SPRING HILL — Steve Barton finally brought home the big one.
No, they weren't the fastest — not by a long shot. But when it came time to tally up the weeklong effort, the crew of Sublime, the tiny human-powered submarine built and raced by a group of Hernando County high school students, had earned the Overall Performance Award, the top prize at last week's 10th International Submarine Races in Bethesda, Md.
For Barton, 62, and his family, the win was a personal triumph, fulfilling a quest started 18 years before by his late son, Stephen, who died in a 1995 plane crash in Pasco County.
"I can't tell you how thrilled I am at what we accomplished," said Barton, a construction engineering adviser at Springstead High School. "It's been a long, long road trying to get here."
On a shoestring budget, the team of five Hernando high school students and the pedal-propelled "wet sub" took on teams of engineering students from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe. In the end, it all came down speed and experience.
"We probably had more practice time in the water than anybody there," Barton said. "When it came time to make our runs, our boat just seemed to work better."
The first day of the race, lead pilot Curtis Weaver, 18, easily topped 5 knots over the 100-meter course. Clad in scuba gear, Weaver cranked the craft — emblazoned with a picture of a Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid — to a top speed of 5.975 knots (6.9 mph), which was good enough to put Sublime into second place behind the sub entered by Florida Atlantic University.
Weaver, a recent Central High School graduate, described his run as "tricky" as he fought to keep the vessel on course while "pedaling like mad" toward the finish line.
"There's a lot of things going on at once," Weaver explained. "You're trying get the sub to go as straight as possible so that you can gun it as hard as you can."
The weeklong event was hardly a relaxing summer vacation for Sublime's crew, which also included Central High junior Jackie Force, 17, Springstead High junior Dylan Smith, 17, and 2007 Springstead High graduate Eric Cosma, 19. At night, they camped inside a local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and cooked their own meals. Days were spent preparing for as many as 10 runs in the submarine.
"These kids really gave their all for this," said Pat Barton, who accompanied her husband and the team to the competition. "When we won, I felt so happy for them because they all worked so hard for it."
For the Bartons, the victory, which earned the team a prize of $1,000, was bittersweet in that it brought back the memory of their own son's attempts at winning the submarine race nearly two decades before.
In 1989, Stephen Barton designed and built his original human-powered submarine as a science project while a student at Central High School. He raced the vessel in the International Submarine Races in 1989 and 1991 and was preparing to race again when tragedy struck.
In June 1995, the single-engine plane carrying Stephen Barton, his parents, younger sister Nicole and her 19-year-old boyfriend crashed into a stand of scrub oaks about a quarter-mile north of a private airstrip in central Pasco County. The accident seriously injured Pat Barton and Stephen, who died several days later at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
Steve Barton said that upon returning home this week, he and his wife placed the winning plaque next to their son's picture.
"I think he would have been so happy for us," Barton said. "He still inspires me."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.