NOTES ABOUT THE TURTLE
Midshipman recreate the "Turtle" Thu 2/6/2003 3:53 PM
OLD SAYBROOK - With the ceremonial snap of a chalk
line, a high school project to build a working replica
of the country's first submarine is under way.
In the very town where the underwater warship was
constructed and launched 226 years ago, a crowd of
television people, school officials, historians and a
direct descendant of the builder looked on as two
students found the centerline on the plan for the
primitive craft, dubbed the "Turtle."
More than 50 people squeezed in the high school's
workshop, among workbenches and electric saws, where
the six-foot high submersible is to be built. High
School Principal Scott Schoonmaker and National
Maritime Historical Society Director David Allen
thanked a long list of supporters for the role in
launching the groundbreaking project.
The History Channel plans to document the building of
Looking on was shop teacher Fred Frese, who built the
first replica of the Turtle in 1977.
"Fred is probably one of the few in the country that
can build this thing," Allen said. "There's very
little information written down for plans, but Fred
has done it before and we know he can do it again."
Frese first took on the project a year after David
Bushnell's notes became public record at Yale
University, Bushnell's alma mater. The replica is on
display at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.
Frese and the nine-student construction team will also
use Bushnell's four-page description of the Turtle to
Thomas Jefferson and a set of notes from Benjamin
Bushnell, a Saybrook native, built the Turtle in 1776,
launching it in the Connecticut River off Ayers Point.
The barrel shaped craft, looking like two tortoise
shells joined together, was piloted by Old Lyme's Ezra
The country's first submersible had but a single
mission - to attach a bomb to the hull of a British
warship during the Revolutionary War. The Turtle had
its chance in the Hudson River in September of 1776,
but the mission failed, the bomb never reaching its
Frese of East Haddam has been in contact with the
school for the last two years, urging them to help him
with the project. The project was slated for Sept. 7
but was set back by the events of Sept. 11 and budget
constraints. The effort moved ahead when Frese was
hired this year as the part-time high school
technology education teacher.
But the biggest boost came when Leighton Lee,
president of the Lee Corp. in Westbrook, gave $10,000
toward the project. After signing the ceremonial check
during the Wednesday ceremony, Lee presented the
school with an 1899 book of "David Bushnell and his
American Turtle" to add to the school's library.
Once the sub is completed, the New York Maritime
Historical Society will take it into schools across
the country. When the actual construction begins, the
History Channel will be there to tape it.
Also on hand was Roy Manstan, manager at the Naval
Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I. When the
vessel is launched, it will manned by a diver and will
be equipped with state-of-the-art electronics to
monitor its progress. Later, it will be used in a
battle recreation on the Hudson River in an attempt to
find out what went wrong over 200 years ago.
The high school students and faculty will help write
the curriculum that goes along with the traveling
exhibit and a Web site devoted to the project.
Frese hopes the construction project will be completed
by the end of the school year but will incorporate
other historic and archaeological programs in the
school to include over 200 students.
Jocelyn Wallace, a high school junior and the only
girl on the planning and construction team, said she
has enjoyed working alongside Frese.
"We're going to do it right, so it's going to take
some time," she said. "I'm glad we're working with Mr.
Frese on it - he's one of those teachers you can talk
to and get along with."
High school student John Bushnell, a direct descendant
of David Bushnell, said he'll be helping with the
project and has been asked to sit in the vessel when
"I'm definitely not going to be in it underwater,
though - no way," he said.
Midshipmen, Staff Re-Create Turtle Submersible
Story Number: NNS030204-08
Release Date: 2/4/2003 10:02:00 PM
By Judy Campbell, U.S. Naval Academy Public Affairs
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- The peach-shaped, wooden submersible slipped beneath
the waves of Snug Harbor, Duxbury, Mass., on a cold January morning.
Two midshipmen and a professor from the naval architecture and ocean engineering department stood among the crowd ashore, watching the re-creation of the launch of the first American submersible, Turtle.
Originally designed in great secrecy by David Bushnell of Saybrook, Conn., in 1776, Turtle was the first American submersible to be deployed in war. The U.S. Naval Academy, Massachusetts College of Art, the Timber Framers Guild, Virginia Military Institute and expert artisans collaborated on the re-creation, which will be featured on the Discovery Channel's Reinventing the Past.
In August 2002, Michael Barnes, a producer for the documentary, contacted professor Lew Nuckols of the naval architecture and ocean engineering department.
Rick and Laura Brown, professors at Massachusetts College of Art, were planning to re-create Turtle from two solid pieces of wood. Since there are no surviving plans from Bushnell, this was a "new" way of building Turtle.
Previous incarnations had employed a barrel-type construction with bent staves. Nuckols was asked to bring an engineer's perspective to the project.
"The folks at Massachusetts College of Art are great artists and craftsmen, but they don't have an engineering background, a perspective that the project greatly needed," said Nuckols, who quickly involved his ocean engineering class and Lt. Cmdr. Rich Schoenwiesner's underwater work systems class.
Both instructors said the project fit what their classes were learning about the principles of underwater vehicles.
"The project allowed the group to take what they have learned in their ocean engineering classes and apply it to a real-world project and a project that has particular significance to the Navy," said Schoenwiesner.
Nuckols, Schoenwiesner and Midshipmen 1st Class Jim Vandevoort and Doug Raineault flew to Boston Jan. 6 to meet with the construction team and add their engineering expertise to the end stages of construction and testing.
Standing about seven-feet tall and six-feet wide, the hand-hewn wooden hull was hanging from the rafters at Rick and Laura Brown's Handshouse Studio. Art students and Timber Framers Guild members were everywhere, working on brass fittings, wrought-iron bracings, the wooden bomb and the Turtle.
Workers were melting and pouring lead for the ballast, doing metal work for the ballast pumps and being interviewed by the production crew.
Finally, the Turtle was ready for in-water testing. At nearly 4:45 a.m. Jan. 10, Turtle was lowered into the water with a Timber Framers Guild member at the helm. Onshore, Vandevoort and Schoenwiesner stood by in scuba gear in case of an emergency. Turtle drafted as predicted and had minimal leakage. The pumps, valves and propeller were all tested and found to be in superb working order.
Currently, drag testing is ongoing at the academy with a model made by the midshipmen with help from the academy's Technical Support Department. The Turtle will be brought to Annapolis for tank testing in the spring.
The midshipmen agree the teamwork and openness displayed at the construction site combined with the practical knowledge gained in pumps and ballast made this experience their best academic week.
Nuckols said, "The project continues to help focus engineering fundamentals into a real world design and keeps student enthusiasm for underwater engineering high."
Mike Burleson Charleston SC
My group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MilitaryReformNow/