Salinan plans to spend 4 years restoring submarine

In this May 12, 2016 photo, Scott Walker and his friends are refurbishing a submarine in Salina. The Pisces VI has an 80-inch diameter sphere and is 21 feet long. The 24,000-pound submarine can dive to maximum depth of 8,300 feet underwater with a crew of three. (Tom Dorsey/Salina Journal via AP)

Three years after building his own submarine from scratch, Scott Waters’ undersea ambitions have deepened.

In September 2013, the 27-year-old Salina man completed a five-year project to build a “yellow” submarine — a 14-foot-long, 4,500-pound, steel-plated, two-man sub powered by eight Marine batteries placed inside sealed cylinders on the bottom half of each side of the sub.

Waters successfully launched his custom sub — christened “Trustworthy” — at Milford Lake. Although the sub was designed to dive as deep as 350 feet and support life for up to 72 hours, the Milford Lake dive was accomplished in just a few feet of water and for very short periods of time.

For Waters, a submarine addict since he first viewed the Walt Disney/Jules Verne movie classic “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” as a child, it was the culmination of a decades-long obsession.

“I got blueprints for a submarine back in first grade,” said Waters, now 29 and chief executive officer of the Kansas-based family business Waters True Value Hardware.

After that successful launch, Waters was ready to take his obsession a step further and much, much deeper.

Sea sub purchased

In December, he purchased a deep diving submarine called the Pisces VI, a spherically-shaped sub constructed of 1.1-inch thick specialty hardened steel and weighing 24,000 pounds. The sub is designed to dive a maximum of 8,300 feet and carry a pilot and three passengers for up to five days.

In this May 12, 2016 photo, Ben Fosse, of Rehoboth Beach, Del., examines the submarine for surface rust during of the restoration of Pisces VI north of Salina. Scott Walker, of Salina, and his friends are refurbishing the submarine. (Tom Dorsey/Salina Journal via AP)

The Salina Journal reports that the Pisces VI was built in 1976 by HYCO, an international hydrodynamics company, for $2.5 million — about $10.5 million in 2016 dollars — and sold to a company called IUC (International Underwater Contractors) for undersea exploration and deep water drilling for the oil industry.

Waters said the Pisces VI also made important contributions to a better understanding of the deep ocean as part of National Geographic’s William Beebe expedition, discovering never-before-seen deep sea creatures in their natural environment.

More than a decade ago, IUC switched its focus away from submarine exploration and decommissioned the Pisces VI. Waters said he ran across the sub while conducting a worldwide search for decommissioned deep sea subs and made a purchase offer.

The company wanted $500,000 for the Pisces VI, but Waters said he bought it for $30,000.

“We went back and forth for nine months, but I stuck to my guns and it paid off,” he said.

Upgrades planned

Waters’ purchase makes the Pisces VI the deepest diving submersible owned by a private individual in the world. Only six other government-owned submarines in the world have the capability of diving to a similar depth, Waters said.

Waters picked up the Pisces VI from a Wisconsin storage facility and hauled it to a custom-built shop near the Saline/Ottawa county line. With the assistance of a team of experts, Waters said he plans to renovate and retrofit the sub during the next four years.

“For a 40-year-old sub, it’s not in bad shape,” he said. “We’re going to tear it apart to its individual components and do a lot of upgrades, including putting in computerized systems and electronics.”

Waters said in the end the refurbishing costs could exceed $100,000, with most of that coming from his own bank account.

“I won’t make money until we get it in the water in about four years,” he said. “And that timeline might change.”

Waters is being assisted in the sub renovation by crew chief Vance Bradley, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., an adviser for a personal submersibles organization at and veteran of hundreds of offshore and underwater explorations; Ben Fosse, a Kansas State University graduate who is a professional commercial pilot in Delaware; and Ryan Johnson, a Salina machinist and longtime friend of Waters.

‘A commercial venture’

Bradley said despite the years of wear, the hull of the Pisces VI was in nearly “perfect” shape.

“I’ve piloted two of her sisters and worked on this one for a time when it was a couple of years old, and it’s in remarkably good condition for a sub that was used fairly regularly the first three decades of its life,” he said.

Bradley said that when diving at dangerous depths, the thick, spherical shape of the sub helps distribute “equal pressure all around.”

Even the viewport at the center of the sub is not made of glass or plastic but a special 14-inch-thick R-Cast acrylic made for deep-diving submersibles.

“You can’t buy this stuff at True Value stores,” he said with a laugh.

Fosse said his job mainly is to go through a lot of “checks and balances” to make sure the sub is restored and operated as safely as possible.

“The safety procedures are a lot like we use in airlines,” he said. “There’s a lot of grunt work that needs to be done to restore this sub. It’s a long-term project that you can’t do overnight, but the end result is a sub that will be used to open up a chunk of the world nobody’s seen before, and that’s exciting.”

Once the sub is restored, Waters said he plans to take it to a research and testing facility in San Antonio, Texas, to give him a better idea “of how deep it can go.”

After the Pisces VI is deemed seaworthy, Waters said he plans to ship it to a location like the Canary Islands and recoup the costs of the expensive restoration by offering low-cost services in areas of science, film and tourism.

Since 2008, Waters said, government funding has been slashed for science and exploration programs, so his plan is to offer his sub as a less-expensive option for scientists and film crews to continue their exploration of the world’s oceans.

“I’m hoping for big contracts in the future for science and film companies,” he said. “Mankind has a need to explore and learn about the world we live on. I plan on pushing the envelope of exploration in the deep sea.”

Tourism also is a major goal. Waters plans to offer rides in the sub to those willing to pay the price.

“The other sub was for fun,” he said. “This sub is a major investment and goes way beyond being a hobby. It’s a commercial venture.”