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BEHIND THE SCENES

Down the Hatch

Visitors drop in for an inside peek as Russia's famous Cold War Scorpion sub goes on display next to the Queen Mary.

July 16, 1998

Looking lean and mean in stealth black, the Russian Foxtrot-class submarine, code name Scorpion, made its American debut Tuesday at the bow of the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

Angelo Poce of Anaheim was one of the first paying customers to peer into the sub's periscope, crawl through its hatches and maneuver around its torpedo tubes.

"I was curious as heck to see the famous Scorpion," said Poce, who was an infantryman based in Toronto from 1947 to 1951 while serving with Scotland's 48th Highlanders. "This is my first encounter with a Russian sub."

The 300-foot-long vessel was built at the height of the Cold War--in 1972--and was retired in 1994. It will stay in Long Beach for five years.

For $10, visitors see a short video in a small theater, then walk a gangway and descend into the war machine. The one-way, self-guided tour covers seven compartments, including the torpedo room, sonar room, control room and diesel-engine room, where three 2,000-horsepower engines rest.

Russian-accented English-language narration is piped into the compartments, explaining the functions of the switches and valves and that 78 men lived in the tight quarters--hallways are 2 feet wide; the galley is the size of a bathtub, and there is one freshwater shower.

Though it arrived here semi-submerged on a heavy-lift ship from Sydney, the sub is in near-operational condition. Purists appreciated that the equipment is original--"Nothing's been Disneyized," one visitor said.

Any drawbacks to authenticity? It's no place for people prone to motion sickness or claustrophobia or those carrying children. People 6 feet or taller should practice ducking when faced with the low ceilings, and everyone has to be limber enough to pass through low hatches and step over high thresholds.

Information: (562) 435-3511 or visit the Queen Mary Web site at http://www.queenmary.com

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