An ambitious ocean exploration project sponsored by Sir Richard Branson appears to be floundering in the waters of Newport Beach.
The Five Dives Expedition previewed at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club last spring, with international news reporters flocking to see Branson atop a high-tech submarine.
But more than a year after the splashy announcement, the sub has still not performed a manned practice dive, and local organizer Chris Welsh has pleaded with city officials to give him $320 free monthly rent on a mooring for the 125-foot mothership catamaran, the Cheyenne.
Officials cut him a deal last week by reserving the space for the boat, but will be making Welsh only pay for the months the boat is moored.
"It had to be fair and equitable for everybody involved," said Harbor Commissioner Dave Girling, who studied Welsh's pitch and recommended the new rental arrangement.