In this post I will be continuing to talk about my trip to the International Submarine Races(ISR) this past June. If you are interested to hear about the run up to competition and the journey over there, you are welcome to check out my previous post here. To recap, I am part of SUBC, UBC’s submarine design team and we road tripped across the country to Maryland to race other collegiate teams at ISR.
Because submarines need to be underwater, and salt water is very corrosive, submarine races take place in ocean basins. These are indoor large freshwater bodies that are maintained in military bases, often used for naval experiments or testing. In essence, I would describe the ocean basin at ISR as an airstrip underwater. However, because of the military nature of location there are some security measures that you have to be careful of such as staying in the area of the competition and not wandering elsewhere. As well, you need to submit paperwork ahead of the time for security clearance to enter the base, especially if you are not a Canadian or American citizen.
In order to be qualified to race, we had to pass the dry and wet check. The dry check consists of the entire submarine being assembled and demonstrated above water to ensure that all safety regulations are met. The wet check demonstrates in the water that safety systems are working. It’s not uncommon for issues to arise in assembly or between checks. Some issues that came up for us included misalignment of the hatch locking mechanism as well as the gearbox. These problems require quick fixes with limited tools and materials. You learn a lot trying to fix systems that you did not originally make under pressure with the small group of people available. It also tests and strengthens your communication and team working abilities, as they are needed constantly.
Racing consisted of the divers suiting up in full scuba gear and bringing the submarine to the lift which lowered into the basin. The divers brought the submarine to the basin floor in order to make buoyancy adjustments. These adjustments were done by attaching small weights and pieces of foam to the inside of the submarine. Once we were confident our submarine was neutrally buoyant, we entered the race queue to wait for our turn. The race coordinator warned us when we were next and the support divers moved our submarine to the start line, while the secondary diver brought the pilot underwater to meet the submarine and load the pilot inside. Once the pilot was loaded, the divers signaled for the race to start. After a count down over the underwater speakers, the pilot took off down the course towards the finish line!
Submarine racing is a complicated business to an outsider but its a very rewarding one for an engineering student. Through my time competing at submarine races the last couple of years I have gained serious team-working, communication as well as technical and interpersonal skills that have been honestly very useful in finding co-op jobs and my confidence in my abilities. I would encourage anyone given the opportunity to go to a student team competition to make the most of it and dive in head first!