Originally created 09/24/98

Man plans to search for Nessie



HARDEEVILLE, S.C. -- Dan Taylor gets a wee bit perturbed when people suggest he's obsessed with the Loch Ness monster.

To be sure, he spends most days in a hot, nondescript warehouse building a four-man submarine to take to Scotland in search of the creature that purportedly lurks in the lake. He estimates he will sink $1 million into the project by the time he is done.

Obsession has nothing to do with it, Taylor says. Now 58, he simply wants to finish a job he started almost 30 years ago.

"I was given the job to find Nessie, and I failed," Mr. Taylor says. "I'm going back and fix it. I feel kind of responsible about it."

Nessie sightings go back centuries, but it was 1969 when Mr. Taylor operated a home-built, one-man yellow submarine during a monster-hunting expedition sponsored by World Book Encyclopedia. There were rumors the Beatles would stop by to get a look at, if not Nessie, at least the yellow submarine.

Neither musicians nor monster showed.

"Nessie is pretty elusive," Mr. Taylor says. "I thought I got her. Something was laying on the bottom, and the wash from it threw my submarine way off course."

Sonar on land indicated something in the water, but the submarine -- yellow so it was visible to other vessels, not in tribute to the Beatles tune -- turned up nothing.

Now, Mr. Taylor is out for solid proof Nessie exists and hopes to return to the lake next year.

He is building a bigger, faster yellow submarine, dubbed Nessa after the Gallic goddess who gave her name to both the lake and the monster.

It will be mounted with a harpoon-like device to poke the creature in order to snag a genetic sample.

After the 1969 expedition, Mr. Taylor, who learned about submarines as a crew member in the Navy and about building them at Georgia Institute of Technology, thought about Nessie from time to time.

But he was busy with a career that included working in the restaurant business, operating his own telephone company and buying a dam with the idea of generating electricity to sell.

A heart attack about five years ago changed everything.

"It just woke me up. That's what did it," Mr. Taylor says, standing in his workshop with maps of Loch Ness and pictures of the earlier expedition on the walls. "I always wanted to build this submarine and go after Nessie, but I always expected someone else to do it."

Nessie has remained unfound, however, so Mr. Taylor, who moved to Hilton Head Island three years ago, spends his days laboring over the 30-ton fiberglass-and-steel submarine in hopes of solving the mystery once and for all.

"This thing is going to be a cross between a research submarine and a locomotive, because that's what it will take," he says.

The sub, to be built with proceeds from the sale of a house and, Mr. Taylor hopes, donations, will be propelled by a 500-horsepower DC locomotive motor powered by dozens of automotive batteries. Outfitted with cameras, lights and sonar, the sub will be capable of cruising for about 25 minutes at 20 knots, or about 23 mph, fast enough to keep up with Nessie.

Mr. Taylor clocked what he believes was Nessie at about 14 knots in 1969.

Some say Nessie is a throwback to the dinosaurs; some say it is only a myth. Mr. Taylor thinks it is some type of giant eel never before discovered and a herd of them lives in the depths of the lake.

"The largest eel ever known was about 250 pounds, but I believe this is 35 tons and 60 or 90 feet," he said.

"We picked four of them up on sonar at one time" in 1969, he says. "Eels grow at a tremendous rate right after they're born. In this case some quirk of nature happened, and they just kept growing."

If so, Mr. Taylor realizes the truth may be less enchanting than the legend.

"I don't think people like the eel theory because they're slimy," he says. "A dinosaur has more romance to it."