By Vladimir Brezina
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.