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Mystery Machine Creator Garners National Attention

UAS Art Student Cal Giordano’ semi-submersible makes Popular Mechanics  Backyard Genius contest  Top 10 and is a Modern Marvel on the History Channel

By Mallory Millay, UAS Student Writer

Archduke in S.E. Alaska watersIt lurks in the waters of Auke Bay and those who have seen it refer to it as a mystery machine, appearing to be a mixture between a boat, a submarine and an alien space craft.  Cal Giordano, the machine’s creator, would describe it as a combination of land and sea transportation.  "It's a mix between a boat, a plane and a submarine," Giordano said of the Archduke Grand Excelsior, his homemade, 32 foot semi-submersible.  

Giordano made his machine from the semi-submersible design popular in the tourist industry and countless sketches. "I’m a professional marine mechanic, not a professional sub builder," Giordano said, "so I used a proven design in the tourist industry that is proven safe."

The only harm that has come from the Archduke would be some envious looks Giordano has received from other boat owners.  The Archduke can be taken out of the water without a trailer thanks to the sub’s set of wheels that allows the craft to be driven up on land instead of being placed on a trailer. Giordano also installed an ice cutting blade on the front of the sub allowing him to cruise out of an iced-over harbor that leaves most boats stuck at the dock. The Archduke is also equipped with wings that allow it to dive, where the wings on a plane would provide lift.

"The Archduke's wings are used to pull the sub downward," Giordano explained of the semi-submarine's diving mechanism. "It also needs forward motion to go down, so if the engine stops for whatever reason, the Archduke will pop up to the surface." 

The wings also provide added incentive for other boats to find a different place to park, with potential damage likely to boats that parked beside it.  "Needless to say, I don’t get a lot of boats tying up to the side of me and blocking me in," Giordano said.

The semisubmersible has won Giordano, a UAS art student and boat mechanic, a lot of attention.

"People have no idea what it is. Having the cannon on front makes it a bigger mystery," Giordano explained mischievously. "That’s why I didn’t put a name on it, just the legal tags. I like that people don’t know what it is."

Mystery is part of the appeal for Giordano, who designed and built the Archduke because he wanted to see if he could.  "I built the Archduke for purely personal reasons and it was really important to get both my style and personality into it," he said. "I didn't do it for recognition. I wanted to build a really neat boat for myself. That's why it's a mystery boat."

The Archduke’s picture was soon becoming an internet phenomenon due to tourists and others who noticed the semi-submersible in the Auke Bay Harbor.  This led Giordano to decide to have a little fun, entering his creation into Popular Mechanics magazine's Backyard Genius Contest, where he promptly earned a place in the contest's top 10.

Art project"They named me one of the best unsung engineers in the world," Giordano said happily about the reaction the Archduke received. Popular Mechanics was responsible for notifying the History Channel, who asked Giordano if he would be interested in making an appearance with the Archduke on Modern Marvels’ Weird Machines episode.

"We spent three extremely frigid days on the water in the coldest part of winter filming," Giordano said of his experience with the History Channel’s film crew. "The [film] crew was very professional and I was not. They made it really easy and fun for me though. We even fired my new and improved stainless steel cannon by the books at the firing range for safety."

Watch DesignA full time art student at UAS since 2009, Giordano is inspired by form and functionality, creating art pieces with a maritime flare that combines what he has learned in more than 20 years as a boat mechanic and subcontractor in marine repair with the art concepts he has learned at UAS.

"By coming to UAS and learning what art is, I’m able to apply my craft to my art," Giordano said. "UAS provides the academic tools to combine what I already know."

This semester Giordano focused on creating unique watches he hand crafted, as well as his own personal logo, The Time Machinist, for the UAS Student Art Exhibition earlier this month.  Each watch has a unique touch, cast from bronze or steel, some including real sapphires and emeralds. 

"I created these with tools available to me at UAS," explained Giordano.  "I used a hack saw, drill and file; I could have taken my design to a machinists shop, but I wanted to use the resources everyone else had."

 Giordano is proud of everything he’s done at UAS, believing that for something to be done well, it must be done right.

Steel Ka"Everything I create relates to me," he said. "I put pride in my work, both academic or in projects, and treat every project like a job. It's either done right or not at all."

Giordano has been taking classes through UAS since 1986 and began taking diesel repair and jewelry making classes in Juneau in 1998-2001. 

2012 will mark the ten year anniversary of the Archduke’s maiden voyage, and Giordano couldn’t be happier.

"Ten years, and it's still a floating modern marvel of the world!" Giordano said.

After graduation, Giordano plans to continue his education and earn a Master’s degree in either Art or Education.