Corinth man designs, builds working submarine

By Bobby J. Smith/The Daily Corinthian

CORINTH — His name is Waterman and he cruises just below the lake surface in a vehicle of his own design and construction — a 17-foot-long yellow submarine that brings to mind psychedelic pop music and early James Bond movies at the same time.

But Glen Waterman is not a Bond villain or a character from a Beatles song. The 49-year-old Corinth resident is a longtime body work mechanic and mostly a regular guy. But he is a regular guy with an adventurous spirit who recently made a dream come true when he launched the submarine he built with his own hands.

The moment Waterman dropped his submarine into the waters of Big Hill Pond State Park in McNairy County, Tenn., was the culmination of a lifelong dream and a project that began roughly 15 years ago.

“I’ve always loved submarines,” said Waterman. “My whole life I’ve been fascinated by subs and loved the old movies like ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.'”

Another reason? The challenge.

“It’s such a technical challenge. I wanted to know I can do it,” he said.

Waterman’s sub is propelled by two 50-pound thrust motors — one on each side — and another motor in the rear, all powered by a series of three batteries. The rear motor has a 90-degree sweep and can provide extra power and control, but Waterman said he rarely uses it. The side motors alone will bring to sub up to 7 mph, fast enough for underwater travel in the lakes of Middle Tennessee.

He has dove the sub 15 to 20 feet underwater at Big Hill Pond, but Waterman is confident it will dive ever deeper. Next summer he plans to take his invention to other lakes in the region, in search of clear, deep waters.

The sub is roughly 17 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep. It weighs in at a massive 6,500 pounds. Earlier in the construction process, Waterman was concerned that weight was an issue. All the structural elements were in place, and the submarine weighed over 3,000 pounds. Its builder thought the sub would sink like a rock when it hit the water.

But this was not the case. Waterman built a giant square tank next to his home on Magnolia Drive to use as a test laboratory for the sub. He knew the sub had to find neutral buoyancy, to sit in the water just right, with the waterline in the right place.

At first the sub “floated like a beer can.” So he added weight and took notes. About 50 days and 3,500 pounds later, Waterman’s sub was sitting pretty in the tank.

“It’s a monster,” he said. “But it is amazingly stable in the water.”

With the right weight in place, the submarine’s cab sits right above the water line and the sub is tipped with a round bubble observation window in the nose — complete with two high-power spotlights to help Waterman get a look at the fish and other underwater creatures.

Getting to know that underwater world is one of Waterman’s favorite parts of the experience. He often brings a bag of fish food on his treks around the lake. He likes to kill the engines, toss food in front of the submarine and watch as the fish rush in for dinner.

The longtime auto body man designed the vessel himself and built it by hand, without assistance from any kind of blueprints or plans or research into submarine design and history.

“I just figured out what it needed to do in my head,” he said. “I built it from my head. That’s what blows people’s minds.”

The smoothly rounded hull of the sub is the product of many hours of welding. The front third alone is made of 54 pieces of metal.

“There’s no telling how much welding it took to get it this strong and this shape,” said Waterman.

Along the way he also had to invent some items that he needed for the submarine to work, like the device he uses to pump carbon dioxide out and oxygen in. Waterman said the experience sometime made him feel like he was building a spaceship.

Waterman’s submarine is proving to be an attention grabber, he said. Whether it’s when the sub is being hauled on his trailer or making laps in Big Hill Pond State Park, it certainly gets the looks. In the first two days he tested the craft in Big Hill Pond, back in August, roughly 150 people showed up to get a look at the unconventional machine.

“There were so many people standing on the dock that the dock started going under,” he said. “Talk about drawing a crowd.”

For the time being, Waterman is looking forward to warm weather, the summer months when he can continue to test and perfect his submarine.

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Information from: The Daily Corinthian.