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Boston Weather: 57.0°F | Fog/Mist

Human-Powered Sub Places 3rd

By Michael K. Chung
Opinion Editor

Despite inclement weather, the Sea Beaver II craft made by the MIT Sea Grant team placed well against opposing vessels from other universities and around the world in the Human-Powered Submarine Competition, which was held over a ten-day period in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Some of the participating teams were from England, Germany, British Columbia,various parts of the USA, and Walt Disney World.

The Sea Grant team earned several awards, including third best performance as an academic institution, third place in cost effectiveness, and an award commending the safety features of the boat.

Cliff Goudey, an engineer with the Sea Grant program, led the MIT group. The other team members were David Gerson G, Diane Dimassa G, Drew Bennett G, Brody Hynes `96, and Jacqueline Brenner `96, Bill Hall G, and Hauke Kite-Powell.

By reusing the same hull from the last contest in 1991, they MIT team saved time and money because they only had to redesign parts of the craft. The boats were operated by two people. One team member did the steering and the other did the pedalling, providing power to the boat.

Both occupants were equipped with wet-suits and the equivalent of about two and one-half scuba tanks of air. In the Sea Beaver II, instead of wearing the air tanks, the boaters installed them to the inside of the craft to give themselves more freedom of movement.

Judges conducted safety inspections for several days before the racing events. There was a series of on-shore tests. To ensure that water could flood freely into the boats, the hulls were not allowed to be pressurized. Boats also had to be accessible from the outside and inside to ensure that a rescue would be possible. Finally, each boat had to have a sufficient oxygen supply.

There were also safety checks in the water. The hatches of each boat were required to be accessible from both sides, and all the boats had to release safety buoys when required. Forty-two boats passed these tests and moved on to the underwater racing.

There were two events: a 100 meter race and 400 meter race. With Hall as pilot, and Kite-Powell, a triathlete, pedaling. the MIT team completed the 100 meter race in 48.75 seconds, the fastest time of the day.

In the remaining time trials, the team from Florida Atlantic University was the only team to better the MIT 100-meter time, completing the race in 45.58 seconds. This was reportedly similar to the times they achieved practice trials prior to the competition, near the race-site.

Of the twenty-four boats that finished the time-trials under the ten-minute limit, the times were evenly spread from 45.58 seconds to 130 seconds. The corresponding speeds in knots were from 4.26 to 1.49 knots.

The fastest times were scheduled to compete against each other in a single-elimination tournament, with top finishers to compete in the 400-meter race. The weather, however, made those plans impossible and led to an altered format.

In MIT's next match, a 400-meter race against FAU, a surprise was in store for the crew of the Sea Beaver II. In the beginning of the race, the linear pedal system failed, leaving MIT out of the race completely. Because of the limited race time, a rematch was out of the question.

Of the twelve boats that did complete 400-meter races, the range of times were from 3:58.86 (set by FAU) to 7:15.55.

At one point in the competition, the MIT group found an old, beat-up sign which read ``Watch out for Pedestrians.'' Late one night, they dove into the water and planted the sign near the finish line, in the MIT hacking tradition. However, the sign was found and removed by U.S. Naval divers before it could be noticed by other submarine operators.

Looking to the future

Because of high susceptibility to weather conditions, future events may require that submarines be independent of surface boats. This way, wind and small waves will not prevent submarines from entering the water safely.

Goudey hopes to enter two boats in the next competition in 1995: a new vessel, and a modified Sea Beaver. He hopes that their performance will bring them more sponsorship for the project. This year, the project cost around $10,000, most of which went to traveling and lodging expenses.

Goudey hopes to have more preparation time in similar water conditions, so that bugs can be worked out more easily. The team also hopes to gain more support for the program in future events.