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14/07/2018 10:52 SAST | Updated 14/07/2018 10:52 SAST

'Underwater Bicycle' Submarines Race It Out In U.K. Pool

In an international challenge that blends sport and engineering, the mini subs are driven by pedal power alone.

Stephane Rousson, chief designer of the Scubster submarine, a pedal-powered personal wet sub, is seen underwater during testing in Villefranche sur Mer, southeastern France, July 28 2010.
Eric Gaillard / Reuters
Stephane Rousson, chief designer of the Scubster submarine, a pedal-powered personal wet sub, is seen underwater during testing in Villefranche sur Mer, southeastern France, July 28 2010.

In a large pool in southern England this week, mini submarines have been taking part in an unusual race. Far from being diesel or nuclear vessels, they are powered by scuba divers pedalling furiously.

The fourth biennial European International Submarine Race in the town of Gosport has seen teams of university students build and race in a contest that mixes sport and engineering.

"It's an underwater bicycle ... Teams of engineers from all over the world have got to build a three-metre-long streamlined submarine that they have to propel with muscle power alone," race director William Megill said.

"It's a big challenge involving biomechanics, mechanical design, the flow structures and indeed materials."

Chris Ison - PA Images via Getty Images
Engineering students from around the world ready their human powered submarines before racing at Qinetiq's Ocean Basin test tank in Gosport, Hampshire, U.K.

Teams from the Netherlands, Canada and elsewhere brought their submarines for the event, which ended on Friday with prizes for innovation, speed and agility.

One craft at a time tackles the out-and-back slalom course in the pool at British defence company Qinetiq's Ocean Basin testing facility, which measures 122m and is 5.5m deep.

According to organisers, there are timing gates at 42m as well as 55m from the start, and some vessels reached speeds of six or seven knots.

"The main challenge of our sub is finding a sweet spot during the acceleration part at the beginning," Robin van der Sande of the Wasub team said.

"If we accelerate too fast, our sub is doing some strange things — but once we are on speed it feels wonderful."

-Reuters