man vehicle; it has an operational depth of 1,200 feet. A tested depth of 1,700 feet and a crush depth calculated to be about 3,000 feet. With a cruising speed of 1.5 knots and a maximum speed of 3.5 knots, it can stay submerged in an emergency for 3 days straight. There are nineteen view ports, and the sub’s total weight in air is 4,800 Lbs. A typical sortie is usually between two to three hours and sometimes up to four hours duration, but there is enough chemical scrubbing agents to remove Co2, and battery power to operate the system for the whole 3 days if need be. In an emergency, the entire propeller, propeller housing and rudder assembly, along with the rudder control linkage mechanism can be jettisoned, in order to free the sub from fouling of a net or other items that might get snagged on the structure. They had to do just that once at a depth of about 300 feet while they were exploring a shipwreck, Lusitania. Pretty scary stuff. You can see the spare prop housing on the floor, that they used to go back down and retrieve the discarded hardware.
I once asked Chris what it was like to fly the ship underwater, expecting an enthusiastic response about the freedom and incredible sights that must open up to anyone lucky enough to go for a ride. His reply only surprised me a little. Explaining that it is often cold after you have been down a while as the hull is solid steel, a great conductor of cold temperatures from the outside waters, often, when diving, the visibility is restricted so you only see what is relatively close to the submersible, There have been more that one occasion when they finally settled on the bottom, only to find the visibility too restrictive to perform the mission for the day and have to scrub the dive. His experience is that the ocean floor is littered with all sorts of debris that can be a real hazard for them; mostly old snagged fishing nets, and it is critical to keep an eye out for them. Finally, it is a relatively restrictive environment inside the sub, definitely not a place for somebody with claustrophobia issues. As pilot of the craft, and with the responsibility for the passenger, he maintains a professional and vigilant perspective at all times. Chris did share that, through the past years, with all the different locations around the world they dive, some of the most striking scenery is found in the waters of Alaska and the Channel Islands just off the California coast. Because of an abundance of marine life and unlimited visibility, it can sometimes be a magical experience, truly amazing.
They offered me a ride on the sub this summer if they get the contract to dive off the coast here locally. There will be several days where they go out and back each day from Oxnard, and I'm welcome to come along, if everything works out, I can maybe go down for 4 hours or so. We'll see...