Chapman University, Frank Mount Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives via AP)
Connecticut divers have discovered the wreckage of an experimental submarine that was built in 1907 and later scrapped in Long Island Sound.
The Defender, a 92-foot-long vessel, was found Sunday by a team led by Richard Simon, a commercial diver from Coventry, Connecticut.
Simon said he’s been interested in Defender’s story for years. He spent months going over known sonar and underwater mapping surveys of the Sound’s bottom, as well as government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, to identify any anomalies consistent with the size of the sub.
“A submarine has a very distinctive shape,” he said. “It needed to be 100 feet long and 13 feet in diameter. So I made a list of everything that was that tall, and that list had a goal.”
Simon then assembled a team of top wreck divers to determine if the defender was in the position he identified.
Shoreline Diving Service via Jennifer Cellitti / AP
Poor tidal conditions forced them to abandon an attempt last Friday They returned Sunday and found the Defender lying more than 150 feet below the water’s surface, off the coast of Old Saybrook.
“It was legitimately hiding in plain sight,” he said. “It’s on the charts. It’s known in Long Island Sound, just nobody knew what it was.”
Simon describes the agony of waiting on the deck of his research vessel, staring at a dive buoy in the fog and waiting for his two divers to surface. Once they did and confirmed they found a sub, the group erupted in “pure joy,” he said.
Simon said he didn’t want to give the exact depth because it might give away the location of the sub.
According to NaviSource Online, a website dedicated to preserving naval history, the submarine, originally named Lake, was built by millionaire Simon Lake and his Bridgeport-based Lake Torpedo Boat Company in hopes of winning a competition for a U.S. Navy contract.
Shoreline Diving Service via Joe Mazrani / AP
It was an experimental vessel, with wheels that moved to the bottom of the ocean and a door that enabled divers to release it underwater, Simon said.
The company lost that competition and Lake then attempted to refit the boat for minesweeping, rescue and salvage work, renaming it the Defender. But he did not find any buyers. It was a well-known sub and was even visited by aviator Amelia Earhart in 1929, Simon said.
But the submarine spent many years unused, eventually being abandoned on a mud flat near Old Saybrook before being docked in New London. It was dismantled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1946, but the corps never disclosed where, Simon said.
Simon said that when his team found the wreckage it was clear that it was indeed the Defender. The length, the size and shape of the protrusions on the submarine’s distinctive keel, and the shape and location of the diving planes characteristic of lake-built vessels, all helped identify it, he said.
Simon and his team plan to spend the summer diving on the sub, filming and photographing it. He said the company he and his wife own, Shoreline Diving, has contributed money to the search. He said he hadn’t figured out how to monetize the find, but said it wasn’t the goal of the find.
He has already contacted the Navy to see if it would be interested in helping preserve the wreck.
The ship has some protections known as the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act, a 1988 law that would allow it to be considered an archaeological or historic site rather than a commercial property, he said.
“So, as a wreck diver, I can go see history; I can touch it; I can feel it,” he said. “It’s a different connection to history, to the past that we don’t have in any other activity.”