CONEY ISLAND CREEK/GRAVESEND – Three years before the Beatles 1966 hit was released, a real-life yellow submarine was dreamed into existence in Brooklyn. The original yellow color has now rubbed off, but the rusted hull is still visible above the thick polluted waters. The submarine, named the Quester I, has been a fixture of the Coney Island Creek for more than 45 years.
It was built by Jerry Bianco, a ship fitter who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the time there was a myth circulating that hidden in the waters off Long Island six German U-Boats containing mercury ballast that had sunk, and Bianco wanted to conduct “salvage operations” to find them, Bianco told the Brooklyn Local in March of 1994.
After finding the U-Boats, he wanted to search for and raise the Andrea Doria — an Italian ocean liner that had sunk near Nantucket when it collided with the Stockholm. He valued the scrap metal that the ship would provide at around 6 million dollars, and the figurehead made of solid silver at $250,000. He quickly accumulated a few investors and by 1966, three years after the idea had come into his head, the building process had begun.
As reported by the Brooklyn Local on March 12, 1994, in 1971, five years after the building process had begun, the Quester I was ready for her maiden voyage. It had been coated in a fresh batch of yellow zinc chromate paint, the most economical option at the time, and so the launch date was set for October 17, 1971, near the Great Eastern Coal Silos. Bianco invited news agencies to come and witness the launch of his submarine, a move he would curse himself for once the launch day came.
The crane Bianco had secured could only lift 75 tons, the submarine was 8 pounds too heavy for the crane. They removed some of the ballast from the base of the submarine, and once they got to the appropriate weight the submarine was lifted by the crane. Bianco told the crane operator to not lower the Quester I all the way into the water. They needed to replace the ballast that had been removed before the submarine could effectively operate.
The crane operator did not listen. The submarine was lowered fully into the water, and it flipped over onto its side. The news organizations he had invited caught the event on camera, and he became the laughing stock of the area.
The Quester I was later righted and proved to still work, but the confidence of the investors had dissipated. It never ended up sailing out of the harbor.
It remained moored by the Silos till 1975, when in a storm it broke loose and drifted upstream to the shallower waters of the Coney Island Creek where it became stuck and remains to this day. Before it became loose some of the parts had been stolen, rendering it incapable of working.
Even though he was never able to actually find the shipwrecks he was searching for, he still lives on in the history of New York as the man whose failed dream rusts away in the murky waters of Coney Island Creek.
Check out this video by Charles Denson with photos of the construction of Quester I on Coney Island Creek and his interview with Jerry Bianco, the submarine’s builder, recorded back in 1999: