November 23, 2007

Steampunk Submarine

Here is an interesting bit of nautical history.

The Explorer, a submarine from the civil war era  has been identified on Pearl Island Panama.

The vessel was ahead of its time with lockout chambers to allow divers to leave the vessel while submerged. Unfortunately as this resulted in the whole submarine becoming pressurized to the depth it was at, and because it allowed the crew to stay down far longer than normal, and because dive tables weren't invented until 1910, the entire crew perished after a long dive.

The use of the submarine for civilian applications (in this case pearl diving) was quite unusual a that time.

There seems to be some debate as to the origin of the submarine, some sites say it was built for the US Navy during the Civil War, some have said it was built afterwards for entirely civillian applications. Whichever, it's designer one Julius Herman Kröhl made significant contributions to the USN during the war, and if the Wikipedia entry is accurate was very much the unions answer to Mathew Fontain least in underwater explosives.

There is also some debate about the cause of the death of Kröhl and his crew. The reports cited "fever" which likely meant malaria, however, the whole crew being stricken and the vessels dive profile would seem to make the decompression accident a more likely cause.

Much more including schematics  here.
Note that this article claims this was the first case of decompression sickness amongst US citizens. I'm pretty sure this is hooey as diving bells had been in use since the 1500s and hardhat diving was going on in the UK in the 1790s. There was enough interest in the US that an improved helmet was patented in the US in 1834. I'm pretty sure somebody had had a decompression accident before this. The article is quite informative for all that. I'm very upset I missed his recent talk at Nauticus.

This story is particularly sad because the sub worked! It had been tested several times without incident. If dive tables had been available the vessel would have been a success.

Sometimes progress fails for one missed detail or unknown factor.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 10:54 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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