Ask the Expert—Answered Questions

Q: In writing the Nautilus book, it’s clear that you drew from a large quantity of research materials to ensure a gold standard of accuracy. What advice can you give to those striving for historical accuracy in their research and writing?

There is an adage to “write what you know”, which I think serves as a useful reminder that if you are at any distance from your topic it’s almost impossible to be too diligent about research.  Even when writing on subject matter that I am that arguably expert in, I’ve found it to be true that, “you don’t really know something until you are able to teach it” and so research is still required to confirm what you know, identify the source of what you possess as knowledge, or to ensure that its veracity is still valid.  Fortunately, we live in an age when access to information – including documents that long preceded the digital age – has never been easier. The trade-off, however, is that the task of validation has become very much more our personal responsibility. Of course, this has made checking sources, and preferably corroborating from multiple sources, much more important.  Bibliographies and even the footnotes on Wikipedia are very helpful in identifying original source material and I’ve been surprised how often the context from which quoted material is taken makes a significant difference in their credence or interpretation. Be suspicious of translations and not afraid to refer to sources found in other languages. Although free online translator utilities have their limitations, they make it possible to quickly check a translated secondary source.  When doing so, I always use multiple utilities to get a sense of the degree to which a translation might vary. In working from secondary sources, particularly biographies, it is sometimes important to know about the background, perspective, and potential bias of the author as this definitely can color their presentation of the original material. The concern that someone is able to legitimately challenge your authenticity on a subject provides strong motivation for thorough research but reaching out to those authorities can be a way to quickly access a reservoir of knowledge and bolster confidence in the accuracy of your research.  Most people are flattered to be consulted as an expert and genuinely enjoy sharing what they know to those who show interest. They may even be moved to provide an endorsement of your work. All these techniques were important to enhance whatever personal knowledge I was able to bring to The Design and Construction of the Nautilus to ensure its technical and historical accuracy. But perhaps the hardest thing to ascertain and accurately convey is not the historical or technological facts from a given period but rather the way people thought in that period. It is difficult to “un-know” what we know today and really understand the prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and mindsets of a past era.  One way I’ve found to glean a sense of the way people viewed the world in a given period is to peruse the newspapers and magazines of that period. The subjects reported on, the writing style, and even the advertisements color the lens through which the historical facts can be considered with some level of detachment from today.

Q: I’m writing a book that hinges on naval protocol, and accurate representation is important to me, although I have no military background. I’d love to interview active members of the navy, but don’t know how to go about making these sorts of contacts. Are there restrictions on who I can contact and what information they can provide to me should I be granted an interview?

Persons serving in the Navy must be authorized to speak in an official capacity. The Commanding Officers of ships, installations, or organizations may engage in such communication, but otherwise, requests for information are handled through Public Affairs offices. The Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) sits at the top of this chain of command and their website is a good portal for accessing navy fact files, news, and making media inquiries and formal information requests. Looking more locally, just

about every Navy command has someone assigned as the Public Affairs Officer. These may be full-time specialists or someone fulfilling the role as a collateral duty but asking to speak with them will demonstrate a basic savviness and put you in touch with the person best able to respond to your request. However, for what I would suspect is the majority of writer’s needs, I would suggest that veterans are a much more accessible resource to consider. Although still legally bound to protect sensitive information, they no longer hold any official position and thus are at liberty to speak of their experiences and opinions at their own discretion. There are dozens of veteran organizations in the

United States and many are specific to a particular branch and community within the military. It’s important to understand that even the Navy is a sufficiently large organization that someone who spent a career as an aviator might have only a superficial understanding of what the navy diver community is like. The United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. is a good example of one of these types of organizations and like many, they have an active on-line presence. Those veterans who choose to stay

connected in this way are usually more than willing to share their knowledge and their stories with those who show an interest. There is a third recourse for those seeking detailed historical information to support their writing research. The Navy History and Heritage Command is the curator of all aspects of Navy history. Their web portal provides extensive resources and can also assist serious research efforts. The command also manages ten museums located around the country, each with a different

focus, whose exhibits, docents, and archives can provide a tremendous trove of information. Finally, for those who may be working in film, television, media, gaming, and music, there is an organization called Veteran’s in Media and Entertainment composed of current and former members of the military who are working, or aspire to work, in those areas. The organization’s mission is to connect veteran talent to creative opportunities.

Q: What were the major sources of information that Jules Verne used in creating the Nautilus?

Jules Verne harbored a life-long love of the sea which he indulged by owning and sailing a boat named the Saint-Michael. His letters express his love of the freedom that he felt at sea and the perspective it gave him; sentiments which feature heavily as themes in his defining novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which he wrote in the years 1867-1869. Although his brother, Paul, was a naval officer, evidence is lacking that little if any information pertinent to the Nautilus passed between them.

Later in life, Jules Verne credited getting most of the technical information he incorporated into his novels from general reading and careful note-taking. He lived during a period of tremendous technical advancement and within a culture that was transfixed with the notion of progress. Inventions and scientific discoveries were routinely and widely reported on and the modern patent system, which some credit as a major driver of the Industrial Revolution, was mature enough to provide a significant record of the rapidly proliferating results of mankind’s ingenuity. At the time he was writing Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Verne was reading magazines like Le Musée des Sciences which reported on a wide variety of science and technology subjects and Le Tour Du Monde, a weekly journal of worldwide travel and exploration. In the popular press, The Battle of Hampton Roads in which the USS Monitor faced off against the CSS Virginia made headlines around the world in 1862 and ushered in the age of iron ships and rams to defeat them. This was quickly followed by the sensational first-ever sinking of a ship, the USS Housatonic, by a submarine, the H.L. Hunley in 1864. Its semi-submerged attack with an explosive-tipped spar provided Verne with the model for how the Nautilus would express aggression.

Unlike his literary adventures, Verne traveled only modestly during his life. His one major trip overseas was in 1867 when he voyaged aboard the S.S. Great Eastern and spent a week in New York, which provided the details about that city that appear in the early chapters of his novel. His experience aboard the ship was far more formative, in fact it would form the setting of a completely different novel.  The S.S. Great Eastern was not only the largest ship in the world at that time, she was so much larger than anything that had ever been built that she redefined the human imagination of what might be possible. This undoubtedly gave Verne the inspiration and confidence to extrapolate cutting edge technology much further than he might have otherwise believed to be credible. At the same time, it provided practical examples of how such a large, iron, engine-driven ship might be constructed and operated. Echoes of the great ship can be found in the Nautilus’s riveted iron double hull, watertight bulkheads, four-bladed propeller, and grandiose propulsion machinery.

Upon his return from New York, the Exposition Universelle of 1867 was underway in Paris. It is difficult to underestimate the impact this event had in supplying the details that populate Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Although there had been previous international exhibitions including the landmark London event in 1851, the Paris exhibition exceeded that by a factor of at least four, boasting over 50,000 exhibitors from 42 nations. Here, laid out for Verne, was the best and latest technology and materials from all over the world at the very moment he was ready to put pen to paper on his novel. The French Navy’s model of the submarine Plongeur would prove to be the most influential. Derived from it we see the Nautilus’s air reservoirs and ballast tank design, the topside platform and superstructure features, the dinghy which serves as an emergency escape capsule, the ram, and more. Other exhibits featured the Rouquayrol and Denayrouze diving suit, the electric lighthouse with Fresnel lens, demonstrations of early electric arc welding, a telegraph signaling intercom, and many nascent innovations involving batteries and electric motors. All of these technologies found their way onto the Nautilus. Many of the companies Verne names as involved in the construction of the Nautilus, such as Krupp, Creusot, and Cail & Co., were exhibitors at the exposition, and clearly the high-quality steel from Sweden and the iron shipbuilding expertise in Scotland created an impression that he transferred to the novel. Other intriguing displays but with less obvious connection included a grand Cavaille-Coll organ, innovative new applications for seaweed, and two giant aquariums featuring cuttlefish that were housed in large grottos ornamented with stalactites. Among the many fascinating reports on the exhibition, a particularly comprehensive and compelling first-hand account of the exhibits can be found in Recollections of the Paris Exhibition of 1867 by Eugene Rimmel.

Although the exhibition featured extensive exhibits of the fine arts, it does not appear that these were drawn upon by Verne in furnishing the Nautilus. Rather he chose prominent artists that were sure to be recognized by and impress his readers while also giving a nod of recognition to lesser known work of a few of his acquaintances. As inspiration for the overall décor found aboard the Nautilus he seems to have recalled a visit he made in 1859 to the elaborate Inzievar House near Oakley, Scotland. There is little in the decoration of the Nautilus to suggest Captain Nemo’s Indian heritage. This is largely because Verne originally intended his character to be Polish and had already written (and published) the first half of the book describing the interior by the time his publisher rejected this character lineage. In the end, Captain Nemo’s artistic tastes reflect what was most respected in the western world, what Jules Verne was most familiar with, and what would most appeal to his initial audience of European readers.

The years between 1865, when author Georges Sand first urged Verne to “take us into the ocean depths, your characters traveling in diving equipment perfected by your science and your imagination,” and 1870, when Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was published, were busy times for Jules Verne. He was hard at work on other writing projects, made the most significant personal voyage of his life, and experienced the most impressive international exhibition perhaps ever held. Though often touted as a technological prophet, he was mostly a keen observer who enjoyed detail (probably a function of his training as a lawyer) and who, without a scientific degree, was not constrained from making grand projections about where the progress happening all around him, might take humanity.

Q: Of the many interpretations of the Nautilus, what qualifies this as the most accurate?

It’s true that countless designs for Verne’s Nautilus have sprung from the imagination of readers for 150 years since Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was first published. The design presented in my book is accurate in the sense that it that conforms completely to the description provided by Verne. I have relied on the fully restored and authoritative English translation provided by Walter Miller and Frederick Walter, but for critical details have gone back to the original French version to personally analyze the author’s word choice and intent. The relevant passages from the novel are included in my book completely and organized together so that readers can assess for themselves that the design is faithful to the description.

This design also conforms to the requirements for basic submarine design, which is the most constrained form of naval architecture. This demands going well beyond arranging compartments (rooms) on a floor plan to fit an external hull shape, which is characteristic of many design efforts. Instead, it requires simultaneous consideration of volume and weight while accounting for the structure and operational systems that enable the submarine to actually function. To my knowledge this is the first time someone with submarine engineering experience has applied such a disciplined technical approach in undertaking a comprehensive design of the Nautilus. Though I’ve leveraged a modern understanding of submarine construction, the design remains true to the technology of the period, invoking cutting-edge developments with only modest degrees of advancement. To accomplish this, I attempted to find published accounts of the inventions and scientific discoveries that would have informed Verne in order to provide the link between actual technical innovation in 1867 and the expression of what might be possible in the novel.

Surprisingly, there are only a few instances where the necessities of submarine design and the limitations of period technology come into conflict with rigorous adherence to the novel, and these have been discussed in the book. The reader is left to choose which approach they prefer. What have not been indulged are any artistic liberties that go beyond what is strictly spelled out in the text. These have taken many forms over the years, with the Harper Goff design for Walt Disney’s Nautilus undoubtedly among the best known. In this regard I have suppressed urges to re-imagine the Nautilus and instead redirected my creative energies to resolving the challenges posed by making Verne’s submarine real.

Q: What are the most difficult things to reconcile with the description in the novel?

The maximum operating depth of the Nautilus and its source of power are the two most difficult characteristics of Verne’s submarine to reconcile with either the technology of that period or that of today. Verne took a guess at the depth of the ocean which proved to be inaccurate but not significantly so, however, his projection that a large steel-hulled submarine could attain it is wildly incorrect. Certainly, he understood the concept of sea pressure increasing with depth and he even had Captain Nemo remark that they could only test the strength of the Nautilus against such incredible pressures for a limited time. Yet why was he so wrong in estimating, by nearly two orders of magnitude, the depths a submarine such as the Nautilus might attain? Likely this is because steel was still a relatively new material in 1867 and new alloys were constantly being developed that brought new properties to the metal. Given the displays of 40 ton cast steel cannons at the Exposition Universelle in 1867, it may not have seemed a great stretch to imagine that metals made by man could overcome even the enormous pressure found in the ocean’s depths. Indeed, this is true to a point, as two submersibles have ventured to the deepest point in the ocean with their occupants protected from pressure within a small but thick sphere of titanium. Alas, even this metal is inadequate to permit submarines the size of the Nautilus to venture as deep as Verne imagined—yet.

Many translations of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea have omitted the engineering details regarding the Nautilus’s sodium batteries leading to a commonly held view that Verne must have prophesied nuclear power to drive his submarine. But the fact is he spells out his source of electricity quite clearly. Unfortunately, that chemistry, and any other similar chemistry we can imagine, is inadequate to achieve the speed and endurance reported in the novel. Given that batteries were hardly advanced beyond glass jars on lab benches and that electric motors were mostly curious toys, perhaps he can be forgiven, but the use of battery technology to power the Nautilus represents Verne’s greatest stretch. In some sense, he was forced into it. He knew he needed a power source that didn’t require oxygen, as all forms of combustion did, and he recognized that electricity was clean, silent, could be used in multiple applications aboard ship and, at least in his approach, could be sourced from the sea. Today’s readers have a choice. They can take on faith an as-yet-unknown electrochemical source of adequate power or they can take comfort that the very real technology of a nuclear reactor satisfies all the requirements stipulated by Verne for the Nautilus. In either event, the Nautilus does represent the earliest incarnation of an all-electric ship that navies even today are slowly evolving toward.

There are two other features in the novel which are difficult to reconcile but on a much less significant scale than the issues with operating depth and power. The first is the placement of the diving planes at the center of buoyancy. Verne envisioned the Nautilus descending in a level attitude along a track determined by the forward thrust of the propeller and the deflection of the diving planes. This represents an unsophisticated understanding of hydrodynamics which is all the more curious since what few actual submarines had been built up to that time generally did not place control surfaces at the center of buoyancy. They generally recognized that doing so provides no lever arm to react a pitching moment. However, it’s possible Verne conceived of this approach because of problems associated with the Plongeur, which was the largest submarine built up to that time by a significant margin. That submarine utilized a trim system to control pitch and experienced great difficulty in managing up and down oscillations. So much so, that in sea trials conducted in 1863 she repeatedly broached and struck bottom. Eventually, authorities gave up on the vessel as useless and by 1873 it had been converted to use as a water taker. Verne may not have understood the hydrodynamics, but he may have felt the need to present an alternative mechanism for controlling depth changes that wouldn’t be subject to critique by the example of the Plongeur.

The final issue revolves around Verne’s description of the diving excursions the crew takes from the Nautilus. Although the author has accurately described a hybrid of the best diving suits of his day and reasonably extrapolated nascent rebreather technology, he makes no mention of decompression after his characters spend long hours breathing compressed air underwater. Of course, this is for the simple reason that symptoms of decompression sickness (“the bends”) were only beginning to be encountered in the 1840s and were not truly appreciated until the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1873. Understanding the physiology would take longer still, such that it was not until the turn of the century that the first decompression chambers would be in use. That said, there is no reason that Nautilus’s diving chamber couldn’t be used as a decompression chamber. Verne also has his characters conduct dives at depths of up to 300 meters. Nitrogen narcosis becomes a concern at depths greater than 30 meters and can lead to death by 100 meters, but this knowledge and the development of mixed gas diving only evolved over the first half of the twentieth century. Again, the reader has the choice of accepting the dive depth and durations as exaggerated reports on the part of the narrator or imagining the sophisticated use aboard the Nautilus of mixed gas solutions and decompression techniques at the extreme limit of demonstrated diving today.

Q: Do the original woodcut illustrations match the description in the text?

Copies of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea printed today often contain only the text of Jules Verne’s story, or in the case of illustrated editions, incorporate any number of varying images drawn by a divergent set of modern artists. For this reason, today’s readers may not be aware that the original publication of the book included 118 woodcut illustrations created by the French artists Édouard Riou and Alphonse de Neuville. These were not publishing afterthoughts disconnected from the development of the story, rather both artists worked with Jules Verne while he was writing to visually represent key characters, settings, and action as described in the text. In several letters there are examples of Verne providing feedback to the artists and suggesting changes to their initial sketches. Given this collaboration, it is fair to say that the original illustrations provide a relevant reflection of the author’s intent and an acceptably close reproduction of what he envisioned as he wrote.

Under that premise, the woodcut illustrations become an important source of information about the Nautilus, second only to the text. Where there is a discrepancy between illustration and text, it is often one of scale. For example, in almost every illustration where the characters are depicted on the platform the size of the Nautilus is disproportionately small. I suspect this is partly because of the challenge of accurately representing a spindle shape awash on the surface and partly due to the difficulty the artists had internalizing the idea of such a large submarine in an age when such craft were tens of feet long and hand-propelled. However, in depictions of the interior, where they could resort to architectural paradigms, they were more successful in getting the correct scale—that is, after being initially admonished by Verne to make the interior spaces larger relative to the characters. The result is that the exterior images, which are often inconsistent from each other and lack many details found in the text, should be viewed as informing only a general impression of the Nautilus, while the interior details conform much more closely to the description provided by Verne and so should be adhered to more literally.

This is the approach I have taken to incorporate the information from the illustrations into the design. Externally, only the five-sided pilothouse is taken from the illustrations and the remainder of the design follows the narrative. Internally, the design attempts to create spaces that are visually consistent with the illustrations to the greatest extent practicable. Some information provided by the illustrations and not found in the text include the specific location of the organ in the salon along with particular items of décor, placement and shape of the viewports, arrangement of furniture in the dining room and library, and a general sense of the feel and layout of a portion of the engine room. Hopefully, the reader is able to visualize, in the blueprints of my book, various scenes as depicted in the original illustrations.

Q: What might it actually be like to live aboard Verne’s Nautilus?

Verne rightly represented the sensation of diving beneath the waves as a transformational moment when the motions of the ocean’s surface are left behind and stable serenity envelopes the submarine. Even though the violence of a hurricane can be felt as pronounced rolls as much as a couple of hundred feet down, deeper still, stillness reigns. In such an environment, a sense of time can be rapidly lost unless the artificial light on board is dimmed to simulate night and day. Even then, there is no clue as to the particular hour and, as on any long sea voyage, the days of the week soon lose their meaning. This detachment from earth and time is well conveyed in the novel. In a sort of compensation, the human senses become highly tuned to very small changes in the artificial environment. A flicker of lights, the change in a vibration, or a transient sound like the hissing of compressed air, are noted in an instant and indeed, these are precisely the things commented on by the narrator of Verne’s tale.

The luxury and comfort of the accommodations described aboard the part of the Nautilus reserved for Captain Nemo continue to captivate the imagination of readers even today. Needless to say, actual submarines are warships and so luxury is traded for sensors and weapons and larger crews to operate them. It’s true that the extremely tight quarters found on actual submarines might induce claustrophobia in some, however, the Nautilus’s grand salon, library, and dining spaces would likely assuage such feelings. Moreover, for many submariners, there is a feeling of security to be found within the completely self-contained bubble of life that is the submarine. Clearly, these sentiments resonate within Captain Nemo as he describes his “ship par excellence!”

Nuclear submarines with their prodigious power and using a wide array of sophisticated machines can purify water, make oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, and regulate temperature and humidity in order to create an environment very much like that found inside a modern home. Nautilus too can make water using electricity but depends on daily ventilation at the surface to replenish the air. This would be adequate to maintain oxygen and carbon dioxide levels but presents a challenge to maintaining stable conditions of temperature and humidity. Curiously, Verne’s characters never comment on the temperature and humidity aboard the Nautilus, which would seem to imply it is neither remarkable nor uncomfortable. Even during their tour in the engine room, although they note the definitive presence of an odor, there is no notice made of any change in temperature. This prompts the question of whether the Nautilus’s source of power generates no significant heat or whether they expect a ship’s engine room to be warm and so such conditions are not worth remarking on. Regardless, regulating temperature and humidity in a submarine is not a trivial concern. It is not unreasonable to think that highly effective electric heaters are able to keep the interior warm in polar waters as well as in the deep ocean where temperatures hover a few degrees above freezing. However, we must assume that during their voyages through tropical latitudes without air conditioning the small size of the crew and apparent lack of heat produced by the propulsion machinery limits the heat generated so that it remains more or less in balance with losses conducted through the hull. Even so, it is an open question as to how paintings, tapestries, and a library of books would fare over time spent in such a crudely regulated atmosphere.

Q: What happened to the 19th-century submarines—do any still exist? 

It would not be unreasonable to think that little remains of pre-20th-century wood or iron machines that were intended to submerge in saltwater. And while it is true that some of these remarkable submersibles can only be experienced as replicas, a surprising number of them survived to this day and can be seen first-hand. Each story is unique, and more often than not, quite unusual.

After the attempt to sink HMS Eagle, Bushnell’s Turtle was used in two subsequent attacks in the Hudson River but without success against an alerted British Navy. A few days later, the ship that was carrying Turtle was sunk by the British and although the submersible was reportedly recovered not long after, there is no record of what became of it. Three functional replicas have been built, the first in 1976 which now resides in the Connecticut River Museum. The second replica took the approach of hollowing the Turtle’s body from a single log and it was successfully tested in 2003 at the U.S. Naval Academy and in the waters of Duxbury, MA. Finally, in 2007, a high-fidelity replica was built and launched in the harbor at the Connecticut River Museum and tested at Mystic Seaport. It is currently on display at Lee’s Museum of Early Engineering Technology in Westbrook, CT. which is housed in Bushnell’s original house. In addition to the functional replicas, full-scale cutaway models can also be seen at the U.S. Submarine Force Museum in Groton, CT and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, UK.

Unlike the Turtle, for which only limited description and no drawings exist, Fulton was an artist who left detailed renderings of his Nautilus. Unfortunately, the submersible itself was dismantled at the conclusion of tests conducted in France in 1801 and its components were mostly destroyed, thus it was not available to be inspected by Napoleon when it finally aroused his interest. Nothing exists of the original and Fulton’s plans for an improved submarine were never built, however, a full-scale cutaway model of his Nautilus can be seen at Cité de la Mer in Cherbourg, France.

Of the three submarines built by Brutus De Villeroi, there is no record of the fate of the first wooden boat demonstrated at Noirmoutiers, near Nantes, France in 1832. His second boat was seized by police after alarmed witnesses spotted it sailing up the Delaware River in May 1861, just a month after the outbreak of the Civil War. Its last reported location was on the shore opposite Philadelphia in Delanco, NJ where it was inspected by Union Naval officers in the first week of July 1861. The government subsequently contracted Villeroi to construct a third boat, the Alligator, which ultimately foundered and sank while under tow on April 2, 1863, off the coast of Cape Hatteras. In 2004 and 2005, an expedition organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) searched for the Alligator without success and so she remains lying somewhere on the seabed off North Carolina, awaiting discovery.

Lodner Phillips also built three submersibles, none of which survived to this day. His first, built in 1845, was little more than a modified barrel. It sank in Trail Creek near the Michigan City Lighthouse and was subsequently recovered and then abandoned on the shore. His second submarine was built, launched and then sunk in the Chicago River. In 1915 a submarine was pulled up from the bottom of the river that in all likelihood may have been this craft. The public dubbed it the Foolkiller and it became part of a traveling exhibition of novelties before disappearing from the historical record. Phillips’ third and much more substantial submarine, the Marine Cigar, sprung a leak at a depth of 100 feet while attempting to dive on the wreck of the Great Lakes steamer Atlantic in 1853. On a subsequent unmanned test, the weight of leaking water overcame the ability of a crane to lift it and the vessel parted the hawser and sunk. Presumably, it lies in the vicinity of the wrecked Atlantic off Long Point in Lake Erie at a depth of about 150 feet. The wreck was relocated in 1984 and surveyed with side scan sonar in 2002, but no conclusive evidence of the Marine Cigar was observed.

William Bauer’s Brandtaucher sank in Kiel Harbor in 1851 but was located and raised in 1887. Today it can be seen fully restored in Dresden at the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces Museum of Military History). A functional model built by Bauer can be seen at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

The first Ictineo was destroyed in January 1862 when a vessel ran into it while tied up at the pier, however, a full-size replica can be found in front of the Museu Maritim in Barcelona. Monturial was forced to declare bankruptcy and surrender the much improved Ictineo II to creditors who promptly sold it for scrap in 1867. A full-scale replica can be found in the port of Barcelona.

The outsized submarine Plongeur, which proved unwieldy during submerged sea trials in 1864, was struck from the register in 1872 but then reactivated and converted to a water tanker. She served in that capacity until 1935 when she was sold and presumably scrapped.

The Sub Marine Explorer, built by Julius Kroehl, was taken to Panama’s Peral Islands and operated in the late 1860s. In 1869, the crew succumbed to a “fever” that was almost certainly decompression sickness and the vessel was laid up on the shore of San Telmo island. It was rediscovered and identified in 2001 by James Delgado who led several scientific explorations to the site, and it remains there today, slowly decaying in the surf. It remains one of the oldest surviving submarines known to exist.

For nearly one hundred and thirty years, the Intelligent Whale sat outdoors on dry land, first at the Brooklyn Navy Yard where it was tested in 1872 and then, beginning in 1968, at the Washington Navy Yard. Regarded as a historical curiosity, it was essentially untouched, making it one of the most complete examples of 19th-century submarines in existence today. In 1999 it finally moved indoors to its new home at the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey in Sea Girt, NJ.

Perhaps the most sensational example of 19th-century submarines is the H.L. Hunley which sank on February 17, 1864, shortly after her successful attack on the USS Housatonic. She was finally located in Charleston harbor in 1995 and raised to the surface in 2000. After years of preservation work, the submarine is on display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in South Carolina. The facility also has a full-size replica of the Hunley which can be toured by the public and a replica of her predecessor, the Pioneer, on display.

The Resurgam II was lost at sea while under tow in Liverpool Bay on February 25, 1880, just three months after it had completed construction. The wreck was found in 1995 by a diver attempting to clear entangled fishing nets. Although it has been designated a protected site and scientifically studied, no plans to raise the vessel have materialized. A replica is on display near the ferry terminal in the town of Woodside.

Gymnote’s fate was reported in the Saturday, August 10, 1907 edition of The Poverty Bay Herald as having been flooded while in dry dock when a hatch was left open; possibly the malicious act of a disgruntled worker. She was deemed too expensive to repair and so was scrapped soon after.

The Peral was launched in 1888 but was withdrawn from service just two years later and ordered destroyed in 1913. Fortunately, the order was not carried out and the vessel was claimed by the first commander of the Spanish submarine force in 1929 and moved onshore at the submarine base in Cartagena. On public display in a square of Cartagena since 1965, her condition slowly degraded until she was given a full restoration in 2013 and moved inside the Cartagena Naval Museum where it can be seen today.

Following the successful test of his first submarine, John Holland scuttled the craft in the Passaic River to keep it secret. In 1927 it was located, raised, and presented to the Paterson Museum where it is on display. His second submarine, the Fenian Ram, was intended for use against the British by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. They stole the submarine and a prototype for the Holland III after a dispute over funding. The prototype sank while under tow near Whitestone Point in Queens, NY but by 1927 the Fenian Ram ended up at the Paterson Museum in Paterson, NJ where it can be seen today. His third boat became the U.S. Navy’s first official submarine, USS Holland, and was in commission from only 1900 to 1905. She provided five more years of service as a reserve vessel before being sold for scrap. Stripped of all fittings, the hull was subsequently sold in October 1916 and put on display in Philadelphia and then at the Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries. It spent several more years on display in Patterson, NJ before finally scrapped in 1932; a great loss to history. However, Britain’s Royal Navy also ordered a Holland boat in 1900, which operated until 1913. It sank while under tow to the scrapyard but was located in 1981 and raised the next year. After prolonged periods of preservation, HMS Holland is now on display at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum providing us with an opportunity to see the design which ushered in the modern era of submarines.

Q: How does Disney’s version of the Nautilus compare with the book? 

Many have commented that in Verne’s seminal novel, the Nautilus is treated almost like another character and so on screen, that character required a visual presence. A slender spindle hull with two modest retractable cupolas would have been neither distinctive nor memorable, not to mention probably just plain difficult to portray on film. On the other hand, the Nautilus that Harper Goff ultimately designed for the film is iconic—indeed it has become the definitive image of Captain Nemo’s submarine, thus fulfilling the ambition and need of the filmmaker. In fact, Walt Disney originally favored a representation of the Nautilus that was rigorously faithful to the book, but an insistent Goff was persuasive and prevailed. As with all designs for the Nautilus, there is an element of interpretation involved and to what degree one is inclined to view Goff’s design as accurate is dependent upon the latitude one is willing to allow. For example, consistent with the book at a fundamental level is the riveted iron construction of the outer hull or the presence of a pilothouse, though it clearly does not retract, that projects atop the hull toward the forward end. Liberty has been taken in incorporating the library, dining room and salon into one space but it does feature the books, pipe organ, and large viewports that are the key features of those spaces. In some cases, deviations appear to have been introduced to resolve practical technical challenges. For example, the manner of launching the skiff is much simplified by its access to the waterline and the bottom opening hatch in the diving cell allows the compartment to remain dry by pressurizing it as is modern practice rather than flooding as described in the book. The movie was released in 1954, the same year that the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, was launched, and so quite logically, this new energy source was seized upon to appeal to public interest and explain the fictional submarine’s propulsion power. Perhaps the greatest disparity between Goff’s interpretation and the original text is the overall length and outward appearance of the submarine. The Disney sub is much too small, both to contain the interior sets that were constructed for the film and relative to the 70m length described by Verne. In addition, although the Nautilus is initially mistaken in the story for a marine mammal or sea monster, there is nothing written by Verne that suggests the submarine actually has any structures that enhance its appearance as one. Thus, the many interpretations that depict fish-like fins or other forms of biomimicry have little basis and propel the design unnecessarily further toward fantasy. Goff himself admitted he was inspired by the shark and the alligator, which he considered the most fearsome animals in the sea. But to be fair, these indulgences are not egregious in Goff’s design and the most prominent among them, namely the scaled spine that arches over the pilothouse to protect it during ramming, is also a practical necessity due to the inability of the pilothouse to be retracted into the hull. Thus, we are presented with the unusual case in which casual observation would conclude that the Disney sub bears little resemblance to the description in the text but under closer scrutiny, the design can be found to embody the necessary key elements if granted some allowance for creative interpretation. Perhaps this is the best that can be expected for a movie, but it is a step considerably further removed from realistic submarine design and operational functionality.

Q: I want portions of my work translated into another language, but I am concerned that I will get a bad translation. What tools would you recommend for getting something translated?

Machine translation tools have made tremendous advancements in recent years, especially with the application of artificial intelligence. They offer speed and economy but lack the ability to understand context or meaning, which can result in grammatically correct gibberish, or worse, misrepresented intent. For this reason, a review by a native speaker should be considered essential for work considered for publication in another language. However, machine translators may be able to do the bulk of the work, allowing for the human to serve in an editorial capacity. To a certain extent it depends on the content to be translated. Specialized language associated with the technicalities of a particular discipline will prove more troublesome to automated translation, as will text that is rich in idioms, or dialog that features slang or dialects. Better results are also likely to be obtained with machine translations between languages that share more similarities than widely divergent ones. One technique that could help improve confidence in a machine translation is to compare the rendition of the same passage created by different machine translators. Another technique would be to use a different machine translator to revert the translation back into the original language. Consistency in these cases could suggest improved accuracy. Without question, some knowledge of the foreign language is extremely helpful in using machine translators. It will allow you to spot obvious errors of course, but also to be wary of where translation might prove troublesome, such as dealing with gender associated with nouns or possession. Finally, the more important the author’s voice or poetic composition is to the essence of the work, the greater the need for human interpretation will be in the translation process.

Q: My main character has to spend time on a submarine. What is it like to move around inside a submarine?

By necessity, a submarine is the most densely constructed of all maritime vessels. As a result, every aspect has been carefully thought out to maximally use the available volume in the most efficient manner possible. There is no wasted, or “extra” space, and in fitting out a submarine one really must think in term of volume and not merely floorspace. This exploitation of volume is probably the biggest misconception of novices who imagine submarine interiors. (For example, think about how overhead space and underfloor areas are used in commercial aircraft) The space allocated for people inside a submarine is tailored to fit a specific requirement for humans. As a result, there is rarely more than a few inches over the head of an average person standing inside a compartment or at the end of their bunk when asleep. Passageways may permit two individuals to pass, but only if they both turn sideways, and it’s likely that contact with the walls and each other will be involved. The ladders, small hatches, and constant contact with surfaces make moving around a submarine something similar in sensation to climbing around on a jungle gym. After prolonged periods living literally inside the machine, movement becomes habitual – simultaneously deliberate and effortless. One becomes so in tune to the environment that any change – for example the redirection of a ventilation duct – becomes instantly noticeable. Some level of noise is always present, in particular the whirr of ventilation fans, which contributes to the sensation of inhabiting a dynamic “living” thing. The absence of such noises is unusual, unnerving and usually indicative of something bad. Odors too are ever-present but with constant immersion these fade to become unnoticed while new odors, like from cooking, are immediately registered. It may all sound unpleasant but to experienced submariners there is a sense of security found in being so at one with one’s environment. Finally, the presence of other people is inescapable. In reality you are never more than an arm’s length away from another person, and often much closer. The only isolation possible is a visual one, if you are lucky enough to be able to retreat to the sanctuary of a bunk with a curtain. Of course, the bunk is only 18” high – carefully designed to just allow one to roll over. Pleasant dreams!

Q: How large would the submarine need to be to fit a crew of five?

A submarine, even from the relatively early period of WWI, is an underwater vessel whose endurance at sea is typically measured in weeks, and in more modern times, months. To achieve such a measure of self-sufficiency, submarines quickly grew in size and displacement. During WWI, less than a decade after their introduction into the U.S. Navy, submarines were already 100-150’ in length, with a beam of 12-15’ and a displacement of 300-500 tons. Such boats required crews of 15-25 men to operate them. Today, submarines are typically 200-350 feet in length and displace 2000-8000 tons, though some are considerably larger. A crew of 100 is not uncommon but even smaller, highly automated boats often require a crew of at least 30 to operate. In part this is because at least two and often three shifts are employed in order to conduct round the clock operations. Crew size is also driven by the submarine’s mission as a warship. In light of all these considerations, it must be said that 5 represents and unusual crew size for a submarine. Submersibles, however, are much smaller underwater craft with endurances typically measured in hours up to perhaps a day. They are usually tended by a surface ship that provides both replenishment to the vehicle and accommodations for the crew. Used primarily for exploration or underwater work, they often can dive deeper than submarines but are capable of propelling themselves at only a few knots.

Most carry one, two or three people, with some able to accommodate a handful more, but in any case, personnel are confined to little more than seat from which to operate the submersible. Submersibles which have been designed to rescue the crew of a submarine disabled underwater represent some of the largest examples of such vehicles. They may have a crew of 3-5 and be able to carry 12-25 tightly packed passengers for short rides to the surface. Tourist submarines, which have a far more limited operational envelope, can often accommodate such numbers with more comfortable seating arrangements. In any event, the limited endurance of such craft and their dependence upon a surface tender enables crew sizes of just a few individuals. The craft which most closely existed in the gap between submersibles and submarines was NR-1, a small, nuclear powered, underwater research vehicle operated by the U.S. Navy. NR-1 was about 150 feet long, 12 feet in beam, displacing 400 tons. She operated with a dozen crew and could remain submerged for two to three weeks at a time although she was accompanied by a surface support vessel that allowed for faster transits under tow. Like a submersible she could only travel about 4 knots and had no galley or bathing facilities. But like a submarine, her nuclear reactor provided ample power and bunks were provided for the crew to sleep on board. Numerous conceptual designs for personal submarines designed to accommodate half a dozen passengers in luxury have been promoted but never built. But I am aware of at least one underwater craft, operated by Kokes Marine Technologies, which can claim to satisfy the capabilities of a miniature submarine. It is described as 50 feet in length, weighing 48 tons, able to dive to 1,000 feet and travel at up to 8 knots. Although it has just two bunks, it can ostensibly accommodate a crew of 6 for up to a week underwater. It is diesel-electric powered and best of all, according to the website, it is available for charter!

Q: I want to portray a military strategy meeting, but I don’t know if the dialogue has any authenticity. What are some good portrayals of behind the scenes military meetings?

While I strongly believe that authenticity is extremely important and need not be sacrificed to create the desired emotional effect (suspense, drama, comedy, etc.) it is also the case that every scene serves to convey a purpose and propel the story.  Doing that effectively might, necessarily, not emulate true life.  I suppose that is the artistic balance.  The impression I’ve formed is that most portrayals of military meetings depict them more formally, more dramatically, and more eloquently than is often the case – but this is done to enhance the efficiency and impact of those scenes.  Attempting to be more authentic in this regard might result in a less than satisfying artistic result and audience reaction.  I think what is most important to get right when crafting this kind of scene is understanding the (military) relationship between the participants and what their concerns would be.  These two elements could be made to vary widely and produce very different interactions.  Since it is impossible to describe a prototypically characteristic military strategy meeting, let me provide some examples of the important elements to consider depending upon what level of meeting you are attempting to write dialog for.

In a so-called strategy meeting at the highest levels, general and flag officers are often concerned about end-states, the resources required to achieve them, and what impact allocating those resources has on the other strategic responsibilities and missions of the organization.  There will likely be a greater sensitivity to politics, both associated with the strategies being discussed but also in the relationships and influence of the participants.  And because the community of such officers is small, they are likely to know each other, and their degree of candor and emotion can be indicative of the trust that exists among them.  While bluster and confrontation might make for exciting dialog, authenticity would generally lean toward thoughtfulness and circumspection.

It might surprise you to know that most military operational strategy – the war-planning if you will, is done by mid-grade officers (majors & lieutenant colonels or lieutenant commanders & commanders in the Navy) whose job it is to prepare a variety of possible detailed courses of action for decision by their commanders.  Often these planning meetings begin as something akin to brainstorming sessions with officers of various backgrounds and specialties weighing in with ideas and then later developing execution plans, risk assessments, and estimates of effectiveness.  The most probable and most dangerous cases are always among those considered and the process is, at turns, both creative and analytical.  Discussions at this level tend to be technical in nature or are related to interpreting and delivering on the commander’s stated intent.  Getting forces to where they need to be and supplying them once they are there are always critical details to be worked out and so conversations about logistics are inevitable.

The level in-between is the domain of the operational commanders.  Their early discussions will focus on what guidance to give to their planning staff about the mission objectives and any constraints they must consider in planning.  Discussions between commanders are often concerned about command and control between participating units and about assessing the risk required to achieve effects.  Once courses of action have been prepared, the planning staff will brief them to the commander and respond to any questions.  These meetings are less discussions and more presentations, at the conclusion of which the commander will chose from among the proposed courses of action or direct a rework of the plan that might blend options or introduce new considerations.  As you might expect, this entire operational planning process is codified and formally taught across the services. On the other hand, strategy development at the highest levels is less prescriptive and follows a broadly applied technique of assessing relevant trends and formulating desired outcomes.

Q: When you are starting a research project, how do you organize your sources?

I’m sure I would have a great answer to this question if only my projects had a clean start.  But the truth is, when one subject or another catches my interest I just start to dig in, explore, and learn.  The initial process of discovery is usually guided by little more than the flow of questions and answers as they present themselves.  How long this lasts usually depends on my degree of interest, the potential within the topic to become something, and my desire to pursue it.  Often, ideas and projects will simmer in the back of my brain until an accidental discovery or a new idea suddenly makes developing the project irresistible.  This idea of slow-motion multi-tasking was described in a TED talk by Tim Hartford (see

The downside of this is that initial information collection tends to be haphazard and inconsistently documented.  I do try and keep project idea folders (real and virtual) into which I can toss information I come across related to that idea but invariably when the real work begins there is a fair amount of back tracking required to properly source information.  But I do find that it tends to go quickly because in the intervening period my mind has been organizing the idea and developed the way in which it should be presented and so my deliberate research effort gets underway with much more direction and focus.

Of course the beauty of the Internet, especially if you are working with older sources whose entire content is available online as a scanned archive, is that you can often download the source material, highlight passages, add annotations, and cut-and-paste citations.  These techniques make it much easier to access, refer back to, and track source material that you might use.  Probably one of the most tedious tasks is trying to keep track of individual page citations within a single source that you find yourself using extensively.  I’ll admit to struggling with this sometimes and one technique I use it to keep a running Word document of quotations, listed by page number, that I compile as I read the source.  It’s perhaps not the most efficient method and one that requires you to predict what you might use, but such “cliff notes” make a good long-term summary of the content and can help guide you back to information not documented but subsequently desired.

Finally, I will confess that my experience with documenting sources is primarily with published written materials.  The complexity of utilizing interviews, film and television media, or personal documents is an added challenge.  For best practices and advice on organizing such sources I will defer to experts better qualified than I.