The large catamaran Cheyenne, which has been moored in Newport Harbor for about four years, is gearing up to set off in August on its global adventure.
The Harbor Commission heard an update about the 125-foot vessel from Newport Beach resident and owner of Deep Sub LLC, Chris Welsh.
“I’m eager to hit the road with it,” Welsh said.
Cheyenne will act as the mothership to the DeepFlight Challenger submersible, tasked with diving to the deepest parts of the world’s oceans. It is a joint project with Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson.
The mission of the Five Dives Expedition is to explore the deepest points in earth’s five oceans, including the world’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench, at 36,201 feet.
He’s confident about it moving along smoothly, but the project is not without some hurdles, Welsh said.
Over the next few months, they plan to finish the polishing, conduct pressure tests, and shallow dive tests in the Newport area. The Cheyenne should be on its way by August or early September.
Welsh talked mostly about the repair work currently being done on the sub, specifically polishing a new quartz dome with a newly created tool.
“It’s an interesting process,” Welsh said.
The team will also be removing the titanium ring from the original, now cracked, dome.
“Ideally doing that without hurting and leaving it so we can use it again,” Welsh said.
The original dome has a small crack in it and would not be able to withstand the pressure that would occur during the five deep dives, so another dome was created which will be able to withstand about 13 million pounds of pressure.
At the same time, tests are being conducted on the entire structure and they have been doing shallow water dives.
“The whole reason why we’re here in Newport is it’s ideal to test here,” Welsh noted.
After the dome work is done in May and reassembly of the pressure hull is finished in June, the entire pressure vessel will be tested over the course of several days in July at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Penn. It will then be driven back to California to be reassembled with the deepwater sub and return to the water for testing and operation in August, Welsh explained.
Commissioner Doug West noted that hearing about the polishing process, difficulty of the dome grinding, and the testing is interesting, but they need to consider the issue on a grander scale.
“The reason that we’re here is because your use of the mooring to which you’ve been assigned is somewhat extraordinary in the harbor,” he continued. “And as you well know, there’s some public concern about the presence of your boat in the harbor.”
They should all be on the same page, West added.
“The larger concern is when is this project going to be something more than it has been and what is the long-term prospect for this arrangement you have for the mooring?” he asked Welsh.
As long as the final testing goes well, it should be leaving in August, Welsh said.
The boat will be on the move and away from the harbor for months at a time, he added. The initial plan was that it wouldn’t be coming back to the harbor for 18 to 24 months, Welsh noted.
The plan is still to complete the Five Dives Expedition, Welsh said, but “the reality is there are a lot of other interesting dives to do along the way.”
“This sub and operation offers unprecedented access to those places,” Welsh added.
His desire is to have Newport Harbor as the home port, Welsh said.
“My goal would be to come back,” and have Newport Harbor as a home port, Welsh said, but it would still be on the move. “The boat’s purpose is not to be sedentary.”