'Flotation bags used in recovery, exploration, diving and energy fields.'
WHAT LIES BENEATH: Subsalve USA President Richard G. Fryburg in the company's North Kingstown facility, where workers are assembling flotation devices for undersea salvage operations. The bag being tested in the back can lift 77,000 lbs.
Some of the orders coming in at Subsalve USA Corp. in North Kingstown could be mission briefings in an adventure film. For example:
• James Cameron, on a quest to reach the deepest point in the ocean, needs stabilizing floats to launch his submarine.
• NASA is looking to recover the solid rocket boosters discarded by the space shuttle from the bottom of the Atlantic.
• The Thai Royal Navy wants to safely remove underwater mines and unexploded ordinance from its waters.
• Treasure hunters hoping to recover an estimated $3 billion in platinum bars from the SS Port Nicholson, a British freighter sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Cape Cod in World War II, want to float the valuables to the surface.
So it wasn’t surprising when producers of the television show CSI Miami, cooking up a plot involving a criminal gang, underwater gold and a tsunami, called Subsalve for advice on how to make the caper seem real.
“We are asked to participate in many projects,” said Subsalve founder and CEO Richard Fryburg, a day after returning from Bangkok on the Thai Navy job, “and only some of that is the glamour stuff.”
In fact, much of what goes into undersea recovery and has gone into building Subsalve hasn’t been as glamorous.
Fryburg, a Worcester, Mass., native whose family vacationed on the Rhode Island shore, started diving at an early age and soon began offering diving services to marina and yacht clubs.
In the mid 1970s, Fryburg ventured into underwater-recovery projects and the first was an attempt to raise the sunken tugboat Mount Hope in Narragansett Bay.
It didn’t work.
So Fryburg moved to flexible flotation devices – inflatable bags he made from government-surplus materials – which would become Subsalve’s core technology.
In 1977, he started the company in the basement of a Providence factory and, over three decades, has grown the business and the applications for underwater lift bags into industries that include: commercial salvage; scientific exploration; recreational diving; energy transmission; public infrastructure; military engineering and entertainment.
Subsalve now has 30 different products and sees the potential to grow significantly if it can scale up operations.