If you’ve attended an “Old Salts” dinner in recent years, you’ve undoubtedly seen the picture of the concrete submarine on the rocks beneath our clubhouse deck. The circumstances of where it came from and how it got there seem to have been something of a mystery for many years.
The sub was a 125-foot model of what the builder, Hal B. Hayes, had hoped would eventually become a 400-foot version that would travel 75-80 knots over open ocean, replacing the Liberty ships. The story that had been shared around the clubhouse over the years was that during the sea trial, the sub proved to be completely unseaworthy and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard, twice. After the second rescue, the Coast Guard was… displeased… and blew a hole in the side of the boat to ensure there wouldn’t be a third attempt and subsequent rescue.
The newspapers, however, all characterized the sea trial on August 21, 1943, as a success and seemed to indicate that the Maritime Commission considered the project promising. Successful sea trials don’t usually end with boats sitting high and dry on the rocks, with holes in their sides, so I decided to investigate.
It seemed to me that if the Coast Guard rescue had really happened, there ought to be some sort of report or log concerning the incident, and I set out to find it. Three months later, I hadn’t found any such report, but I did find a wealth of information about the sub and its inventor, and presented my findings at BYC’s August Member Dinner.
While I was unable to find any real proof about the Coast Guard part of the story, Robin Crawford discovered an article from 1960 in the Oakland Tribune shortly after my presentation, which places blame for the hole in the side of the sub on the Berkeley harbormaster, with the express purpose of using the hulk to serve as a bulkhead for our clubhouse deck in 1947. This would seem to agree with a document I found in the National Archives, wherein Hal’s brother, Walter, claims to have sold the submarine to the City of Berkeley to be “sunk for use as a breakwater” in 1944.
But who can say? Perhaps there were more sea trials after August 21, 1943, and perhaps one or more of them did require a rescue and tow from the Coast Guard.
All of the material I’ve gathered has been zipped up in a file called “concrete_semisubmarine.zip” and uploaded to the Files section of our website.
You will need to log into the Members section of the website to access it. We hope the recording of the presentation at the August Member Dinner will be there soon as well