Tuesday 27 June

Frustration. That’s the word for it. Simple things should be simple, but often in life (and in submarine racing) they just aren’t. Buoyancy. Simple concept. Displaced volume equals weight. Foam and cork go up; fibreglass, aluminum, steel and lead go down. Really shouldn’t be hard, but it’s the bugbear every year for every team. Maybe it’s because it’s mathematically so easy that teams just don’t consider it. Whatever the reason, it got us today.

The day started out really well. All on to the base in a three-pass delivery with Goliath, our little red rental car. Alam and Leonie went straight to the captains’ meeting while the others got stuck into sticking foam to the inside of the boat. A foam bulkhead behind the sonar in the bow, and a layer of foam all along the top of the hull. That was the plan. Stymied by all the wrong glue. Finally though, by mid morning a biomimetic solution had been found: velcro! (that, and plenty of cable ties and duct tape…). The team were confident now that the boat would float.

Meanwhile, the discussions continued about the sonar. Yesterday, the final decision had been that it would be allowed, particularly as there was nothing in the rules that forbade it. Then at the very end of the day, word came from the Navy medical officer that no it wouldn’t. This morning the negotiations continued. Delicately. Lots of scientific opinion went both ways. Frustrating that he couldn’t share the data that bothered him from the classified research the Navy has been conducting. He was as good as he could be without losing his security clearance, and I have to respect that. Still. The scientist in me was screaming inside for knowledge, but I bit my tongue and accepted the uneven playing field. My argument is that the sonar emits a signal very similar in amplitude and beam pattern to the echolocation clicks of a dolphin, and nobody is considering banning dolphins. In the end, we came to a compromise of “give it a try once, then we’ll reevaluate”. That will work for us.

Frustration started to set in as the team got the submarine to the bottom. Moving foam around the boat on the bottom, trying to “catch the trim” as submariners say, was a lot harder than anyone expected. Underwater work is hard enough, and the added stress of the race time pressure just pushed everyone to the limits. In the end, the team had to surface as air supplies ran low and the clock demanded that the team go give its design presentation. Rivershark stayed on the bottom with a bunch of weights anchoring her to the ground. Divers returned to the surface in a somber mood, and frustration threatened to pull the team apart.

Alam, Claudio and I left the camp and gathered at the judges’ room. The presentation was a simple one, and went well. The judges were excited about our automation, and in particular about Claudio’s new lateral line sensor.

After lunch, presentation and air refills, we went back down to our submarine. Forlorn on the bottom. Seemingly as frustrated as we were. Things started quickly to look up though. The morning team had got really very close, and it only took me another patient forty five minutes to get the last of the foam properly distributed. Meanwhile, Sören and Toni worked with Leonie to get her neutrally buoyant on the bottom.

Then it was time for some test runs. We inserted Leonie and shut the hatch. The boys held the boat in the shadows by the tank wall, and I gave her the universal underwater signal for “start pedalling” (rotating fists in a motion mimicking a bicycle crank). Off she went. And went she did! Flying flat and straight. And fast. I had to chase hard. At one point I had to grab the submarine by the hatch handle and ride it like an outa control horse, pounding on the sides to get her attention, and finally popping the hatch to get her to stop before we crossed the starting line and got into big trouble.


We are ready to race! The clock has run out for today, but we’ll be ready first thing in the morning.