The First Submarine Rebuild
A reduced scale replica of Drebbel's submarine designed by Expedition Engineering for a BBC TV series Building The Impossible. Built by Mark Edwards, London, 2002. The Submarine was sucessfully tested on the rowing lake Eton Dorney,UK, April 2002. Photos © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com
Cornelius Drebbel was a Dutch inventor who built the first submarine ever. For more information about the inventor himself please surf to this page.
The Timber Submarine was designed and built for "Building the Impossible", a series of television programmes commissioned jointly by the BBC and the Discovery Channel. Each programme illustrates the challenges on the journey of innovative, exploratory engineering.
The task of this program was to emulate the work of Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel for King James I in the early 1620's. It is reported that Drebbel had constructed an operational submarine, which had sailed in the Thames , although no drawings exist of his work.
Expedition researched the available technologies of the time and designed a vessel, which could be constructed using, as far as practicable, authentic 17th century boat building technologies, methods and materials.
Many calculations and a series of scale tests of parts of the vessels design and construction were needed to ensure the integrity and safety of the vessel. The vessel was 6700mm long, 2050mm high and designed for a crew of 2. The hull comprises 34 parallel transverse oak frames, clad in a skin of marine plywood, formed from planks of 12mm ply. Oak was the material of choice for the planks, but costings forced a compromise on historical accuracy. Joints between planks are pulled together using copper nails used in a mode known as clenching. The resulting hull construction is known as clinker construction. Together, the frames and skin, and the conning tower and hatch, form a pressure vessel. Some of the planking, before rivetting, was sealed with red lead paste.
The tools used by the builder, Mark Edwards, to shape the wood, were ones Drebbel could have used, including adzes for removing large amounts of wood on a curve, broad axes and a 'slick' - an enormous two-handed chisel.
Propulsion was by 4 oars with sealed rowlocks. Buoyancy was controlled by additions of lead shot inside the vessel and a buoyancy control tank, pumped by two independent pumps.
The submarine was successfully tested on the rowing lake at Eton Dorney near Windsor , diving beneath the surface and being rowed underwater for 10 minutes and then returning to the surface.
Upon reviewing the programme, the Guardian said of the Submarine, "An extraordinarily beautiful construction" and the Times said the team had created "an object of great beauty".
Ballast tanks (brown) and distributed lead shot ballast (green). (Drawing: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
(Drawing: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
Ballast distribution and installation to achieve marginal positive buoyancy so that the dive-planes would work. (Photo: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
Oarhole self -sealing gasketry (bottom) and prototype pressure tests (top) under 10m pressure head. (Photos: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
Dive planes (bottom) and twin rudder systems (top). With boat builder Mark Edwards and submarine oarsman Richard Carless. (Photos: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
Conning tower as a compression ring. (Photos: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
Ballast tank pumps with hand operated pistons suitable for a 6m pressure head. (Photo: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
Walking the dog (Photo: © Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com)
All material on this page was kindly provided by Expedition Engineering Ltd www.expedition-engineering.com
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