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Ship built to sink -- almost

Ship built to sink — almost

April 8, 1963: The Scripps Floating Instrument Platform, FLIP, research vessel deploys off San Clemente Island. When ballast tanks are filled with sea water, the 55-foot bow rises to a vertical position — perfect for ocean research.

In a May 5, 1963, Sunday feature article, Times writer Charles Hillinger reported:

SAN DIEGO – The huge 355 ft. long “sausage in the sea” hissed, bubbled, gurgled and suddenly lunged forward like a sinking ship, its stern slipping silently out of sight.

Fifteen seconds later, FLIP – one of the strangest vessels ever contrived by man – became a 55-ft.-high twisting tower.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re supposed to be where we are!” exclaimed Dr. Walter Munk, Scripps Institution of Oceanography geophysicist as he made his first flip on FLIP.

“Where’s the horizon?” someone shouted as he momentarily became disoriented.

It seemed as if the unique research platform would flop completely over, upside down, into the ocean. However, it stayed at a right angle to the sea…

The world’s largest buoy’s full name is Floating Instrument Platform. Funds from the Office of Naval Research paid for it. The vessel cost $500,000 to build, another $300,000 to outfit….

FLIP is the brainchild of Dr. (Fred) Fisher, 36, Scripps research physicist and one of the country’s leading authorities on acoustics in the sea.

“For the first time the oceanographer has a steady platform regardless of the condition of the sea — a platform anchored deep in the ocean. We should be able to make studies never possible before,” Dr. Fisher explained.

These three photos by Times staff photographer Bruce Cox accompanied Hillinger’s story.

Built in 1962, FLIP is still in use today. For more information, check out Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s “Flipping for Science” website.

For even more detailed information, check out the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Marine Physical Laboratory website.

April 8, 1963: The Scripps Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP) ship afloat.  Three hundred of the 355 feet of the ship is lined with ballast tanks, that when filled with sea water, flip the bow into a vertical position. The tug in the background is the Sea Breeze. Credit: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

April 8, 1963: The Scripps Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP) ship starts moving into its vertical position. Credit: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

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