Just off the pavilion at Ferry Bar, a boat yesterday steamed well out into the channel with 10 passengers aboard. When she had reached deep water, she suddenly disappeared from sight, sinking under the waves. Then she moved along the bottom, working well to the southeast, those on board suffering not the slightest inconvenience.
When she was in deep water, a diver, who was aboard, donned his outlandish-looking suit, opened the door in the bow of the boat and sallied forth upon the bottom of the Patapsco.
No water made an entrance into the boat while the diver was going out or returning, and none of the precious air escaped. A little gasoline stove was produced and a light lunch was cooked for the party. All this time the boat was in from 18 to 22 feet of water.
The boat which accomplished all these things was the Argonaut, an invention of Mr. Simon Lake, which was constructed at the Columbian Iron Works, Baltimore, by the Lake Submarine Company, and which was launched August 19,1897.
She is not designed to serve in time of naval war, although she may be readily transformed into a torpedo boat. What she is after is treasure, golden ducats and Spanish doubloons, buried between the ribs of long-forgotten ships wrecked upon stormy coasts, both on this side and the other side of the Atlantic.
Her inventor has claimed that the boat will be fully able to accomplish this object, the details of which are set forth in an exhaustive pamphlet issued by the Lake Company, and judging from yesterday's very successful tests, there is little doubt that the boat will make a fortune for her inventor and for the company which was formed to affect her construction.
The First Public Test
It was the first public test of the Argonaut. Several times previously, Mr. Lake, his father, Mr. J.C. Lake; several engineers interested in the project and the men who formed the crew had taken a dip beneath the surface, but all of these were pledged to secrecy as far as the details of the voyages were concerned, and the public, if it learned anything at all, was simply in formed that a successful test of the Argonaut had taken place.
Everything worked smoothly, and Mr. Lake invited members of the Baltimore press to go down into the bowels of the vessel. There were also newspaper representatives present from other cities, the incident being considered an epoch-marking one in the history of submarine boat construction, and two trips had to be made in order that all might have thorough opportunity to witness the vessel's capabilities.
Eleven o'clock had been named as the hour at which the Argonaut was to seek the river bottom, and long before that time there was a crowd of curious persons numbering several hundred on the Ferry Bar pavilion and leaning upon the eastern railings of the Long bridge.
An Inspirer Of Respect
Out there in the stream lay the mysterious boat, which all seemed to look on with a species of awe, or, at least, of great respect. There was no thing startling about her appearance. All that could be seen, in fact, was a small turret, or conning tower, with its cover raised, a part of the after works painted red, an outline of the white hull, just awash, and two masts, to which flags were attached, one being the Stars and Stripes and the other being a plain blue field, with the boat's name in white.
These masts, though, were of greater import They were inch-and-a-half pipes, leading into the interior of the boat, through which air was to be served to the passengers in generous portions while they were under the waters.
These pipes were about only 15 feet from the deck, and when it was announced that they were water pipes, many doubted whether they would be long enough to extend above the surface when the boat was crawling along the bottom. It did not seem so, in truth, but it was forgotten that most of the Argonaut's no mean bulk already was under water and that, drawing as she did from 10 to 12 feet of water when she apparently was afloat, she could not sink below the height of her pipes, the channel of the Patapsco being little more than 20 feet deep at that point.
Mayor Malster Was There
It had been intended to first give the visitors an opportunity to inspect the boat as she lay upon the surface, then to adjourn to luncheon in the Ferry Bar Hotel, and then to take small parties aboard to see what the vessel could do under water. This programme, however, was interrupted by the appearance upon the scene of Mayor Malster, president of the Columbian Iron Works and one of the stockholders in the Lake Company. The Mayor was aboard the city tug Baltimore, and with him was Mr. Joshua Horner.
Mr. Malster had but a few minutes to remain, and suggested that the boat take a dive at once, in order that he might see how she worked, as he had to hurry back to his office. The inspection had just begun, but it was decided to begin the experimenting at once, and the first party to try the vessel's seaworthiness was mustered.
The open cover of the conning-tower, looking for all the world like a large flour barrel, with portholes in its sides and its lid lifted, was immediately a center of attraction, and down into the semi-darkness all the visitors peered.
All they could see was a narrow iron ladder, leading from the top of the turret to a floor some 10 feet below, which was covered with carpet. When the boat had gone probably 100 yards from the wharf, running at speed of about 5 miles an hour, which is remarkable fast time, considering the form of her cigar-shaped hull, orders were given to "get below." They were promptly obeyed.
An Interior View
Once inside, the visitors found themselves in a room about 25 feet long, with rounding sides, and a ceiling which would bump the head of a 6-footer if he were not careful. The cigar shape of the hull was for the first time evident, and there was a feeling of surprise that there should be so much more of the boat under water than there was to be seen upon the surface.
In the stern of this apartment was a gasoline engine of 30 horse-power, as well as a dynamo, taking its power from strong storage batteries, and steering gear, accessory to that upon the after deck above.
There were comfortable seats upon one side of the room, while the other side was taken up by the various valves and pipes incidental to the control of the water-ballast compartments; along this port wall being arranged also a series of most interesting dials and gauges, which, according to Mr. Lake's explanation, are capable of telling the submarine navigator almost anything he wants to know, from the amount of water in the ballast compartments to the pressure of the air and the distance from the surface of the bet-torn along which the boat may be crawling.
Up in the bow there was a strongly constructed door, leading into a sort of vestibule, and away forward, in front of this vestibule and separated from it by a similar door, was the diver's compartment, from which he made his descent into the water. There were large portholes, fitted with heavy glass, in both of these doors, so that one might see clearly from one compartment to the other.
How It Feels To "Go Down"
When all had been seated, Captain Lake gave the order to steer southeast, the gasoline engine barked merrily, the boat began to skim the waves at a more rapid rate and the passengers looked dubious.
Then Captain Lake climbed the ladder and pulled down the "lid" of the whole arrangement, screwing it tightly from the inside. He descended the ladder, smiled assuringly and announced that the Argonaut was about to "go down."
To those who had never "gone down," there was some thing uncanny in the suggestion.
Some of the visitors had a feeling they would like to be out of it if they could, but would try to maintain composure now that they were well in for it, and one found one's self arguing with one's self that the boat already had made several trips below and had come up all right, and the chances were that she would repeat her successful work on this trip.
One tried to remember just where his life insurance policies were and to wish that he had invested in a small accident insurance policy just for a day or two.
A few quietly spoken commands from Captain Lake set the crew turning some of the larger valve cocks on the port side, which let water into the then empty ballast tanks, this being the means of causing the boat to sink when it is desired that she should do so. The gauges were carefully watched and the guests were told finally that in a few minutes they would be at the bottom of the Patapsco.
Sinking Out Of Sight
One of their number climbed the ladder and looked out of the tiny windows of the conning tower. Not 50 yards away was Baltimore, with Mayor Malster looking interestingly toward the vessel. Some distance further off was the pavilion, with the crowd packed close together, with faces all turned the same way.
Upon all sides were the waves, hiding now all the deck from view, and inch by inch, creeping up to those little windows. Gradually the water climbed until the windows were covered, then the surface could barely be seen, then the sunlight was shut out and there was nothing about or under or over the water.
"Down went McGinty!" exclaimed someone, and others smiled.
They didn't feel exactly like smiling, though. An idea of their insignificance was dawning upon them, and they were placing their trust in some power beyond that which they were able to exert.
It was only a minute that the depression following submerging lasted. The electric lights were cheery and the water was running past the portholes just as it is seen to run past the portholes of a comfortable steamer when one is on the lower deck back of the paddle wheels.
The crew worked as if they were ashore, and it didn't seem a bit scary.
Air Was Abundant
The engine was still giving out its "bark! bark! bark!" and there was plenty of air rushing down the pipes. There is no pump attached to this ventilator, but the engine is constantly exhausting the air on the inside with a tendency to create a vacuum, and the air pours in so fast that one can feel the draught from roof to ceiling.
This pipe arrangement is used only in shallow water. If the water is deeper than the pipe is long, a hose is attached to the top of the pipe, the other end being floated in a boat on the surface of the water. In depths of over 150 feet, it is proposed to abandon the pipe ventilator all together, and to depend upon the storage tanks, in which sufficient air can be carried to last six men for several hours.
On The Bottom
"We are on the bottom now," announced Captain Lake.
Then the power was transferred from the propeller to the huge, toothed driving wheels on either side of the bow, but there was about 3 feet of soft mud on the bottom of the river, and it was found that the wheels did not work well. The propeller was started again, and. buoyed as she was, just gently resting on the bottom, the Argonaut went skimming along the river bottom.
She worked her way south east about half a mile, and then she worked her way back again. A stop was made, and a diver put on his diving suit, opened the door in the bow and walked out, returning in a few moments without having flooded the interior of the vessel.
The water is kept out of the forward compartment while the door is open by an air pressure equal to the pressure surrounding the boat, corresponding to the depth of the water in which the boat may be. This is effected by an ingenious arrangement of air and water pumps, operated by gasoline engine or, in great depths, by the dynamo and storage batteries.
Back To Her Wharf
The diver having returned and the door having been closed, the Argonaut crawled around some more, gradually working her way back to the wharf from which she had started. Those on board were subjected to no inconvenience beyond a slight ringing in the ears, due to the change in atmospheric pressure, although the boat was under the surface of the river more than an hour. Everybody expressed themselves as delighted with the showing made by the boat, and Mr. Lake was heartily congratulated.
When the Argonaut showed her head again she was but a few hundred feet from the wharf. The crowd was still there, having been for an hour and a half watching the vessel's course as marked by the projecting pipes above the water.
The entire party then was invited to luncheon, and after luncheon another party was taken in the boat to the bottom.
The only hitch in either trip occurred during the first one, when the pumps got out of order, making it necessary to man a hand pump, which proved equally as effective, although it took more time to accomplish the result desired.
To Search For Treasure
Mr. Lake has not yet decided when the vessel will make her first voyage in search of valuable wrecks. The other day she accidentally ran into a wreck while she was browsing around the bottom of the bay some 20 miles below Baltimore, but there was nothing of value on board. It is probable, however, that no businesslike move will be made until the early spring, when the vessel will likely be taken to the New Jersey coast She will be steamed around there on the surface, making, as has been stated, about 5 miles an hour.
It is to the wreck of the New Era, which was lost off Asbury Park in 1854, that attention may first be paid. She had about $30,000 in bullion aboard, and, as far as anyone knows, this money is there yet. Her location is well known to the fishermen of As-bury Park, as over her hull is a favorite spot for catching sea bass. She lies in water not over 40 feet deep.
Free Of Surface Boats
"The great advantage of my boat," said Mr. Lake, "is that its occupants are independent of boats and tenders on the surface.
"By the present system, where the divers are lowered over the side of a boat and air is pumped down to them from above, it is found that, in working at sea, the water is so rough that they cannot count upon over 15 or 20 days during the entire year on which they can work. With the new boat, work can be carried on day and night, if necessary, as the boat carries sufficient air supply in steel tubes to enable the divers to remain at work a day at a time.
"As the effect of a wave extends below the surface only as deep as its height, the work will not be interfered with, no matter how much of a storm may be raging on the surface." Sketch Of The Inventor
Mr. Lake is a native of Pleasantville, NJ., where he was born September 4, 1866. He attended school at the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, and at the Clinton Liberal Institute, at Fort Plain, N.Y. After leaving school he was for some years with his father, Mr. J.C. Lake, in the foundry and machine business at Ocean City, NJ. In 1889 he came to Baltimore and went into the manufacture of vessel appliances with his father, the firm being J.C. Lake & Son.
Over three years ago the younger Mr. Lake left this firm and gave his entire attention to his invention, which he had been working on for 12 years previously. Since that time he has worked continuously on the strange craft.
He has built one small boat after his model, which was launched late in 1894. This boat was experimented with in Sandy Hook bay in the summer of 1895 and its operations were successful.