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
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.
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.
Some lessons to be learned:
- Don't take your eyes off your sub.
- Don't run where you are unsure of the water depth.
- Build carefully, it will come in handy.
- Build in as many fail-safe systems as you possibly can.
- 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.