Wednesday 28 June
Today’s the day. We can feel it. Shuttle to the base (half hour later due to construction), and let’s get going.
First things first. The Team Picture. Staring (squinting) into the sun. Putting our best side forward.
Then let’s get the boat going. First, glue in the bags of foam we so carefully packed out of the submarine last night. Some we glued in, some got velcroed, and the tiny bits we gathered into plastic bags and glued those in at the various locations they came from yesterday. Sounds hokey, but the solution works and gives us the flexibility to move foam around to catch the trim again if anything changes over the next few days.
While half the team worked to get the buoyancy sorted, the mechatronics team got stuck into testing the waterproof boxes. Finally the o-rings held and we could declare them all ready for their electronics.
Then off to the queue and into the water. To our relief, the boat was still as neutrally buoyant as we’d left her the night before. Leonie too. So now we’re ready to race.
Rivershark, lock and load!
The call we’ve been waiting for! We swam the boat to the starting line and set her up. Leonie dropped her gear and walked (bizarre for a diver!) the last few steps to the boat. The extra long regulator hose gave her the flexibility to move while she set up the cockpit. Then she swapped regs and climbed in. We locked the hatch above her, and she was ready to go. A quick pop to the surface to let Cory know, and then the sweet sound of the pings. Rivershark, Rivershark, Rivershark, Go, Go, Go!
Off she went. From our perspective, she looked good. Straight line out into the murk, flying true down the centre line. Underwater shouts of celebration travelled in our bubbles to the surface. We’re finally racing!
But out on the course, it was different. The boat was moving faster now than any of the team, including her pilot, had ever been. Leonie did her best, and managed to trim the pitch, but the simultaneous yaw control and tracking the midline through the tiny window were too much for her, and she veered off and slammed into the wall.
So we went back into the queue and waited. Patience is the name of the submarine game. With 22 boats running, and two thirds of those in the queue ready to race, the organisation of the ISR is a spectacular thing to behold. The continuous adjustment of the queue, though a frustration sometimes, means that everybody does get a fair shot at racing.
Our time finally came, just before lunch. The boys brought the sub to the starting line, and we trialled a new pilot delivery concept. The idea was that I should take Leonie down, with her breathing on my spare regulator. Looks simple when other teams do it. How hard can that be? Turns out it’s harder than it looks. Especially if you haven’t got enough weight to sink yourself and the fabulously “neutrally buoyant at 6m” human surface marker buoy with you. Harumpf. Couldn’t get off the surface. Pulled out of the queue and let Washington go by us. Seven extra kilos of weights solved the problem though.
Cory, Rivershark is ready to race!
Leonie ready on the start line. Boat lined up flat in pitch and straight down the course. The beeps came, then the go signal, and she was off. Pumping those fins hard. Flew straight down the course and through the timing gates. Clocked at 1,85kts. Pretty impressive! But just out of the timing gates, she lost control again and found the left hand wall. No damage, but the incomplete run does mean the time doesn’t count.
Never mind, back into the queue. The support divers were exhausted after six hours in the water, so it was time to change out. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough crew, but fortunately for us, there were a bunch of divers available from the Mexican team next door, who happily volunteered to join our team. Language was going to be a challenge, but with their limited English and our limited Spanish, we figured it would work just fine, especially once they moved underwater, where spoken language no longer matters.
Our start was delayed by a tangled safety buoy line which eventually I had to wade knee deep into the water on the beach to fix. It was properly tangled, and I had to pull it completely out of the boat to repair it. Rivershark, you ready to race? Five minutes!
Now it was Alam’s turn to have a go. He’d been banned from diving in the morning for an inadvertent breach yesterday of the safety rules (these things happen). Now he was dressed again and itching to run. The multinational team lined him on the bottom, and off he went. He started out ok, but then immediately started to rise. A sign the air wasn’t escaping the hull properly. We’ll have to drill some new holes tonight. He got through the first timing gate alright, but all we saw of him on the second timing gate camera was the lowest tip of the lower mirage drive fins. It was enough though to measure a speed: 1,45 kts. It won’t count, but we’re happy with the performance. Once we get control under control, we’ll be away.
Burgers and pizza for dinner, followed by a long soul-searching meeting around the picnic tables in camp. We’re going to have to abandon some goals. Time and gremlins are just not working in our favour. It’s looking like we’ll have to give up on the mechatronics - the seals just aren’t working. We’ll have to finish the competition on the manual steering. But we’ll still try to get the sensor systems working and feed that back to the pilots via the tablet computer and its glass cockpit.