I began a project to build an ornamental fiberglass replica NEMO helmet, and was pretty far along with the prototype when I made the decision to build a functional version of Captain Nemo’s diving suit instead. My buddy Ty Alley had become owner of AQUALA SPORTS MANUFACTURING COMPANY (the original makers of the suits used by Disney in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and he’d always said he’d make me a drysuit if I ever wanted to build a functional NEMOSUIT. So I figured, “What the heck? Why not go all the way?”
The first thing I needed was a real diving helmet.
Meanwhile, Ty was busy in his shop replicating the same kind of drysuit Disney used.
While I was waiting to take delivery on the AQUALA suit, I made a simple jacket I could tuck into a set of Farmer Johns, so I could experiment with air supply systems in our pool. I called this my “Lo-quala” suit.
At first, the idea was to try to adapt modern SCUBA gear to our needs. I experimented with several ways of using conventional regulators to supply air to our diving helmet and reserve systems.
Pat in the pool, adjusting the helmet exhaust valve prior to a test dive.
Underwater with the helmet aspirated from modern US DIVERS regulators. This worked OK, but I eventually decided to go with all authentic vintage SCUBA of the same type Disney used back in 1954.
While I bought the drysuit from Ty, I bought the boots from Ken Downey of the venerable MORSE DIVING COMPANY in Boston . Ken handcrafted these beautiful 16-inch high-tops, which I then modified. (MORSE was another original supplier to Disney whose equipment was used in the movie.) It was a shame to dye them black and paint the toe caps.
This photo shows my AQUALA suit being worn by our mannequin “Jake”. Here, I have the fiberglass helmet facemask mounted on the metal helmet. It served as a template from which metal parts were made.
The metal facemask for the helmet.
Taking a little rest out on our deck on the evening that the helmet plating was finally finished.
Attaching parts of the headlamp assembly to the helmet with a torch.
The finished NEMO helmet.
One thing I hadn’t counted on was that making Nemo’s regulator fairing was going to be just about as hard (if not harder) than the helmet was. The fairing required something like 87 individual pieces of hand-formed copper, all assembled one-at-a-time on a custom made steel jig. Very labor intensive.
NEMOSUIT display at Vulcania Submarine, Hawaii.
Pat Regan and the completed NEMOSUIT (modeled by “Jake”.)
Next, we had to pool-test the rig. Here, Lynn is handing me the helmet as I begin a test dive.
Lynn connecting the air hose to the helmet.
Pat Regan test-diving the NEMOSUIT.
Works just fine!
Looking like “The Creature from the Blue Lagoon”, Pat surfaces and directs Lynn to position the camera in another location before continuing the dive test.
Lynn Regan helps Pat remove his gear after the completion of a successful proving test. They have been working together in pools with things like this for more than 20 years. Just another day in Vulcania. ;-)
Disney Diver BILL STROPAHL (that’s him on the cover of LIFE MAGAZINE back when they were filming 20,000 Leagues in 1954) with the VULCANIA SUBMARINE display at the recent 20,000 LEAGUES EXPO in Anaheim, California, July 2003. Bill autographed the display and was very complimentary of the NAUTILUS MINISUB, NEMOSUIT, and in-process NAUTILUS DIVER. Being recognized by someone who was actually there diving the real thing has become the high point of my NEMOSUIT project. Many thanks, Bill!
(Bill Stropahl photograph courtesy of Wayne Orlicki.)
Captain Nemo contemplates Disney’s 50th Anniversary Captain Nemo Helmet Miniature.
Many thanks to Ty Alley of AQUALA, and Ken Downey of MORSE for their excellent products and customer service. Be sure to contact them for all your diving needs. You know we do! J
In November of 2004, the helmet from our original NEMOSUIT went to the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada Florida. Here’s a couple pictures of it on display.
This first picture was taken by the famous underwater photographer David Haas, who managed to “get snuck in” before the museum was open to the public. This shows my Nemo helmet in its originally-proposed display which, once painted, was apparently intended to be reminiscent of the Nautilus. In the cubbyhole is what appears to be the framed Certificate of Authenticity I included with the shipment, identifying it as Regan Helmet # 001.
Above is photo taken by Stephen Moore of Florida, showing the display in its completed form. Finished in January 2003, this was the World’s first functional replica Leagues helmet of any kind, and my best effort at the time.
And in 2005, the island nation of St. Kitts issued a stamp collection commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Jules Verne’s demise, in which they used an image of our Nemosuit to depict Captain Nemo’s diving apparatus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This was done without our knowledge and came as quite a surprise; but we thought it was cool, and ordered several sets for our family and friends. J
A family visited the Museum in June of ’07 and shot a video in the Homemade Helmet room, but as the camera pans to the right you can see the 20,000 Leagues Display in the next room. Here’s the link:
And above is a more recent photo of my first Nemo with an information placard which reads:
Based on the helmet used in the 1950’s Disney movie
this was the world’s first functional replica Leagues helmet
made by Pat Regan, 2003