Dan Taylor

Inventor and Loch Ness monster hunter
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The Independent Online

In 1961 an article in the Daily Express claimed, "No one will ever understand Loch Ness. Its conquest will be a greater triumph than the conquest of the moon." But Dan Taylor was one man who did attempt a further understanding of the "Nessie" phenomenon and, in his hand-built mini-submarine Viperfish, he succeeded at least in getting to the bottom of the loch, if not to the bottom of the mystery.

Taylor's yellow submarine adventure was one of the most memorable episodes from the great Loch Ness monster hunt of the 1960s, and was emblematic of post-war monster investigations in general. In the late 1960s an impasse had been reached in the search for Nessie. Six years of surface observation by the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, formed in 1962, had resulted in just one piece of filmed evidence. Bureau funds were depleted, team morale was low and the whole venture was on the verge of collapse.

In a last-ditch effort to secure sponsorship for the 1969 season, the directors of the LNIB undertook a Nessie lecture tour of the United States and returned not only with generous donations, but also with the services of Dan Taylor. From the mid-1960s, Taylor had been developing his Viperfish submarine design, and the LNIB saw not only the craft's potential for taking their search underwater, but also its publicity value, as it was painted yellow.

So, in July 1969, the month that man first set foot on the moon, the monster of Loch Ness was subjected to an all-out assault from land, water and even the air. Taylor's submarine brought publicity in droves, through his stated intention to fire biopsy darts into Nessie's flesh. A surreal exchange even took place in the House of Lords when the legality of Taylor's proposed mission was debated.

Loch Ness was but one brief diversion in Dan Taylor's career. Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1940, he had shown an early interest in a life aquatic when, aged seven, he attempted to turn his bicycle into a boat. The oil-drum pontoons he had attached caused him to sink, however. "Nothing I make ever works the first time" he said later.

Undeterred, and inspired by Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Taylor built his first submarine aged nine. Constructed from a wine cask, it too sank. Taylor survived to join the US Navy at 18. Attached to the anti-submarine warfare division as a torpedo man, Taylor served on destroyers and submarines during the Korean War, and was discharged in 1963.

Upon leaving the Navy he went to work with the Perry Corporation, designing and building mini-submarines, and as a result of this work was called upon to assist in the infamous Palomares "Broken Arrow" incident, of 1966, when an American B52 nuclear bomber collided with a fuel-tanker aircraft 30,000 feet above southern Spain. The bomber was carrying four H-bombs, only three of which stayed in the B52. The fourth bomb took 80 days to find, but was recovered from the Mediterranean sea bed with Taylor's help.

By the time Taylor came to assist the LNIB at Loch Ness, he had a wealth of experience in underwater search missions to draw upon. However he was to be hindered by deficiencies in his own submarine's construction, resulting in some terrifying moments inside its fibre-glass shell. But Taylor had at least learnt from his childhood prototypes, and the yellow submarine never sank. On its maiden voyage, it was in fact so buoyant that it failed to submerge. Taylor then experienced pressurisation problems on subsequent dives, and had to use an umbrella to protect himself from the leaking hatch.

Post-Loch Ness, Taylor, together with his wife Margaret, ran a restaurant in Memphis, the Aquarium. It became a favoured haunt for members of Elvis Presley's entourage, who would dine in the company of the marine life that swam in the giant fish tank that Taylor had designed. In addition, Taylor built the 90ft wind turbine that provided power for the establishment.

Taylor suffered a heart attack and stroke in 1996. Perhaps motivated by his failing health, he began constructing a new 44ft submarine, Nessa. With this vessel, he hoped to return to Scotland once more to seek the Loch Ness monster. He put over $200,000 of his own money into the project, but at the time of his death it was still far from completion.

Asked late last year what drove him on in his monster quest, Taylor said it was not the adventure of the hunt at all. "Really, this whole thing is about building a boat." This is typical of the Loch Ness story, where the monster has always served as an incentive for enthusiastic engineers and inventors to experiment with their latest inventions under the auspices of scientific research.

Taylor believed that the Viperfish had indeed charted new territory when he had an alleged brush with the monster in 1969. On that dive, a mysterious current threw up clouds of silt and spun the vessel around by 180 degrees, but Taylor failed to fire the biopsy darts. Summing up his career, he said, "You've got to fail a lot to get anywhere."

Andrew Tullis