25 February 1999
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research - NIWA
Greta Point, Wellington, New Zealand

Submersible School is in Session

Today was spent on the Kaharoa. Preparing the Deep Rover for routine diving operations after it had been shipped halfway around the world is a fascinating process to watch, particularly if things mechanical are of any interest to you. There are enough switches, wires, hoses, clamps, connectors, valves, fittings and little indicator lights to keep the most obsessive techie in heaven for a very long time. In addition to everything that comes with the sub, there are always additional scientific or photographic equipment that needs to be installed on the sub or as in our case, some specialized cameras that we will be using on this expedition that will need to be attached on the outside of Deep Rover directly to the manipulator arms.

Thankfully, the weather has been fairly nice and the Deep Rover's location on the fantail of the Kaharoa makes working all around it fairly easy. Most everything that the sub's crew needs is within easy reach inside one of the large shipping containers that has now firmly secured to the deck of the Kaharoa with large chains and turnbuckles. In case we encounter rough weather and heavy seas, the last thing anybody wants is for that container to come loose and start skidding across the deck. From the size of the chain they used, I seriously doubt that this would be a problem.

On either side of the Deep Rover are two bright green tanks that look like the kind that scuba divers use. These tanks contain the highly pressurized oxygen that the pilot breathes during the dive and although most dives are usually only five or so hours in duration, there is enough breathing oxygen on board for at least 120 hours (five days). The only way that these little tanks can hold that much oxygen is for it to be put under very high pressure. In this case, the oxygen is packed into the tanks at 3000 psi (pounds per square inch).

This morning Ian and the other members of the Deep Rover's crew spent some time loading both Deep Rovers tanks with oxygen from the large storage bottles that were secured along the port rail of the Kaharoa. A special high powered pump called a Haskel's compressor took the oxygen from the storage tanks and fed it into the Deep Rover's tanks until they were full and at the desired pressure. Working with high pressure oxygen is not something for amateurs since oxygen is a very flammable gas and even the smallest spark could ignite it. The operation went smoothly and both tanks were filled in preparation for the start of dive operations.

Normally the Deep Rover is a free diving submersible, meaning that once it enters the water and is disconnected from the winch cable that is used to raise and lower it, there is nothing attaching it to the ship. Deep Rover can go up and down and maneuver pretty much anywhere the pilot wishes to go as long as it is done in coordination with the folks on the surface support ship. For this expedition, things are going to be a little different because we want to be able to get live video images from the cameras on the sub during each of the dives.

To do that, a special fiber optic cable is going to be used that can carry the video signals back to the ship where they can be watched by the scientists on board (only one person is lucky enough to actually go down in Deep Rover) and recorded for later analysis. Since the fiber optic cable is not very strong and can also be pretty easily damaged, it is going to be attached to a very strong tether made out of a rope-like material called poly-steel. Since it is rare to find a single rope as long as is going to be needed for our dives, two of the Kaharoa's crew spent a few hours this afternoon splicing two large coils of line together on the dock alongside the ship.

Late this afternoon Ian, Mike and Clyde sat around the table in the Kaharoa's galley and began their formal Deep Rover pilot training. Although I will not have a chance to actually take the Deep Rover down for a dive, I will be following the actual training so that I can describe as best I can all the steps that Mike and Clyde will be going through so that they can learn to take Deep Rover down to the depths of Kaikoura Canyon. Everything that Deep Rover does and every action that the pilot needs to take is generally spelled out in some way in a series of checklists and procedures. It is Ian's job to teach Mike and Clyde all these things over the next few days so that they can be able to deal with any situation that may arise. There were a few points that Ian made during that initial training session that struck me as things that may have seemed pretty intuitive at first, but after thinking about them, were very critical to remember. Some of the ones that really stuck with me were:

One of the things that I had been looking forward to ever since I learned that I would be coming on this expedition was the chance to actually get inside Deep Rover. Today was the day I got to do just that. After the first training session was over and before we headed back to town,I spent about an hour inside the sphere, sitting in the pilot's seat and trying to familiarize myself with anything that I could see, touch or hear. You get into Deep Rover through a very narrow opening that is created when they separate the two halves of the pressure sphere using that large threaded rod that brings the two parts together. You go in facing the stern and then pivot around and drop into the seat. I'll be describing in as much detail as i can the various systems inside Deep Rover in later dispatches but for now, it was enough for me to just sit and look around in complete fascination.

Being in Deep Rover is an incredible experience, and very unlike my previous experiences inside research submarines. On the Navy's NR-1, although the submersible is quite large and can carry thirteen people, the actual observation space is pretty cramped and dark. You lie on your stomach underneath the navigation area and peer out of small portholes towards the bottom. On the Alvin, which like the Deep Rover I only sat inside and did not get to dive in, the conditions felt even more confined. Three people in a small sphere without anyplace to stretch out. However, each submersible has it's own strengths and both Alvin and NR-1 are unquestionably incredible diving machines. The only thing that I am comparing here is my first impression of the space available to the pilot/observer and the feeling that you have once you get inside.

Deep Rover provides a completely different feeling from the other two. In Deep Rover you are sitting inside a bubble of clear acrylic, five inches think. It is difficult for me to describe what it felt like except to say that there was no feeling of being cramped or confined. The acryllic was so clear and because there was hardly any distortion, it felt completely open and comfortable to me. However, since I will not be diving, I am going to have to ask Mike and Clyde for their impressions of what it is like to be underwater in Deep Rover once they return from their first dives. But for now, i was perfectly content to just sit there and imagine......

best regards,

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