Adventurer wants to base submarine in Newport

Submersible owned by local yacht racer would stay atop a 125-foot-long, 60-foot-wide catamaran. He seeks a financial sponsor to keep his plans afloat.

February 10, 2011|By Mike Reicher,
  • Submarine that could be docked on a huge catamaran in Newport Harbor.
Submarine that could be docked on a huge catamaran in Newport…

NEWPORT BEACH — Harbor officials don't get this type of application often.

Newport Beach yacht racer and businessman Chris Welsh has applied to park his deep-sea submarine atop a 125-foot long, 60-foot wide catamaran in the middle of the bay.

Harbor commissioners approved his application Wednesday night, which clears one hurdle in Welsh's audacious plan to dive to the deepest points of the world's five oceans.

With the high-tech "flying" submarine and its mother ship already purchased, Welsh has been assembling a team of scientists, engineers and filmmakers. But he is still missing one major component — a financial sponsor — and without one, his expedition may never depart.

"It's pretty captivating to go after it and see if you can get there," he said, later adding, "We have some major hurdles ahead of us, both financial and practical."


The "Five Dives Expedition" would send the first solo-piloted submersible to what is believed to be the deepest point in the earth's crust: the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench. Except for a two-man bathyscaphe that reached the bottom in 1960, only unmanned research vessels have plunged that far since.

Once his submersible's components have been pressure-tested, Welsh wants to practice dive in the calm waters off Newport's coast. Engineers are individually testing each part, and if funding comes through, they'll rig the vessel with 3-D IMAX-quality cameras and equipment to collect animals from the ocean's bottom.

A real estate investor, Welsh has been funding the project himself but says he can't complete it without a backer. He has approached some potential sponsors, and would like to land someone like Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group mogul who already explores space.

Branson owns his own submarine in the Caribbean, which he charters along with its mother ship to people who pay more than $100,000 per week. The same engineer and designer, Graham Hawkes, of Hawkes Ocean Technologies, built Branson's and Welsh's submersibles.

Private funding, from a source like Virgin, may be the only way to reach the bottom of the major oceans.

Public sources often don't usually take purely exploratory missions, said Katrina Edwards, the director of the USC Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations, who has been collaborating with Welsh.

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