Anyone who has created something, who has put hours upon hours of effort into a project, dreams of receiving recognition for that inspiration — and perspiration. For some, it’s a standing ovation, for others a blue ribbon, but some projects of grand scale demand some grand attention.
That enormous and mysterious submarine-boat hybrid that has been bathing among the marine life in Auke Bay since summer of 2002 has had its grandest unveiling — it has been dubbed a “modern marvel” by The History Channel and a vast cable audience has now had a televised tour of “The Archduke.”
“The Archduke” is the culmination of Cal Giordano’s years of experience repairing boats, detailed research, tenacity and inspiration.
Giordano is the son of a former Syracuse University art professor and has been mechanically inclined since a young age. He remembers distinctly building an 8-foot rocket at around age 5 or 6.
His family moved to Alaska when he was fairly young and he spent much of his time in Bethel. He began attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but after securing a well-paying job in Bethel one summer, he chose to enter the workforce on a full-time basis.
By now, Giordano has 25 years of experience as a craftsman and is employed with Betts Boat Repair. With his experience and the support of Jim Betts, the shop’s owner, Giordano was able to bring “The Archduke” to life.
The idea for the boat first crept into his head 10 years before the craft was built and a lot of research and sketches preceded the actual building. Also, inspired by the careful planning required in wartime, he built many of the substructures before the whirlwind production of the craft.
Betts allowed Giordano to use space in the shop for a month, free of charge, and Giordano met the deadline.
“It was 30 days from first weld to launch,” Giordano said.
The craft is 32 feet long and has a double hull like a submarine. Most of it can be submerged, though the engine needs oxygen to run and remains above water. The craft is self-righting and has wheels for easy transport, to avoid the troubles of grounding and the ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship leg of the journey.
Since its completion, Giordano continues to make tweaks and additions to the craft like any boat owner would, he said.
“The Archduke” has received attention since first launch, but Giordano let it remain mysterious, never painting a name on it and often taking a detour to grab a burger if there was too much attention trained on the curious craft. After several years of buzz and lots of photos and speculation on the Internet, he decided to answer some questions and to give the craft a brighter spotlight.
He entered “The Archduke” in Popular Mechanics’ Backyard Genius contest and made it to the top 10 in 2010. That, he suspects is how The History Channel discovered him and “The Archduke.”
Last winter, a crew from Anchorage visited Giordano and his boat and over the course of three days, filmed for the show.
“Well, I’d say the main feeling I get is I’m glad my little boat was noticed. I know the boat’s very strange, and you know, a lot of people questioned my motives on making such a strange boat, but now that it’s about 10 years old, it’s a proven boat,” said Giordano. “And I am proud.”
He also said it’s an honor that his project received such recognition, as a feat of backyard genius and as a modern marvel.
Now, once a man has seen such success, what does he do?
Giordano has resumed his education at the University of Alaska Southeast.
“I’m doing it a little backwards,” he explained.
With 25 years of work as a craftsman under his belt — possibly a belt he’s made by hand — he has chosen to go back to school “to make (his) craft an art.”
His father’s artistic background has always played a role in Giordano’s life and he feels it’s a good time to refine his design skills.
He continues to work at Betts Boat Repair, but also spends a great deal of time taking classes and creating art — usually functional metal sculpture.
There’s a definite trend in Giordano’s work. He has his semi-submersible boat, plus a series of deep sea watches, a belt buckle Inspector Gadget would covet and a visually striking deep sea diving helmet with the forward view of a man’s face and the profile of the Native Alaskan folkloric Kushtaka.
Each piece is undeniably functional, but there is a lot of care taken in the visual aesthetic as well. He uses brass and bronze and aluminum, emeralds and sapphires, and the body of work easily fits the “steampunk” genre.
Giordano has coined the name “Time Machinist” for his artwork, and it works on many levels; whether it be in the literal sense — he made those deep sea watches — or in reference to the journey he has taken as a craftsman and an artist, finding himself in school again. And, only Giordano knows what will come next.