A vessel that never fails to turn heads

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Former Navy sub is saved from the scrap heap by a military buff who restored it as a pleasure boat

Former Navy sub is saved from the scrap heap by a military buff who restored it as a pleasure boat

John Re has no problems getting to where he needs to be on the water, because most people just get out of his way. This could have something to do with his vessel of choice – a big, black submarine with a forward-mounted machine gun.

“The machine gun’s just for effect,” says John Re, 47, of East Hampton, N.Y., who restored the U.S.S. Deep Quest, decommissioned by the Navy in 1980. “I painted it black because I couldn’t stand the color yellow.”

Re putters around in this piece of history, although it can no longer dive. The sub was launched in 1967 by Lockheed and used by the Navy for seafloor surveys and mapping, earning the thus-far unbroken dive record of 8,310 feet, according to Re, and planted an American flag on the floor of the Pacific. Deep Quest was also used to photograph the wreck of the Titanic in the 1970s.

“He did this all by himself,” says his wife Rhonda, 47. “I have known him for 27 years and suddenly he tells me he has this dream to buy a sub. It’s fascinating how he put it together.”

Now moored at Brewer’s Marina in Greenport, at 42 feet (minus the personal watercraft mounted astern), The costly restoration began three years ago when Re bought the sub from Universal Studios after finding it on an eBay auction in February 2003, rusting away on a back lot in California with its inner chambers and over diving apparatus removed. He moved it to Galveston, Texas, where he spent the next two-and-a-half years driving back and forth from New York in his Hummer, working with hired crew on making Deep Quest seaworthy again.

“It was just a disgusting mess when I got it,” says Re, who estimates spending about $700,000 to restore it. “It had just been rusting in a parking lot for a couple of years. Every fin had to be replaced, and the bottom of the boat had to be reskinned, for starters.”

This sort of project was right up Re’s alley. An art restorer by trade, Re’s father was a career army officer, which got Re interested in military artifacts. When Re was 27 he applied to the Navy but they denied him, saying he was too old. However, many of Re’s friends are ex-Navy Seals, and he has hats from Navy officers that he hangs in the cabin of the sub.

“It’s such a symbol of American patriotism, and I always have the flag flying,” says Re. “Soldiers just love getting the opportunity to be inside of it.”

Once he completed the project on Oct. 30, 2006, Re decided to give her a whirl by motoring her back to Long Island over the course of 58 days.

“Her top speed is about five knots, but when you weigh 50 tons, you’re not going to go fast,” says Re. “People were so great to us. Local newspapers all over did stories on our trip, and out of the 24 marinas we stayed at, we paid at four.”

Re has his fair share of colorful adventures from that trip. An avid diver, he remembers an encounter with a 12-foot alligator eying him as he was underneath the sub. When they entered the Hudson River by mistake, they had to take a side trip through the Harlem River, as commuters on the Metro-North stations stared.

“I think that is the only time anyone has seen a sub in the Harlem River,” says Re. “So many people called the Coast Guard and the police as we traveled through that they actually had to shut down the lines for awhile because they were swamped.”

Re says the Coast Guard was fantastic to them throughout the whole excursion and they never had any problem getting through drawbridges.

“We would call and say ‘This is ex-military U.S.S. Deep Quest sub requesting passage,’ and we got the same reaction every time: ‘Did you say sub?’” says Re.

Re remembers people jumping off their boats, swimming towards them to get a ride. One woman asked him if it was made out of rubber.

And Re made sure to travel in style: the inside is cozy and quirky, with the walls and floor lined with olive green carpeting and Burmese wood carvings (a gift from a friend) framing the entrance. The icing on the cake is the high-definition TV that also acts as Re’s computer for navigation. The main diesel fuel tank holds 210 gallons and the smaller reserve 55, allowing Deep Quest to cruise along at about five knots for up to 600 miles without stopping.

Now that the sub is at its home port, Re uses it to take out family and friends on daytrips. Signs stating “Authorized Personnell Only” are posted on the front and sides.

“We had a problem with kids climbing all over it when we were gone and we just don’t want there to be a liability,” says Re. “And it’s a constant work in progress, but we love it.”

Re’s wife Rhonda says she always knew her husband would go through with this project, even though it sounded crazy at the start.

“I believe in dreams and as we live our lives we should encourage each other’s dreams,” says Rhonda. “This wasn’t just a hobby or a project; there was a lot of love and dedication put into this.”

For more information, visit www.ussdeepquest.kk5.org.