Articles By Our Members

The Saga of a Sunken Submarine

by Bob Warburton, September 2011

Once upon a time there was a happy (faced) yellow submarine. It had sailed and played in many waters. Then one day (August 30, 2011), Bob, its owner/operator, and Ken took it to the upper basin of the Long Island Locks of the Rideau Canal near Manotick for a return visit. This was not to be a happy day for the owner, nor for the submarine.

After a very short run, a moments inattention by the owner/operator resulted in a "missing sub" situation. This had happened on several other occasions and as it is a "dynamic diving" model, if left on its own, it should shortly rise to the surface. It usually does, has in the past. This time, however, it did not. Waiting offered no positive results.

The standard manoeuvres of remote controls, dive planes, engine and rudder also produced no results. Nor did turning off the transmitter.

The first rescue attempt was hurriedly put into place by Bob and Ken who went home for some more equipment, returning later that day with a "2 man" vinyl dinghy (barely big enough for 1). After a short time of paddling around to no avail, it was decided to abandon in order to mount a more substantial effort with more team and more equipment. We went home with the still inflated dinghy jammed into the back seat of the car.

It was suggested that evening that a diver be employed to rescue "happy face." As this is a major activity, we wanted to give it another try by ourselves.

The next day, a 14 foot canoe was stuffed into Brian's van, the dinghy was loaded into Bob's van and Brian, Wally, Ken and Bob with a bevy of equipment headed back out to the scene of the sinking. We had poles, grappling hooks, clear bottom pails, retrievers, binoculars, swim fins, snorkels and masks and life jackets.

After several hours of futile efforts with Bob snorkeling by paddling the vinyl raft, Brian canoeing around and viewing and grappling, Ken snorkeling the shoreline, and Wally grappling from the dock we decided to abandon for the day. The need for professional intervention was obvious.

Bob and Linda returned on September 1, 2011 to hopefully witness a miracle re-surfacing, but unfortunately there was no joy. To add insult to injury, the tennis ball retriever brought out just in case, was "tested" and promptly snapped off the last 6 inches of the line, bobbing in the water. The retriever need retrieving! A grapple MacGyver'd out of some twigs, managed to do the job when the ball floated near shore, thanks to a favourable onshore breeze.

Time to bring in the pros. Two different SCUBA divers had volunteered to help in the quest for the missing sub, and Vern (Tony's nephew) was enlisted for Sunday afternoon September 4, 2011 almost exactly 5 full days from the sinking. Vern and Bob showed up at the site and were met by Ted who wanted to witness the rescue. Vern suited up and began his search.

In relatively short order, Vern returned from the murky depths with the still smiling sub in hand. A miracle rescue had been performed. Vern said that the sub was stuck flat on the bottom in about 20 feet of water. The bottom was very soft and silty, and that his hand went about a foot into the bottom when he essentially "bumped into" the bottom and the sub. Visibility was near zero, and a more wide ranging search would have required a substantial amount of time. Good luck was with us this time.

Photo 1

Initial investigation showed only about 1 teaspoon of water in the "watertight" chamber after 5 days at a depth of 20 feet, I was very pleased. The battery was fully discharged of course. The sub was returned to the workshop for further investigation, the battery responded well to initial charging and a quick test after a short charge revealed all system functioning at a basic level anyway. More charge time was needed for further evaluation. And of course a good run with the WTC drying fan.

After a full charge overnight was given to the battery, a system test revealed that all control surfaces were reacting properly, but that the speed control had lost it's centering. This event had occurred recently in the past as well. This loss could have happened before the battery failed during the 5 days. If it happened at the time of the initial run, it could explain the sub diving to full depth, because as I looked away, I thought I had given a full stop condition to the transmitter. If the speed control was still in forward and the sub pointed down, it would go right to the bottom in short order. Another factor is that at a depth of 20 feet due to the increased pressure, the sub was possibly no longer positively buoyant due to the compression of the relatively flexible WTC, thus when the transmitter was turned off, thus stopping the engine, the sub would still not rise.

Photo 2

Some lessons to be learned:

  1. Don't take your eyes off your sub.
  2. Don't run where you are unsure of the water depth.
  3. Build carefully, it will come in handy.
  4. Build in as many fail-safe systems as you possibly can.
  5. Have lots of good friends.

Last, but not least, I would like to again thank all those who helped in the rescue and attempts at rescue, including Ken, Wally, Brian, Tony, Ted, Dwayne (back up diver) and of course Vern.

Bob Warburton

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