Karl Stanley, 28, was in the third grade when he told his family he was going to build his own submarine. He spent years reading voraciously about subs and called professional designers for advice. When he turned 15 he got serious and, with savings from his after-school job in an ice cream shop, bought a 9-foot-long, 2-foot-diameter pipe for $500 from a metal supply store. He had it towed to his parents’ Ridgewood, N.J. home, where he paid another $200 to a boat welder to put strengthening rings inside, picking up pointers on welding as he went.
He worked on his sub off and on throughout high school, then hauled it with him on a boat trailer to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he paid for its completion by buying and selling used textbooks. After eight years and $20,000 in parts and supplies, he finally submerged in 1997, the same week he graduated from college.
Dubbed C-Bug (for “controlled buoyancy underwater glider”), Stanley’s sub operates without a motor or propellers. Six ballast tanks, three on each side, project from the hull-like wings. By letting in water and then pushing it out with compressed air from tanks, Stanley can dive, swoop to a depth of 700 feet and soar back up, like a glider in an airstream. He’s at work now on a new sub–a three-person job he says will descend to 3,000 feet.
Submerged, Stanley has been chased by schools of amberjacks. Topside, he’s been hounded by other nosy creatures. Boats from the Coast Guard and Florida Marine Patrol once converged on him, the authorities demanding to know exactly what this thing was and whether it might not be obstructing sea lanes. “They held me up for about two hours,” he recalls. “They had guns, bulletproof vests, and they’re flipping through this little book looking for a law.” What rules, though, applied to a 16-foot boat without a motor? Legally it was the same as a canoe. “Finally they just let me dive,” he says. “There was nothing they could do.”
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