A few winters ago, I walked in Coney Island in early March after a few days of light snow that had put down nearly a foot. I strolled down the boardwalk, then up West 37th past Sea Gate, and then back east, along Bayview Avenue along the noxious and noisome Coney Island Creek. I was looking for something in particular. I spotted it: a half-sunken vessel, poking its yellow tower out of the viscous creek liquid that bore only a passing resemblance to water. This is the remnant of one man’s futile quest to claim the riches of the sunken ocean liner Andrea Doria. In fact, its name is the Quester I.
In 1963, a Brooklyn Navy Yard ship fitter named Jerry Bianco hatched a scheme to salvage the treasures of the Andrea Doria…as Terry Berkson reports in the September 14, 2006 Richfield Springs Mercury (the town is in upstate New York between Schenectady and Utica):
The Andrea Doria was known to be bountifully loaded with such diverse items as a $250,000 solid silver statue of a mermaid; thousands of cases of liquor; tons of provolone cheese; 200,000 pieces of mail that the federal government would pay 26 cents a piece for; the ship’s bronze propellers, worth $30,000 each, paintings locked in air-tight vaults; industrial diamonds; the ship’s $6 million metal scrap value; passengers’ personal property left in several vaults and more.
Bianco believed he could build a vessel strong enough to descend to 240 feet of water, where the liner rests at the bottom off Nantucket, and could actually raise the sunken vessel by filling it with inflatable dunnage bags; when filled, the bags would lift it off the bottom or to the surface — or so the theory went.
Berkson: He began work in 1966 raising money for the expensive equipment and materials needed by forming a corporation, Deep Sea Techniques, and selling stock over the counter at a dollar a share. “Friends, neighbors, local police and firemen all bought into my dream of raising treasure from the ocean.” A dollar bought a piece of the submarine and a share of whatever she salvaged.
Bianco did the designing and most of the welding himself but also employed workers as need arose and money allowed.
His two sons also contributed their efforts. Raising money was always a problem. One had to be a dreamer to put faith in a captain who had never even piloted a sub before. Bianco’s simple mousetrap approach, “My sub wasn’t made for speed or beauty,” attracted small waves of stock investors.
After four years of hard work, a 40-foot, 83 ton Yellow Submarine squatted beneath The Burns Bros. Coal silos on the shores of the Coney Island Creek ready to be launched.
The Quester I (the submarine’s official moniker) was coated with yellow zinc chromate paint, the most economical Bianco could find. On October 19, 1970, the sub was ready to be launched. Bianco’s daughter, Patricia, broke a bottle of champagne across the bow before a giant crane lowered the craft into the creek. Unfortunately that was as far as it went. The crane engineer lowered the sub completely into Coney Island Creek, disregarding Bianco’s instructions. Bianco had removed the ballast from one side of the sub to save money, since the cost of launch was calculated by the pound, and the engineer was told to lower it only partly into the creek. Like the ocean liner it was supposed to help salvage, the Yellow Submarine listed severely in the water and couldn’t be launched. Biano later refilled the ballast and tethered the sub, but his backers’ enthusiasm waned, and he could never return to the project. Eventually some of the sub’s parts were stolen, and it got loose from its moorings in 1981. It has floated in Coney Island Creek ever since, gradually rusting.
More on the Yellow Submarine of Coney Island Creek
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I knew Jerry. He used the sub to help tow old Staten Islands ferry’s up Coney Island creek to scrap them to make is living. Every time us kids would ride the school bus as we pass the ship yard on Neptune avenue we would all start singing the yellow submarine. I grew up with many of the Bianco family members. Many of them live on bay 53 street
Kind of macabre – but. Not only is the Park named for Calvert Vaux, but his body actually washed up here after he drowned.
My father was a local cop (Coney Island Troop E mounted division) who knew Jerry and took me to see him working on it. I’ll never forget.
Pity Geraldo Rivera wasn’t there to provide exclusive coverage of the launch. Or was he?
So far 18 people have died while scuba diving to the wreck of the Andrea Doria. It’s at a depth of about 250 feet, which is within the limit for divers but with a considerable amount of danger. If it were much shallower, the danger would be less, while if it were much deeper, no one would even try reaching it,
a few years ago, I was walking behind the Home Depot on the creek trying to find the yellow submarine, and I just was having no luck. I dont know if maybe it was high tide or something, but I found nothing.
I wonder if they ever hit that guy up for illegal dumping after
he just leaves it there.
I remember as a child going to see the sub before it sank. A friend of my father, who was a former Navy diver, had wanted to be a part of the salvage team.
You may remember I first put you on to this story with research and went out to that sub in a roboat abuilt by artist Marie Lorenz for photos. And we further explored along the creek to.its end. So I am dismayed when you describe the creek as a polluted mess akin to the Gowan Canal. When I went up and down its length it was reasonably clean and full of fish with aively population of cormorants feeding on them. It is washed by the tides and open to the Atlantic at Gravesend Bay.
Is it really clean? When I passed it over Stillwell a short time ago, I didn’t get a clean vibe. Looked pretty morassic.
I wonder what the reaction would have been if any member of the Beetles saw this?