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Canadain Navy to invest in more yogurt

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #122 May/June 2002

From Ocean Navigator #122 May/June 2002

When Canada purchased HMCS Windsor and three other sub-marines from Britain in 2001, it was considered a good deal for the Royal Canadian Navy. Windsor, formerly HMS Unicorn, was refitted at HMC Dockyard in Halifax, Nova Scotia, then cast off lines to head out to sea for trials. But things started to go wrong for the sub while she was submerged in the navy's operational area off the Nova Scotia coast on March 4, 2002.

At a depth of 180 feet, a seal (about the size of a dime) failed on hydraulic gear used to raise one of Windsor's masts, allowing seawater to enter the submarine. The sub's skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Art Wamback, prudently plotted a course back to Halifax. But soon after the initial leak was discovered, more seawater was reported sloshing about the deck immediately above the sub's battery compartment. Alarm horns sounded, and the call "flood, flood, flood!" boomed out over the boat's intercom. A frantic search began to discover the source of this additional saltwater incursion. We can imagine what was going through the minds of the 61 crewmembers of Windsor, seven of whom were trainees, aboard Windsor for their first dive. To make matters worse, most had watched a television documentary on the ill-fated Russian submarine, Kursk, the evening before Windsor departed for sea.

The chief engineer, after two minutes of frenzied searching, finally discovered that the second ingress of water had been caused by crew error. Someone adjusting the sub's trim tanks (used to keep the boat level when cruising submerged) had inadvertently thrown the switch the wrong way, allowing almost 500 gallons of seawater to be pumped into the interior of the sub. But whether it was crew error or equipment failure was a moot point. The immediate problem was to get that water off the deck as quickly as possible to prevent a possible leak onto the compartment housing the sub's battery banks below.

Frantic crew grabbed whatever vessels they could find — all that was available were some discarded yogurt containers left from lunch — to bail water into sinks and drains where it could be pumped out of the boat. In the meantime, other crew spread sleeping bags across the banks of batteries to prevent water from reaching battery cells and possibly releasing highly poisonous chlorine gas into the boat's air supply. Fortunately, the yogurt containers did yeoman service, and all water was eventually recovered and pumped out before a chlorine disaster could materialize. Windsor continued on course, reaching Halifax with no further incidents.

Now that senior naval staff in Ottawa, Ontario, have seen the undeniable health and safety benefits of having yogurt aboard submarines, it remains to be seen whether that tasty dairy product will, in fact, remain classified as a victual, or whether it might now be designated an essential safety item when cruising. Whatever the outcome, the consumption of yogurt by Canadian submariners will undoubtedly become more popular as the remaining three former British submarines are commissioned.J. Gregory Dill