The Saybrook Sub Team at Work

Future submarine pilot freshman Megan Schulmeister tries out the control area of the Old Saybrook High School human-powered submarine that will be used in next year's International Submarine Races in Bethesda, Maryland.
Future submarine pilot freshman Megan Schulmeister tries out the control area of the Old Saybrook High School human-powered submarine that will be used in next year's International Submarine Races in Bethesda, Maryland. Photo by Andrew Sullivan/Harbor News

OLD SAYBROOK - This club ventures deep. Up to 40 feet deep-and while wearing scuba gear.

Under the guidance of teachers and club coaches Fred Frese and Gretchen Bushnell, the Old Saybrook High School (OSHS) Submarine Club members design and build a human-powered submarine. Every two years, the school's sub club team travels to Bethesda, Maryland, to compete with its craft in the International Submarine Races sponsored by NAVSea and General Dynamics.

Because the competition is underwater, most of the students on the team must obtain scuba-diving certification. Frese credited Ed Rosacker, master diver of Diver's Cove in Essex, for training the students.

The Navy test pool in which they race in Bethesda is 40 feet deep and 100 meters long. Last year, OSHS submarine pilot Patrick Coley reached a top speed underwater of 4.3 knots.

"Going down to the races was a great experience. We built friendships within our team and connected with other teams. The Canadian team even helped us repair our propeller when it broke," said Coley.

Submarine teams are judged on 16 criteria including team work, a presentation delivered to seven retired rear admirals who act as judges, and time trial performance for their underwater crafts.

In last June's competition, OSHS's team, one of only three high school teams competing, came in eighth in a field of 34 team competitors, most of which were college teams.

"The retired rear admirals who acted as judges came up to me and told me after the team's presentation that it was very professional. They also said the kids were amazing, that they were so poised," recalled Coach Bushnell.

The craft the team built and raced last June-and modified this year to prepare for next year's race-is 27 inches in diameter, 8 ½ feet long, and is made of fiberglass and carbon fiber. The boat's pilot, lying face-down inside, propels the boat forward by pedaling. The pedal-power turns a wheel that drives the chain that runs back into a gear box and connects to the drive-train that moves the propeller.

An air tank in the boat feeds a respirator that allows the boat's pilot to breathe and pedal when the boat fills with water, and levers next to the pilot's head operate the boat's rear fins to move the boat up or down while submerged.

Last year's competition team was Joe Koneshesky, Pat Coley, Ryan Woolery, Lauren Rhodes, Sara Wengefeld, Jack Bergeras, Jack Condulis, Clay Duffy, Alexis Bardos, Peter Blank, Zach Chupak, and Adam Wysocki. Preparing now to compete in June 2015 are Alexis Bardos, Clay Duffy, Peter Blank, Peter Malinovsky, Tyler Finkeldey, Larissa Beecher, Megan Schulmeister, Chelsea Weiland, and Adam Burkhardt.

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