The curious Soviet mini-sub of South Alabama
While running around South Alabama, I came across the sleepy shrimping capital of Bayou La Batre along the Mississippi Sound. The basis for Winston Groom’s (who grew up in Mobile County and for years later lived along Mobile Bay) fictional Greenbow, Alabama in “Forest Gump,” the town self-bills as, “The Seafood Capital of Alabama.”
So, of course, it has a surplus Soviet mini-sub along Hwy 188 downtown.
Built in Leningrad between 1968 and 1972 for the Soviet Ministry of Fisheries to research fish concentrations, Project 1825 produced two “North” (Sever) type submersible, dubbed “Север-2” (Sever-2) and Sever-2 Bis.
Complete with manipulator arms, seven viewing ports (3x 140mm, 4x60mm) and the ability to dive to as deep as 2,000m, they were legit minisubs for their day, akin to the U.S. Navy’s similar Alvin DSV project which predated the Severs by a half-decade.
Operating from the 2,700-ton Soviet research ships Odissey and Ikhtiander, the two subs spent time in the Med, Atlantic, Baltic, and Pacific throughout the 1970s and 80s, conducting fisheries and oceanographic research. Electrically powered, they could motor at 3.5-knots for up to 9 hours before their batteries were drained, or simply submerge for as many as 72, carrying 3-5 operators/observers.
Displacement 39.9 tonnes
Length: 40.68 feet
Beam: 8.76 feet
Draft (surfaced): 13.28 feet
Speed: 3.5 kts
Diving depth: 2,000 m, operating
Their work was important enough that the Soviets showed them off in a series of postage stamps.
Once the Cold War ended and Moscow thawed, the aging Severs and their motherships were laid up. Odissey and Ikhtiander were soon scrapped and Sever-2 left to rust in Sevastapol.
Apparently, in the 1990s, Sever-2 Bis was sold to an entrepreneur who considered putting it back into service and moved to Steiner Shipyard in Bayou La Batre. There it has sat ever since.
Mobile-native filmmaker Mike deGruy– who dived on “Titanic” with director James Cameron and for his BBC series “The Blue Planet”– took a look at the vessel in 2010 saying at the time that “a person would have to be crazy to go underwater in that contraption.”
Now, pushing 50, the Sever-2 Bis is still hard ashore in Shrimp Town, USA.