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Dive into Central Coast's submarine history

Judy Salamacha
Judy Salamacha

Second only to Morro Rock, the DSRV-2 Avalon rescue submarine parked on Morro Bay’s Front Street is probably the most photographed visitor attraction in Morro Bay.

Only two were built, and only the Avalon is available for public viewing. The submarine is on long-term loan from the Navy, thanks to help from Congresswoman Lois Capps and former Mayor Bill Yates. It is one of many maritime crafts to be displayed at the future home of the Central Coast Maritime Museum.

“Tour the Avalon before watching the movie ‘Hunter Killer.’ The DSRV is integral to the story,” museum board President Larry Newland said.

Newland spent an afternoon with set director James Spencer and special effects coordinator Peter Chesney. They are building a sound studio interior mock-up of the Avalon for a major Hollywood movie scheduled for release next year.

Based on the novel “Firing Point” by Don Keith and George Wallace, the movie is about an untested American submarine commander sent to rescue a crew off a Russian submarine under the polar ice of the Barents Sea.

A $5 donation will purchase a tour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 4 and 5 of the inside of the DSRV, (deep submergence rescue vehicle), which was launched in 1971 after the loss of 129 men in the USS Thresher disaster. Intended to rescue submerged disabled submarines, it was decommissioned in 2000 without a mission.

It is 50 feet long, 8 feet in diameter, weighs 37 tons and can dive to 5,000 feet carrying 24 passengers plus the crew. During the July 4 holiday weekend, Central Coast Maritime Museum Association volunteers will be available to show a revised plan of the future maritime museum and talk about the tugboat Alma.

It was donated in 1995 by the Kelsey family, owners of Antone Sylvester Tug Service of Atascadero. Typical of tugs working along the West coast in the early 1900s, it was drafted to patrol the Central Coast waterways during World War II, anticipating possible attacks by Japanese submarines.

The Alma was anchored off Cayucos on Dec. 23, 1941, when explosions were heard. The Union Oil tanker Montebello had been hit by a Japanese torpedo and sunk off the coast of Cambria. The Alma rescued 22 survivors.

Newland said talks with Morro Bay’s city manager, David Buckingham, have generated plans to jump-start the permanent home for CCMMA’s fleet by early October. After completing preliminary site improvements to the designated 2 acres adjacent to where the fleet is currently parked, CCMMA can move the water crafts to pads for interpreted viewing.

“We’ve had dedicated volunteers and donations promised. With a permanent home we’ll be taken seriously,” Newland said. “With funding, we’ll build our first building in 2016 — a garage-sized space for information displays and merchandising.”

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