Mechanical “Lobster” (Nov, 1947)
Deep undersea the claws of this tank will rip to the heart of rotting treasure ships.
THERE’S gold down on the ocean floor. Vast fortunes lie hidden in sunken caches, waiting the hand bold enough to stretch down through the dark pressure-packed waters and bring them to light. Now, with the new ultramodern equipment becoming available, treasure expeditions may become big business.
Treasure salvors know the authentic accounts of divers who have recovered immense treasure from sunken galleons, and know too of numerous other sunken craft that still retain great wealth within their rotting hulks. I myself have salvaged many sunken vessels, bringing to the surface much treasure; I, too, have attempted to recover some of the Spanish treasure that remains beneath the Silver Shoals, off Haiti; and I have walked in the sunken city of Port Royal, the fabulously wealthy “Pirates’ Babylon” off Jamaica.
I am positive that there are many more golden doubloons and pieces-of-eight to be had from numerous wrecks on which I have done intensive research; but I have long known, too, that to reach those riches, and others as well, there must be stronger and more efficient diving equipment.
I began turning my attention to the improvement of equipment, bringing to the problem ideas gleaned from my own actual experiences and many narrow escapes from death.
Working with Charles G. Warren, a well-known mechanical engineer, I invented and perfected a model of an unusual under-water device which we feel is a big step forward. It is a huge tractor-tank vehicle suited to the rigid working requirements at great depthsâ€”one which may be driven into the sea from the beach under its own power, or dropped from a salvage craft into the desired location far from land. It is similar to a huge Army tank on caterpillar treads and is operated by powerful electrically-driven motors within sealed chambers. It will travel across the uneven rocky or sandy sea floor at five miles per hour.
Outside there are five gigantic, hydraulically-operated cranes. Four of them, located on the corners, are 15 feet long and made so they can be both folded back or extended to almost any desired length for various complicated operations. A fifth crane, for heavy duty, is mounted on the top of the control compartment; this has a swing of 360 degrees and a reach of 35 feet or more.
At the extreme tips of these huge arms are metal grips, claws, fingers and nippers, so sensitive and yet strong that very small objects may be picked up from the bed of the ocean, or sections of heavy planking torn from their fastenings on a sunken wreck. With astonishing flexibility these devices can tie ropes or steel cables under terrific water pressure at great depthsâ€”far greater than possible with any known mechanical device invented to date. They are detachable and interchangeable, being easily replaced by a dozen other special instruments for the many varieties of salvaging operations. No other under-water device today is equipped to raise objects, tie knots or drill three-inch holes in the steel plates of a ship, as they can be done by the use of this apparatus.
When oceanic explorations are to be made some distance from shore and at a depth to which no diver in a suit can safely go, the tractor-tank can be taken to the selected location aboard a salvage vessel, then lowered and released on the bottom for unhurried and unhampered observations. With it, it is possible to work 2,000 feet below the surface for the salvaging of torpedoed United States merchantmen and other craft. And, since it travels on the ocean floor, it may also be used in searching for treasure-laden ships whose locations are unknown, and that may be buried under shifting sands and encrustations of coral and other sea growths.
The “mechanical lobster” may be brought from great depths as fast as the winches on the salvage vessel can lift it. Oxygen for the two operators is carried in tanks, making the usual air lines unnecessary. The operator being at all times under normal air pressure, no decompression stops are necessary.
In case of any difficulty, such as engine failure, emergency air cylinders create buoyancy through compartments sealed with air and blow the tractor-tank’s 30 tons of weight to the surface. There is no danger whatever of a leak releasing the air and leaving the operators to suffocate before they can be drawn to the surfaceâ€”as usually occurs when the airline is cut to the conventional diver’s suit used by almost all commercial and Navy establishments, and in the diving bells occasionally employed.
With this new undersea tank and its attachments ocean depths down to 2,000 or more feet will be successfully penetrated. Very many of the discouragements and tragedies which have prevented deep-sea salvage advancement in the past will be eliminated and a new page written in the history of the undersea.