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$500,000 Dream: Inventor Hunts For Scots' Legend

Inside a dark industrial park a few miles from Interstate 95, Dan Taylor toils to build a steel behemoth while oscillating fans attempt to keep him cool.

Mr. Taylor is no weekend warrior. From just after dawn until late afternoon, the inventor welds, sands, and contemplates the metal monster he is constructing. Nessa, his 30-ton submarine, will take him to Loch Ness next summer to search for Scotland's legendary lake-dweller.

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A Hilton Head Island resident who sold his house to finance the quest, Taylor has recently become a celebrity in this tiny town near the Georgia-South Carolina border.

At the nearby Cripple Crab restaurant, his lunchtime appearances are greeted by choruses of "Hello, Mr. Dan!" and inquiries about his unusual new craft.

Hanging on the wall at his private eating area are stories about Taylor by the Los Angeles Times and The Atlanta Constitution, which the restaurant's owners have laminated.

There are even three-decade-old news clippings about his first Loch Ness quest, when he took his homemade submarine The Viperfish to look for Nessie. It was the same year Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, and a youthful Taylor can be seen in an old photo protruding from the tiny hatch.

"Now," Taylor says, pausing to remember his 1969 trip, "I'll probably have to share the front page with the Clintons."

The first time he went to Scotland, the World Book Encyclopedia sponsored his trip. Painted neatly on the side of his yellow, fiberglass hull was his benefactor's name.

Taylor, a former Navy sailor, inventor, and restaurant owner, has been fascinated by the legend of Loch Ness for three decades. This trip will be his last, he says.

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Inside Nessa will be sophisticated fish-finding sonar. On the outside, he'll attach a spar-like needle to take a tissue sample should he locate the mythical beast.

His sub will cost $500,000 to build. His wife of 22 years, Margaret, agreed to sell their Hilton Head Island home some months back.

"This has been a dream of his as long as I've known him," she says.

Elusive eels?

Taylor does not believe there is a giant sea serpent living in the 900-foot deep Scottish lake. He says it's more likely some strange mutation of eel, with perhaps as many as 20 to 40 of the creatures making a home there.

In years past, he has enlisted a number of credible scientists on his quests. During the 1969 trip, he was befriended by University of Chicago biologist Rudy Mackal.

His first expedition failed, Taylor says, because The Viperfish was not up to the task. This time, he'll pilot a 44-foot, steel-hulled monster of his own making.

The new sub will be both sturdy enough and well-equipped enough to find the lake's elusive inhabitant, he says.

Search launches next summer

Taylor is hoping to find a sponsor before next summer, when he'll load his sub onto a large container ship and make the voyage to Scotland.

Mrs. Taylor will accompany him, but plans to watch the proceedings from the shore.

Her husband is an incorrigible inventor. After leaving the Navy in the early 1960s, he worked in underwater exploration, made commercial submarines, and later built windmills.

Surrounded by welding masks and shards of metal, he calls submarines "simple machines."

His wife - who he says is expecting a beachfront house in exchange for her patience - is rooting patiently. "This is not exactly what I pictured retirement to be," Mrs. Taylor says.

"But when you see him so tired and dirty but so excited about something he's done, I know it's all worthwhile."

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