When recent Catoctin graduate Olivia Dart got out of the submarine, she didn’t realize she had crossed the finish line — and was the first on her team to do so.
“I looked up and my entire team was cheering me on,” Dart said. “It was pretty cool.”
Six students from the Career and Technology Center recently competed in the 15th International Submarine Races, held near Bethesda, with their dual-propeller submarine, the CLS Mako. They were one of three high school teams that competed against teams from all over the world.
By the end of the weeklong competition, they had scooped up fastest speed in the high school division and finished eighth overall.
But just getting to the starting line was no easy feat.
The first day, they were almost disqualified because some of the sub’s safety features were not up to race regulations, said Jake Gurewitz, from Oakdale High School.
The dead man’s float is a lever that, when pulled, emits foam into the water. Divers use the float as a signal of distress, said Charlie Giglio, from Urbana High School.
When they pulled the dead man’s float during the preliminary inspections, the fishing wire used to connect the lever to the foam was too tangled, Gurewitz said.
The high-pressure gauge, which tells the pilot how much pressure is in the air tank, was too short and too far away from the pilot’s eyes, Gurewitz said.
A long gauge “is dangerous because if it gets caught in the gears while the pilot’s pedaling, then it can blow the sub upwards really quickly and severely damage the pilot’s ears,” Gurewitz said.
For two days, the team went back and forth between the David Taylor Model Basin, where the competition was held, and the VFW hall, where they stayed, to adjust the sub.
The first night, they stayed up until 1 a.m., Giglio said.
That became the regular bedtime for the team, Gurewitz said, only to be up five hours later to get ready for the competition.
“[It was] lots of busy days, lots of long nights,” Giglio said.
Eventually, Steve Barton, one of the previous owners of the sub, stepped in.
He argued to the judges that CTC’s gauge length is acceptable for racing.
“That’s what they [Barton’s team] did back with their old sub,” Gurewitz said, quoting Barton.
“And the judges let it pass,” Gurewitz added.
Once they were given the go-ahead to race, the team faced another obstacle: getting the pilots into the sub safely.
Because of the way their sub was designed, the pilots had to enter the sub above water — “beach loading,” Gurewitz said.
Once in the sub, they were sent into the water by the support teammates, he added.
“We wanted to make sure that the pilot, that we put him in at just the right time so that he didn’t run out of air for the actual race,” Gurewitz said.
The water in the David Taylor Model Basin, where the races were held, was “dim” and “dark,” said Giglio, the first to pilot the sub.
The darkness made it difficult for the pilots “to navigate the sub because it was really disorienting,” Gurewitz said.
Giglio said that one of the things he had hit while piloting the sub was the wall of the basin.
“What I remember was that it was cold and dark and my [goggles] kept fogging up.”
That’s why Dart, who was one of the pilots after Giglio, was “a little anxious” to get into the sub.
Together, the team worked to make sure that the other pilots, Dart, Jerry Huang and Brian McGiffin, didn’t have the same experience.
“Once we got the system down,” Giglio said, “it was much quicker.”
On top of the obstacles, the team “kind of felt like the underdogs” of the competition, Gurewitz said.
“They [the other teams] got all the tech,” Giglio said. “They’ve got their names on their tents, things like that.”
Nevertheless, it didn’t deter the team.
“So they had fancy trailers, all the tools there and the things in their trailer, but it was kind of not, you know, intimidating,” Giglio said. “I almost felt kind of proud to be there.”
While facing these obstacles throughout the competition, the team strengthened skills including patience, teamwork and project management, Giglio said.
And kept a positive attitude.
“You know, it’s a really cool experience, [to be] this young and part of that whole thing,” Giglio said.