Three out of the four VICTORIA class submarines are now in active service.

They were designed in the 1980’s and built in the 1990’s for the Royal Navy. After their Canadian purchase, they went through an upgrade and refit. They are now better than most diesel-electric submarines built up to 2005. With the planned further improvements, they will maintain a state-of-the-art status for many years. Submarines are an important part of our navy and in the protection of our freedom in a world infected with international crime and terror.

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(Photos by John Webber)

HMCS VICTORIA update by John Webber

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I had the opportunity to go aboard HMCS VICTORIA for a
media day sail in the waters south of Victoria, B.C. on February 26th, 2015.

We boarded at sea around 0730 by being transferred from a navy
tug to the submarine via a rope ladder. After climbing down the
main hatch, we were led into the junior ranks mess for a safety briefing.
Everyone immediately got into the “submarine” feel by sitting bum-to-bum
with ten others in a space about half the size of an average small bedroom.

IMG_8128 clean

I never noticed any “submarine smell”, of sweat or diesel, that was
always talked about by “old salts” when they entered a diesel-electric
submarine during their service.

We were split into three small groups and led by an experienced officer
on a tour around the submarine. I always had the feeling we were in
the way of someone, because we always had to squeeze aside to let a
crew member go by to carry on his or her duties. It was obvious that
the submarine service is for young, smart and energetic sailors.

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The complexity of a submarine is always apparent. Pipes, valves, wiring
instruments and switches everywhere. The officer sleeping quarters is as
small of space you can have to sleep six. Nicknamed “a six-pack”. With
that micro-design, I could rent out my small bedroom at home to 18 people.

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A “day sail” is different than a normal public tour. You see the whole
crew in action, rather than touring while most of the crew is ashore and all the
equipment is shut down. It gives you a better appreciation of the life aboard a submarine.

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We climbed up to the bridge which is about three stories above the control
room. We climbed up a narrow and wet steel vertical ladder which created
some difficulty climbing for us “land lubbers”. Especially true when moving
from the ladder to the bridge deck because the ladder cannot go through
the water-tight hatch at the top. But, it was a great opportunity.

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The CO (Commanding Officer) took us through a series of manoeuvres,
that included firing a “water shot”, which is firing a ton of water out of
a torpedo tube. The immediate release of a high pressure load of water
and the transfer of water back into the torpedo tube releases a huge
but very-fine cold water mist into the forward sleeping quarters area where
the tube ejector turbine is located. Not enough to get anything wet. I had
the impression it was more like an “initiation” rather than a show because
the crew seemed to enjoy our sudden shock of being hit by the fog. I felt
my ears “pop” during the pressure change caused by the release of the fog.

Other “initiations” aboard are bumping your head on a pipe or fitting and
squeezing through small hatches. My head was initiated a few times.

We dove, rose and turned under the water to a predetermined safe maximum
depth of 57 meters. If you closed your eyes it felt like being in an airplane.

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When under water at sea the submarine crew must check thoroughly to ensure
they do not hit anything or any ship in the area. The CO checked many
times before diving to ensure they would not interfere with nearby fishing
boats or ships. He confirmed his surface check with radar, sonar contacts
and taking many 360 degree views around the surface through the periscope.

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The control room is the heart and brain of the submarine. It is the nerve
centre where all the information (senses) are analyzed and decisions are
made and carried out. A submarine relies more on “sensors” than a
normal surface ship. Each crew member in the control room must be ready
to inform the Commanding Officer immediately of any changes underwater,
on the surface, or inside the submarine that could become a safety concern.

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I was greatly impressed by the huge amount of electronics aboard the sub.
Sonar, radios, radar, GPS screens, gauges, switches, displays, and periscopes.
I often sat in the only empty seat in the control room between the sonar
displays on the starboard side in the centre of the control room. The sonar
operators were helping me out by explaining what everything meant on
the sonar screens. The sonar displays consoles are scheduled to be upgraded
with the latest equipment, which are now in operation on HMCS WINDSOR
in Halifax. It would be like changing from an old cell phone to the latest
high-tech iPhone 6.

My seat was only two meters from the CO’s action station. I could clearly
hear the orders being given and the information flowing from the crew to
the CO. When we manoeuvred underwater, the helmsman confirmed the
direction, speed and the angle of the boat underwater.

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If I was young again, I would join the navy just to get the opportunity to use
all their high-tech equipment.

We had free time to walk around the boat. The crew who were not involved
with the tour found a spot to stay out of the way. Some were already
off watch (shift) and in their bunks. Some hid away in their small mess, and
and others were in far off areas forward and aft out of the way of the main
action area in the control room. The areas with the most open space were the
torpedo room forward and the aft manoeuvring room.

The aft manoeuvring room was the most noisy, even without the diesel
engines running. But it was not that noisy, that you could not hear someone
talk. The continuous hum came from fans running to maintain a comfortable
temperature throughout the sub. I was impressed how quiet the huge electric
motor was running. It was the size of an average bedroom and I stood beside
it and could not hear it running while it was turning at 60 RPM.

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Being over 70, I was the oldest person on the submarine. It has been over
58 years since I was on my first submarine in 1956. I was on a submarine
before anyone else on the HMCS VICTORIA was born.

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I think many of the youth today are almost trained to be a submariner. They
sit on a chair with a laptop computer and a wall mounted TV monitor
playing real and simulated games for hours. They get up to eat and sleep,
then back to the computer. It would become more sub-like if they moved their
computer, TV and chair into a closet with another person.

Every crew member acted in a professional manner. It was apparent that
everyone worked as a team. The two female crew members worked
smoothly as part of the crew. Each crew members has their own bunk
and they wear coveralls or work clothing while in their bunks. There
are no separate spaces for females. I think that helps prevent any issues
which seems to occur more when you separate the genders
into their own areas. Of course, aboard a submarine there is no extra space.

Every crew member I talked to was pleasant and answered every question
I asked. The only question I asked that was difficult to answer was when
I asked the Australian navy exchange officer how this submarine compared
to the Collins class Australian submarine. He stated “He liked them both”.
He quickly became “qualified” on HMCS VICTORIA in six months.
It normally takes a crew member up to 24 months to become “qualified”.
“Qualified” means he has passed the rigid familiarization requirements to
operate and understand all emergency and operational procedures for all
areas of the sub. Each crew member must complete this “qualification”.
Upon completion, they receive their “dolphins” badge which is a proud
tradition of the submarine service.

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After our diving manoeuvres, each visitor received a rare high quality official
HMCS VICTORIA “deep dive” certificate from the Commanding Officer,
Commander Alex Kooiman.

“It’s an adventure” and there is “No life like it” is what they say in the RCN.
I agree.

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