Travel Theme: Secret Places

By Vladimir Brezina

Over on Where’s my backpack?, Ailsa has posted this week’s theme for her Travel Photo Challenge: Secret Places.

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The Yellow Submarine of Brooklyn

Our story begins in 1956, with one of history’s most famous maritime disasters. In thick fog on the evening of 25 July, the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria collided with the liner Stockholm and next morning sank off Nantucket. 52 people died.

But for others, the great shipwreck was a great opportunity. Adventurers dreamed of schemes to strike it rich through salvage (although in the end, as usual, it was the lawyers who made the serious money). And there was plenty to salvage:

The Andrea Doria was known to be bountifully loaded with such diverse items as a $250,000 solid silver statue of a mermaid; thousands of cases of liquor; tons of provolone cheese; 200,000 pieces of mail that the federal government would pay 26 cents a piece for; the ship’s bronze propellers, worth $30,000 each, paintings locked in air-tight vaults; industrial diamonds; the ship’s $6 million metal scrap value; passengers’ personal property left in several vaults and more. [From an old article in Forgotten NY, now apparently deleted.]

Among those hoping to strike it rich was a Brooklyn Navy Yard ship fitter named Jerry Bianco, who developed a bold plan: build a submarine.

Bianco believed he could build a vessel strong enough to descend to 240 feet of water, where the liner rests at the bottom off Nantucket, and could actually raise the sunken vessel by filling it with inflatable dunnage bags; when filled, the bags would lift it off the bottom or to the surface — or so the theory went.

Lest this sound crazy, Bianco did succeed in forming a corporation, selling stock, raising more than $300,000, and building a 40-foot, 83-ton submarine that passed Coast Guard inspection with flying colors, and, in October 1970, was ready to be launched.

But for want of a nail…  Bianco was chronically short of money (he painted the submarine chromium yellow, because that was the cheapest paint he could find).  Because the launch was to be paid for by the pound, he did not ballast the submarine fully, and it capsized upon being lowered into the water.

And there it has remained ever since.

By now, not much of its yellow paint remains; it’s half-submerged, rusted, barnacle-encrusted… a modest, curiously-shaped object that nevertheless hides a fascinating history.

It’s in Coney Island Creek, a bucolic backwater of New York Harbor visited only by birds, fishermen… and kayakers! But not many know about it. We didn’t for many years. But now that we do, we visit it often. It’s one of our secret places.

These photos are from a visit just last week. The text above is partly adapted from a previous post on the Yellow Submarine. And a nice New York Times article on the submarine and its location is here.

35 responses to “Travel Theme: Secret Places

  1. thanks for this story!

  2. Wow, how could I not know it? Coney Island is on of my favorite places in brooklyn…
    Thanks for the info..

  3. Thanks for the story. I wondered about it when you posted your visit kayak photos.

  4. OMG, really surprising @Val. Chapeau!

  5. Thank you for sharing this story.

  6. Sweet! The yellow submarine instantly captured my imagination in your previous post, and Johna said it was one of her favourite places, what a wonderful story to go along with it. I love your secret place! xxx

    • It’s wonderful how many places and sights in New York City do have a secret history associated with them. There are indeed quite a few fascinating blogs (some of them on our blogroll) dedicated to uncovering and documenting that history…

  7. Very cool. How did I never knew about this? Defintely near the top of my list for places to visit this summer!

  8. As for the silver mermaid she’s with me!

  9. How did I live in Brooklyn for five years and not know about this? I wasn’t far from CI. V Cool.

  10. This is such a fabulous story – can’t wait to show it to my husband – thanks for sharing it. We’ve found some great things kayaking smaller waterways – but nothing like this!

  11. wonderful post Vladimir. I’m learning so much about the world we live in by participating in these challenges

  12. Vlad (I’m calling you that, hope you don’t mind), kayaking surely is unearthing some treasures around NY harbor – and gets added to my list of places to see and things to do in NY! Thanks.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed your story about the yellow submarine.

  14. fascinating story and great photos.

  15. You are fantastically talented..

  16. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise | Wind Against Current

  17. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic | Wind Against Current

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