Newsletter | August 1997

by John Hussey

BETHESDA, MD June 27, 1997 — A streamlined submersible powered by a young Canadian ocean engineer streaked into the underwater spotlight this week, setting new world speed records in the 5th International Submarine Races( and pushing back the frontiers of human-powered vehicle performance.

The one-person sub “OMER 3”, piloted by Francois Maisonneuve from the University of Quebec’s Ecole de Technologie Superieure in Montreal, achieved a speed of 6.97 knots (8 MPH) in a 10-meter measured course, shattering the previous mark of 6.69 knots set in 1996 by Californian William Nicoloff. The Canadian team swept the subrace prize categories, winning the $1,000 Overall Performance Award, the Absolute Speed Award, the Fastest Speed, Propeller, one- and two-person divisions, the Best Design Outline and the Spirit of the Races Award. The team’s two-person sub, “OMER 2”, won its class with a performance of 6.36 knots, followed by second place “Cape Fear”, Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, NC, at 5.13 knots. Third and fourth were the University of Miami at 3.15 knots and Texas A&M at 3.14.

The University of Michigan’s “Sea Wolf” a 15-foot-long vehicle made almost entirely of oven-baked ABS plastic and liquid quick-cast aluminum, was awarded the special prize for Best Use of Composite Materials. The awards for Innovation went to Florida Institute of Technology’s “Sub-Variable” for its unique “stair step” propulsion process. Also cited for innovation were Don Burton’s “Silver Bucket,” propelled by a venturi turbine, and Cape Fear Community College’s “Fearless One” for its forward propeller and retractable fins.

Tennessee Technological University’s “Torpedo IV”, the University of Veracruz, Mexico’s “Arcangello II” and “Fearless One” from Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, NC, tried to offer competition to the Canadian team in the new one-person category, but fell short. “Torpedo IV’s” best 10-meter speed was 5.88 knots, more than a knot off the pace. “Arcangello II” had a best time of 1.70 knots, and “Fearless One” was unable to finish the course when it struck the wall, breaking its prop, in the final hours of racing Friday.

In the 10 years since the concept of human-powered submarine racing, two-person teams have been the norm — a strong athlete to deliver leg power through a bicycle-type gearbox and a pilot to guide the vessel through the water. However, three teams came to the 1997 races with brand new one-person designs in addition to their previously raced two-person subs. These second generation vehicles immediately captured the imagination of other participants, officials, technical observers and the public audience. “We are absolutely amazed at the speeds attained by these one-person subs,” said ISR Race Director, Jerry Rovner. “They have exceeded a threshold that many engineers thought could never be achieved through human power.”

The 1997 ISR saw a number of other important “firsts”. A 17-year-old senior from Winston Churchill High School of Potomac, MD, Micah Thorner, became the world’s youngest female submarine pilot, guiding her team’s “Bull Dog” successfully through the 100-meter course despite being slowed by a damaged drive unit. The team made repairs and came back to set a new world speed record in the high school division at 2.92 knots.

The first all-female crew in the nine-year history of the ISR piloted and powered “Mermaid” from the Annapolis, MD, Human-Powered Sub Club. Pilot Heather Powell, 26, and propulsor Christine Bridgman, 22, were the first team of women ever to finish the regulation course . Another female team, ocean engineering seniors Dana Teasdale and Stephanie Lee from the Florida Institute of Technology, also made a run in “Sub-Variable” but did not complete the 100-meter course due to navigation problems.

A submarine from the University of Miami’s School of Mechanical Engineering, “Magnum (“, lost its bearings on its initial run and smashed its acrylic nose cone on the concrete wall. True to the spirit of the race, the Miamians pitched in and by working through the night, they replaced the forward section and were ready for racing again the next morning. The sharing of tools, techniques and solutions was common throughout the five-day event. The Miami sub was one of many that hit the wall or scraped the bottom during early test runs. The necessity of maintaining a submarine’s position in the mid-water column as it proceeds down the course is one of the challenges facing racing teams.

The races were held June 23-27 in the 3,200-foot-long, 22-foot-deep, 50-foot-wide David Taylor Model Basin test tank at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, Bethesda, Maryland. The races are a biennial event sponsored by the International Submarine Race( Organization, which staged the first submarine competition in 1989 with an in-the-ocean event off Singer Island, Florida. Subsequent ocean-based events were held in 1991 and 1993, with the action moving to the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin in 1995.

Among the design issues which separated the most speedy subs from everyone else was the effectiveness of propellers. Propulsion expert Dr. Patrick Poole, leader of the winning Naval Academy team in 1989 and a judge in the 1997 event, said that improvements in the successful conversion of leg power to propeller thrust in these vehicles has been remarkable. “Human power in endurance situations is equal to about one-quarter horsepower, but in sprints, some people can produce a full horsepower. Well-designed high-tech propellers that are long and lean relative to the diameter of the hull of their submarines are creating a lot of lift with very low drag, approaching an efficiency of 90 percent or better, developing the optimum conversion of human power to speed underwater,” he said.

The timing system employed for the 1997 races left no room for error. Designed by Frank Lang of the Sarnoff Corporation, four underwater video cameras pinpointed the exact location of submarines passing down a course that had been laid out with precision by NSWC experts using laser measuring devices, providing both a 10-meter “sprint” time and a 100-meter report. The split-screen video was recorded to four decimal point accuracy.

Teams Completing the Course and their Fastest (10-meter) Speeds in Knots:

Univ. of Quebec, Montreal, Canada
OMER 3, (1 person) 6.97 knots
OMER 2, (2 person) 6.36 knots
Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN
Torpedo IV, (1 person) 5.88 knots
Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, NC
Cape Fear, (2 person) 5.13 knots
University of Miami, Miami, FL
Magnum PI (2 person) 3.15 knots
Texas A&M, College Station, TX
TAMU (2 person) 3.14 knots
South Broward High School, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Sub-Lime II, (2 person) 2.94 knots

Winston Churchill High, Potomac, MD
The Bull Dog, (2 person) 2.92 knots
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Sea Wolf, (2 person) 2.14 knots
Annapolis, MD, Human-Powered Sub Club
SSH-32 Mermaid, (2 person) 2.10 knots
Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL
Sub Variable, (2 person) 1.71 knots
University of Veracruz, Mexico
Arcangello II, (1 person) 1.70 knots
Silver Bucket, (1 person) 0.56 knots

Participating but without official times:

Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, VA
Phantom II, (2 person)
Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN
Torpedo III, (2 person)
Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, NC
Fearless One, (1 person)

5th International Submarine Races Awards Summary
Overall Performance
1st place trophy and $1,000 cash award sponsored by Oceaneering International to Team OMER, University of Quebec, Ecole de Technologie Superiere, Montreal, Canada

1st place trophy: Stair-stepper propulsion system, “Sub-Variable,” Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL

2nd place: Venturi water turbine, “Silver Bucket,” Don Burton, Frederick, MD

3rd place: Propeller-forward with automatic pitch, “Fearless One,” Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, NC

Absolute Speed
Trophy: “OMER 3,” Ecole de Technologie Superiere, Montreal, Canada, 6.97 knots

Fastest Speed by Category:
One-person, propeller-driven, academic:

1st place: “OMER 3,” Ecole de Technologie Superiere, Montreal, Canada, 6.97 knots

2nd place: “Torpedo IV,” Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN, 5.88 knots

3rd place: “Archangello II,” University of Vera Cruz, Vera Cruz, Mexico, 1.70 knots

Two-person, propeller-driven, academic:

1st place: OMER 2, “Ecole de Technologie Superiere, Montreal, Canada, 5.82 knots

2nd place: “Cape Fear,” Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, NC, 5.13 knots

3rd place: “Magnum II,” University of Miami, Miami, FL, 3.15 knots

Best Use of Composites

Trophy, “Sea Wolf,” University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Best Design Outline

Award sponsored by Compass Publications to Team OMER, Ecole de Technologie Superiere, Montreal

Spirit of the Races Award

Voted by contestants and awarded to Team OMER, Ecole de Technologie Superiere, Montreal

Thank you to NSWC-CD

We want to thank our host, the Naval Surface Warfare Center – Carderock Division who made the world’s finest hydrodynamic facility available to us and whose men and women greatly helped the ISR Race Committee and the contestants!

Sponsors of the Fifth ISR

We want to thank all of sponsors for the Fifth ISR – we could not have done it without your support!!!

Funding Provided by:
Lockheed-Martin Corporation
Electric Boat Corporation – A General Dynamics Company
Newport News Shipbuilding
T.A.H. Industries
Tyco Submarine Systems Ltd.
The Boeing Company
Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc.
Vector, A Business Unit of A&T Engineering Technologies
The Naval Submarine League
Arion Systems, Inc.
Compass Publications, Inc.

In-Kind Sponsors:
Benthos, Inc.
CompAir Mako
Crilley’s Catering
Divecomm, Inc.
Divers Alert Network (DAN)
Diversified Diving Services, Inc.
Inflatable Xperts
MAR-VEL Underwater Equipment, Inc.
Mustang Survival, Inc.
Process Efficiency Products Inc.
Princeton Television TV30
The Rochester Corporation – A Tyco Industries Company
Sarnoff Corporation
SMX Corporation
Washington Marina

BIG BUCKETS of THANKS to all of our volunteers, who worked countless hours at a VERY low rate of pay, and without whom the races would not have been possible:

Leo Abernethy, Barbara and Rich Anderson, Steve Barnett, Steve Bland, Bob Bornmann, MD, Don Brandinelli, Jim Corry, Maurice Coutts, Randy Cummins, Rob Derrick, Jon Douglas, Vince Gambal, Pete Hanway, John and Nancy Hussey, Ralph Johnson, Eric Johnson, Bernie Kruger, Ernie and Maryann Lagimoniere, Frank Lang, Dave McGee, Ken McMahon, Chuck McMahon, RADM Brad Mooney, Juan Mora, John Mulvey, Jack Nicewinter, Dave and Sue Peterson, Pat Poole, Rick Pullen, Sam Rentsch, MD, Gordon Riel, Jerry and Sue Rovner, Ken Santucci, Don Scala, Paul Selavko, Harold Sicker, Jim and Muriel Smith, Paula Smith, Dave Swedin, Francois Thibodeau, Bill Utley, Ed Wright, Chris and Tracie Yeoman. And special thanks to the US Navy Divers!

GALLONS OF GRATITUDE to the members of the Annapolis Human Powered Sub Club who gave many, many hours (after working a full day at their “regular” jobs) to clean the J-Basin end of the Model Ship Basin:

Christopher Albert, Steven Bridgeman, Thomas Calvert, Neil Coletti, Kevin Crouchley, Timothy Cullis, Jeff Goldring, David Hodgkins, David Larrabee, Ron Larson, Andy Melvin, Douglas Orr, John Shrader, Peter Zadoretsky.

Panama City Beach Update

We regret to inform you that the group planning the Panama City Beach Race in 1998 has decided to proceed independently and not conduct the race in accordance with International Submarine Races (ISR)(tm) criteria.

Due to operational and business considerations, the Institute of Diving (IOD) and its Panama City Beach Race Committee has withdrawn any and all sponsorship of the Sixth International Submarine Races ( ISR)(tm) planned for 1998 in Panama City, Florida. Both the IOD and the ISR will be announcing their independent plans for any future events. Any checks for this 1998 race from contestants that the IOD or its Panama City Race Committee has or will receive that have been made out to the ISR or referring in any way to the ISR will be returned to the maker of the check by the IOD/Panama City Race Committee.

The ISR sincerely apologizes for any and all confusion. Plans for the next International Submarine Races are proceeding for the summer of 1999.