Vobster
Vobsters new mini-submarine Morzh descends.

OR A DIVER WHO HAS MADE HIS NAME researching and diving submarine wrecks, it may come as a surprise to learn that Innes McCartney had never actually been under water in a submarine.
The chance arose with the latest attraction at Vobster Quay, the inland dive site near Frome in Somerset. The Russian built mini-submarine Morzh is now based there and is being certified to run trips for the public.
Innes confessed that Morzh was not quite what he imagined. Its bigger and more sophisticated than I expected. Some of the Holland prototypes were smaller than this. I was interested to see the technology first-hand, good solid Russian functionality. While some of the principles are the same, a submarine like this has very little in common with the wrecks I dive.
The Beatles Yellow Submarine played in the background as preparations were completed and Morzh was lowered into the water. Pilot Alexander Molodyka and Innes were inside with the hatch down tight before leaving the quayside for the dive sites aircraft wreck.
On a foggy day, surface navigation was not easy. I kept wondering why we didnt just steam along with Alexander sitting on the hatch to navigate, like Holland V did. But even in the flat calm, it would probably have been far too dangerous, said Innes.
Morzhs cabin was originally configured for two people lying prone, but has been changed to cater for three in upright seats. For a big fella like me it made looking out of the windows harder. Even so, it didnt feel claustrophobic.
I was too busy taking in the whole experience, said Innes.
With the cabin sealed at surface pressure, passengers in a submarine have no constraints placed by compression or decompression. On the descent, Innes remarked that it was imperceptible until we bumped the wreck, though he summed up the final ascent as damned fast.
While he is best known for his submarine projects, with more than 40 wrecks identified to date, Innes interest in naval history has also extended to the Battle of Jutland and most recently the German armed merchant raider Komet, located last summer from mv Maureen. At 70m between Alderney and Cap Le Hague, diving was constrained by short slack water and big tides. He plans to return this summer to make more extensive dives, so would he be tempted to use a submarine like Morzh
Id probably use a sub all the time if I had the funds. I imagine the cost is only a tiny amount of the overall budget you would need to operate it on wrecks.
To start with, one would need a larger support boat with a crane to deploy it, replied Innes. Looks as if he will go on diving the way we know best for a while yet.

  • Vobster Quay, www.vobsterquay.co.uk, 01373 814666

    About Morzh
    Morzh was built in Russia in 1991 for pipeline inspection. An electrically driven propeller provides motive power, with smaller electric thrusters to turn, crab sideways and push up and down.
    Buoyancy and depth are adjusted by tanks either side of the cabin and the vertical thrusters. Unlike a larger submarine, Morzh has no hydroplanes to adjust the angle of pitch. Instead, it has a small trim tank behind the main cabin and the batteries can be shifted forward or aft by activating electrically driven screws that run the length of the battery compartments.
    The batteries provide five hours of power for the electric motors, and life support lasts for 80 hours. Weight is adjusted before a dive so that submerged buoyancy is never more than a few 10s of kilograms negative.
    In an emergency, an 80kg weight can be released to bring the submarine to the surface.
    The life-support system uses a similar principle to Russian diving rebreathers. A superoxide chemical reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to remove it and release oxygen. The reaction is strongly exothermic, helping to keep the cabin warm, though there are also electric heaters.
    An electronic oxygen monitor, as used by divers for nitrox analysis, displays the cabin ppO2.
    At Vobster, Morzh is launched from a specially built gantry that hangs over the water. For road transport and at sea, the 3-tonne submarine can be moved on and off a truck or launched from a support boat using a HIAB hydraulic loader arm.
    Voice contact is maintained with the surface by a through-water acoustic system. Other instruments include depth gauge, compass, depth-sounder and sonar. For underwater work, Morzh has an electro-hydraulic manipulator arm. There are also attachment points for additional tools, accessories and cameras, depending on the tasks to be performed.

  • Innes
    Innes McCartney enjoys a new experience.
    Morzh
    Morzh arrives at the cockpit section of Vobsters HS748 aircraft.
    Alexander
    Alexander at the pilot controls.
    Morzh
    Morzh out of the water.
    Divernet Divernet