26 November 2014

New member of the Thursday Nighters

Underground exploration is not only for humans! We welcomed a sparky non-human among our ranks. How did that happen? There was some sort of a competition in which you could win a small autonomous submarine, and our very own Paul entered that competition. And ended up winning one! And that meant some work for him: the machine was delivered to him in bits. Luckily, he has technical skills, and soon he had a working ROV. He had first tested it in the bath, and then in Llyn Padarn. It seemed to work! So it was time to try it out what it was intended for (by us, at least): underground exploration. So we picked Cwmorthin, as it has flooded bits we're curious about, and because it is easy to reach. And the ROV isn't big or heavy, but still, we wanted to focus on the ROV, and not on scampering up and down hills.

When we came to the meeting point the ROV crew was already there, and tether issues were already being addressed. The machine had 100m of cable, but that easily gets tangled! Paul had made an improvised reel of a coke bottle, but Mick had a proper cable reel and attempts at moving the cable from one to the other without creating one big plate of spaghetti. It wasn't easy! But we did it. And then we could go up. I had brought full neoprene as I figured something might go wrong on this maiden voyage, but on the drive up I had realised they wanted to send it down an incline with only a very small opening to the surface. I wouldn't be able to follow it there! So I decided to pack the neoprene and bring it, but go in in my more comfy furry suit. Even when more of us figured that incline would be a bit ambitious the first time around.

When we went in we decided to head not for the initially designated incline, but a much bigger one, open at the surface for many metres, and nicely devoid of silt to kick up and random things to snag behind. And there Paul tried to get it started. He had initially controlled it with his phone, but this time we had a laptop for the purpose. And that gave IT problems! Luckily our own Simon is an IT guru and in no time he had the whole set-up running. Time to christen our new member! And that honour befell me, as tradition suggests it should be a woman performing that act. Mick had brought a miniature bottle of whisky for the purpose, and I christened her "Jemima von Kursk". And then she could go do her thing!

Paul posing with his creation. Pic by Simon

Phil placed her in the water and off she went. It was fun to see the little thing whizzing about, going off in all kinds of directions with lights shining defiantly into the depths. Her camera didn't see much unless she was close to either the bottom or the walls, and the bottom posed snag risk, so it wasn't even that easy to make her explore anything, but we'll get the hang of it. Steering an ROV turns out to be an art! And while practicing that art, a part came off; a PVC protection of the top propeller. Oh dear! Luckily it wasn't an essential part. I wondered if I should go get it; it hadn't come off in very deep water. The men said I shouldn't; they'd improvise a new part. But I figured I had brought the wetsuit just for cases like this. So I started changing.

 Some general faffing; Jemima is still on land on this pic. Pic by Simon

Phil found out in the meantime he could see the bit from the side of the chamber, and lit it up with his torch. That made things easier! I got into the very cold water and went in the direction of the part. And then came back to leave my helmet; Phil would light my way. I swam to right above it, gathered some courage, and then dived. And got it! Success!

 On my (steamy) way to the lost bit! Notice Jemima in the foreground. Pic by David

The men then sent our Jemima to the far end, to see what was there. It got stuck! At 7m depth! Too deep to go get it. Would this be the end? But Paul managed to manoeuvre it free, and steer it back. Later on it snagged again; so much so I already started to put my neoprene gloves back on. But we got it back! I was getting cold, so I was keen to get back out. I could of course change back into my furry suit, but I didn't have dry underwear with me underground, and I am not so keen on going without. So I knew I would stay warm enough if I would come out at a reasonable speed, and then change entirely at the cars. So I asked David to accompany me and we scooted off. I didn't want to end up stuck behind a slow person on an incline, nor did I want to have to wait for someone with car keys to show up.

We scampered up like mountain goats, and were soon outside again. No way I would have found the way! And soon we were back at the car. Into dry undies! My plan had worked; there was no sign of the others so they must have engaged in extensive faffing, which we had avoided. So much so that David at some point suggested to just bugger off. It was late enough! So we did.

In the following days mails flew around. People had ideas about better tether, better tether attachment, better this, that and the other, and the next time we go underground we might have Jemima v1.1. The more we tweak her the worse it would be if we lose her to a snag! But let's stay optimistic. Where next? Flooded chambers galore in this neck of the woods! Stay tuned!


Paul said...

Definitely an art to ROV piloting. Enjoy:)

Margot said...

Thanks! I'm sure we will!