THE ONE THAT (AL­MOST) GOT AWAY

DUR­ING AN AT­TACK ON A ROYAL NAVY SHIP, CREW TRIED, AND FAILED, TO ES­CAPE ON A SMALL BOAT. AFTER 78 YEARS, THE VES­SEL HAS BEEN FOUND.

Scuba Diving - - Currents - BY ROBBY MYERS

In the early days of World War II, Royal navy crew­men at­tempted to es­cape the wreck of HMS Royal Oak us­ing a steam pin­nace, only to cap­size their es­cape ves­sel. Seventy-eight years later, un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­ol­o­gists have fi­nally found the re­mains of this way­ward craft.

On Oc­to­ber 13, 1939, Ger­man sub­ma­rine U-47 in­fil­trated Scotland’s Scapa Flow and fired three tor­pe­does at Royal Oak. The bat­tle­ship, at an­chor in a safe har­bor, was taken by com­plete sur­prise. Royal Oak was un­der­wa­ter in min­utes, and those who were able to es­cape the sink­ing ship faced a half-mile swim to shore through bone-chill­ing wa­ter slick with oil. By the end of the or­deal, 834 of the ship’s 1,200 crew­men would per­ish.

Some tried to es­cape us­ing Royal Oak’s port­side pin­nace, a 50-foot steam­pow­ered boat teth­ered to the side of the bat­tle­ship. There had not been enough time to get the pin­nace up to steam, so men re­sorted to pad­dling it with boards. The ves­sel had a ca­pac­ity of 59, but it was crammed with about 100 men. Shortly after get­ting un­der­way, the boat cap­sized and was lost to his­tory.

The miss­ing pin­nace has fi­nally been found by ar­chae­ol­o­gists as part of the col­lab­o­ra­tive Ship­time Mar­itime Ar­chae­ol­ogy Project, sur­vey­ing wrecks in Scapa Flow. It was found more than 950 feet from the wreck of Royal Oak us­ing multi­beam sonar.

The project is led by San­dra Henry of UHI Ar­chae­ol­ogy In­sti­tute, Orkney Re­search Cen­tre for Ar­chae­ol­ogy, the Univer- sity of the High­lands and Is­lands Ar­chae­ol­ogy In­sti­tute, and Kevin Heath of SULA Div­ing in Strom­ness, Scotland.

Divers from SULA Div­ing were sent down to in­ves­ti­gate the wreck.

“It is a great priv­i­lege to be in­volved with the mon­i­tor­ing of such an im­por­tant wreck site as HMS Royal Oak and in find­ing the miss­ing pin­nace,” Pete Hig­gins, ORCA se­nior project man­ager, said in a state­ment. “The site will now be recorded and will add to our knowl­edge sur­round­ing the sink­ing of HMS Royal Oak.”

While 3D print­ing isn’t new, test­ing the lim­its of 3D-printed wa­ter­craft is. In July, the U.S. Navy teamed with the Naval Sur­face War­fare Cen­ter Carde­rock Di­vi­sion and the Oak Ridge National Lab­o­ra­tory (ORNL) to cre­ate the first pro­to­type of a 3D-printed sub­ma­rine. The 30-foot craft — which un­like a typ­i­cal sub­ma­rine will be wa­ter­filled — can carry four to six Navy divers who will be on open-cir­cuit scuba or re­breathers. The sub also can be op­er­ated un­manned.

When a team of 25 naval ar­chi­tects from Carde­rock ar­rived at ORNL, they didn’t have a de­sign — just the idea. In week one, a de­sign was hatched. In weeks two and three, the de­sign was printed and then as­sem­bled. The sub was de­liv­ered for test­ing on week four. Test­ing was lim­ited, how­ever, be­cause this ver­sion is a proof of con­cept, not a model de­signed for in-wa­ter use. That will come next.

The ad­van­tages of 3D-printed sub­marines and other wa­ter­craft are many, start­ing with the facts that there are far fewer parts and the cost is a frac­tion of tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing. Tra­di­tion­ally, pro­duc­ing a sub­ma­rine of this size is es­ti­mated at $600,000 to $800,000. The 3D-printed sub cost just $34,000.

“The dis­ad­van­tage now is that it’s not as struc­turally sound as the orig­i­nal,” says Lon­nie Love, cor­po­rate fel­low at the ORNL, point­ing out that plas­tic is heav­ier and weaker than alu­minum.

The trick will be find­ing how much car­bon fiber to add to the print­ing ma­te­rial to decrease weight while adding strength.

For divers and the boating com­mu­nity at large, what’s per­haps more ex­cit­ing is that 3D print­ing al­lows any­one to af­ford­ably de­sign and pro­duce a sin­gle, cus­tom­ized ves­sel, such as a cata­ma­ran, as well as jigs, fix­tures and boat parts.

“What’s re­ally neat about this is mass-cus­tomiza­tion,” he says. “You can de­sign a one-of-a-kind thing and print it. It doesn’t cost any more than mak­ing 10 or 100 of some­thing.”

The lab­o­ra­tory also is look­ing at how to use the tech­nol­ogy to lower man­u­fac­tur­ing costs for the whole ma­rine in­dus­try.

Reef Smart Guides: Bar­ba­dos

Com­bin­ing the artist be­hind Art­to­me­dia and two marinebi­ol­o­gist part­ners, Reef Smart ex­pands the richly ren­dered maps divers love. The first of sev­eral books — in­clud­ing up­com­ing re­leases on Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties, the Florida Keys and Bon­aire — fo­cuses on Bar­ba­dos, with an ex­ten­sive guide to the is­land’s div­ing, snor­kel­ing and surf­ing sites. No stone is left un­turned as the Reef Smart team treats the reader to a tour of all things Bar­ba­dos. The guide fea­tures beau­ti­ful im­ages, more than 50 de­tailed, 3D dive maps, and loads of info on where to find the best sea­side food and en­ter­tain­ment. If the first re­lease is any in­di­ca­tion, Reef Smart Guides are poised to join the REEF Fish Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sets as must-have works for trav­el­ing divers. Miller Pub­lish­ing, $27.99

BY SCUBA DIV­ING STAFF

The Royal Oak’s steam pin­nace is now cov­ered with ma­rine growth.

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