LG50 Looking Glass: 1999-2000

The first 55 passenger Hyco design was built in Inverkeithing Scotland in 1986 by Fluid Energy. The Looking Glass was intended to operate in St Thomas US Virgin Islands. The LG50 project suffered a number of setbacks including being dropped into the harbour followed moments later by the crane still attached. It turned out that worse was in store for this unfortunate submarine. The poor reliability of the systems and other factors eventually sent the owners into receivership. The submarine sat floating in the harbour for 2 years before being bought by Comex and taken to Marseille. Here it was dismantled before COMEX decided they would prefer to start from scratch with a new design.

Teamed again with Patrick, I surveyed the craft and components at the COMEX facility and we were commissioned to purchase and rebuild the vehicle with a plan to go into service in South Florida. Patrick organised a team of old friends from the industry and rented space at the Harbor Branch Oceanic Institute facility in Fort Pierce, Florida. The hull and 2 containers full of components arrived via Key West in 1998.

During its period of service in St Thomas, virtually nothing worked satisfactorily, requiring fundamental re-design and re-manufacture. This included the variable ballast system and hard tanks, the air conditioning and scrubbing system, manoeuvring and propulsion thrusters and a new drop weight system.

The pressure hull was blasted back to bare metal and the entire submarine was painstakingly re-built, component by component. Looking Glass was re-launched from the Harbor Branch marine railway in May 2000 and re-certification with both ABS and US Coast Guard completed. Both submarine and crew were then worked up to full operational status at West Palm Beach.

For a foreign-built vessel to operate in US waters, the Jones Act, designed to protect US ship builders, must be satisfied with a Congressional Exemption, for which there is a very long wait. The owners gave up waiting and decided to re-locate to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. However, their compulsory Mexican partners turned out to be, shall we say, rather less than was hoped for.

The owners feared the submarine would be seized to pay their partners debits so a Cabo-based tug boat was contracted to tow the submarine and its steel twin diesel support boat all the way up to San Diego along the Pacific coast. That night the weather deteriorated and the support boat which had been placed between tug and submarine started taking on water through a broken window. Fearing the tug would be lost, the skipper cut the tow and the support boat sank taking the submarine with it.

The submarine now lies at a depth of 800m in the Pacific Ocean somewhere along the Baja Peninsula. The collapse depth would have been around 400m.