Sub Marine Explorer

Last updated
Sub Marine Explorer Wreck.jpg
Hull of the Sub Marine Explorer in Panama's Pearl Islands
Name:Sub Marine Explorer
Builder: Julius H. Kroehl and Ariel Patterson
Laid down: 1863
Launched: 1865
Acquired: 1865
In service: 1866
Out of service: 1869
Fate: abandoned
General characteristics
Displacement: 80 tons
Length: 12.0 m (39.4 ft)
Beam: 3.3 m (11 ft)
Propulsion: single propeller
Speed: 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph)
Complement: 3 to 6

Sub Marine Explorer is a submersible built between 1863 and 1866 by Julius H. Kroehl and Ariel Patterson in Brooklyn, New York for the Pacific Pearl Company. It was hand powered and had an interconnected system of a high-pressure air chamber or compartment, a pressurized working chamber for the crew, and water ballast tanks. Problems with decompression sickness and overfishing of the pearl beds led to the abandonment of Sub Marine Explorer in Panama in 1869 despite publicized plans to shift the craft to the pearl beds of Baja California.



Sub Marine Explorer had an external high air pressure chamber which was filled with compressed air at a pressure of up to 200 pounds per square inch (1,400 kPa) by a steam pump mounted on an external support vessel. Water ballast tanks were flooded to make the vessel submerge. Pressurized air was then released into the vessel to build up enough pressure so it would be possible to open two hatches on the underside, while keeping water out. This meant that air pressure inside the submarine had to equal water pressure at diving depth, exposing the crew to high pressure, making them susceptible to decompression sickness, which was unknown at the time. To surface, more of the pressurized air was used to empty the ballast tanks of water. A contemporary (August 1869) newspaper account of dives in Sub Marine Explorer off Panama documents 11 days of diving to 103 feet (31 m), spending four hours per dive, and ascending with a quick release of the pressure to ambient (sea level) pressure. Modern reconstruction of Explorer's systems suggests an ascension rate of 1 foot per second (0.30 m/s), or a rise to the surface in just under two minutes. The problems of decompression do not appear to have been clearly understood; the contemporary reference notes that at the conclusion of the dives, "all the men were again down with fever; and, it being impossible to continue working with the same men for some time, it was decided, the experiment having proved a complete success, to lay the machine up in an adjacent cove...."(The New York Times, August 29, 1869). [1]

The basic premise of Sub Marine Explorer was based on an earlier 1858 patent by Van Buren Ryerson of New York for a diving bell also named "Sub Marine Explorer." Ryerson and Kroehl had worked together, Kroehl using Ryerson's bell to blast and partially clear Diamond Reef in New York harbor. Kroehl, working with Brooklyn shipbuilder Ariel Patterson, extensively modified Ryerson's design, extending the hull form to a 12 m-long (39 ft), 3.3 m-diameter (11 ft) craft of intricate design. While some have termed Kroehl's Sub Marine Explorer a "glorified diving bell," its sophisticated systems of ballast, pressurization and propulsion make it a nineteenth-century antecedent to more modern "lock out" dive systems and subs.


After construction, the Sub Marine Explorer was partially disassembled and transported to Panama in December 1866, where she was reassembled to harvest oysters and pearls in the Pearl Islands. Experimental dives with the Sub Marine Explorer in the Bay of Panama ended in September 1867 when Kroehl died of "fever". The craft languished on the beach until 1869, when a new engineer and crew took it to the Pearl Islands to harvest oyster shells and pearls. The 1869 dives, with known depths and dive profiles that would have inevitably led to decompression sickness, resulted in the entire crew succumbing to what was described as "fever". Because of this, the craft was laid up in a cove on the shores of the island of San Telmo in the Pearl Islands.

The submarine's rusting hull was well known to locals, but they had presumed it to be a remnant of World War II. In 2001, after many years of misidentification, the remains of the Sub Marine Explorer piqued the interest of archaeologist James P. Delgado of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Identification of the craft, with the assistance of submarine historians Richard Wills and Eugene Canfield, led to four archaeological expeditions to the Explorer in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008. Documentation of the Sub Marine Explorer has resulted in detailed plans, including interpretive reconstructions of the craft, scientific study of its environment and interaction with the surrounding water, bathymetric assessment, scientific analysis of rates of corrosion, and considerable historical research. Work in 2006 was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Office of Ocean Exploration. The 2008 expedition was funded by the Waitt Institute for Discovery of La Jolla. The vessel is now included in the Historic American Engineering Record of the U.S. National Park Service. A recent (2007) report summarizes preservation options for the submarine for the Panamanian government and recommends the recovery, preservation and public display of the craft in Panama. Metal analysis confirms that the craft is in a critical stage and faces irreversible deterioration and loss.

The Sub Marine Explorer is the subject of two documentary films; the first was an episode of the "Sea Hunters" that aired on National Geographic International Television in 2004, and the second, by Der Spiegel, which aired in Europe and in the US on the Smithsonian channel in 2010. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

Submarine Watercraft capable of independent operation underwater

A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation underwater. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability. It is also sometimes used historically or colloquially to refer to remotely operated vehicles and robots, as well as medium-sized or smaller vessels, such as the midget submarine and the wet sub. Submarines are referred to as "boats" rather than "ships" irrespective of their size.

Decompression sickness Disorder caused by dissolved gases in the tissues forming bubbles during reduction of the surrounding pressure

Decompression sickness describes a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body on depressurisation. DCS most commonly refers to problems arising from underwater diving decompression, but may be experienced in other depressurisation events such as emerging from a caisson, flying in an unpressurised aircraft at altitude, and extravehicular activity from spacecraft. DCS and arterial gas embolism are collectively referred to as decompression illness.

Airlock device which permits the passage of people and objects between a pressure vessel and its surroundings

An airlock is a device which permits the passage of people and objects between a pressure vessel and its surroundings while minimizing the change of pressure in the vessel and loss of air from it. The lock consists of a small chamber with two airtight doors in series which do not open simultaneously.

Underwater environment The aquatic or submarine environment

The Underwater environment refers to the region below the surface of, and immersed in, liquid water in a natural or artificial feature, such as an ocean, sea, lake, pond, reservoir, river, canal, or aquifer. Some characteristics of the underwater environment are universal, but many depend on the local situation.

Saturation diving Diving for periods long enough to bring all tissues into equilibrium with the partial pressures of the inert components of the breathing gas

Saturation diving is diving for periods long enough to bring all tissues into equilibrium with the partial pressures of the inert components of the breathing gas. It is a diving technique that allows divers to reduce the risk of decompression sickness when they work at great depths for long periods of time. because once saturated, decompression time does not increase with further exposure. Saturation divers typically breathe a helium–oxygen mixture to prevent nitrogen narcosis, but at shallow depths saturation diving has been done on nitrox mixtures.

Submersible Small watercraft able to navigate under water

A submersible is a small watercraft designed to operate underwater. The term submersible is often used to differentiate from other underwater vessels known as submarines, in that a submarine is a fully autonomous craft, capable of renewing its own power and breathing air, whereas a submersible is usually supported by a surface vessel, platform, shore team or sometimes a larger submarine. In common usage by the general public, however, the word submarine may be used to describe a craft that is by the technical definition actually a submersible. There are many types of submersibles, including both manned and unmanned craft, otherwise known as remotely operated vehicles or ROVs. Submersibles have many uses worldwide, such as oceanography, underwater archaeology, ocean exploration, adventure, equipment maintenance and recovery, and underwater videography.

Diving bell Chamber for transporting divers vertically through the water

A diving bell is a rigid chamber used to transport divers from the surface to depth and back in open water, usually for the purpose of performing underwater work. The most common types are the open-bottomed wet bell and the closed bell, which can maintain an internal pressure greater than the external ambient. Diving bells are usually suspended by a cable, and lifted and lowered by a winch from a surface support platform. Unlike a submersible, the diving bell is not designed to move under the control of its occupants, nor to operate independently of its launch and recovery system.

Underwater habitat Human habitable underwater enclosure filled with breathable gas

Underwater habitats are underwater structures in which people can live for extended periods and carry out most of the basic human functions of a 24-hour day, such as working, resting, eating, attending to personal hygiene, and sleeping. In this context 'habitat' is generally used in a narrow sense to mean the interior and immediate exterior of the structure and its fixtures, but not its surrounding marine environment. Most early underwater habitats lacked regenerative systems for air, water, food, electricity, and other resources. However, recently some new underwater habitats allow for these resources to be delivered using pipes, or generated within the habitat, rather than manually delivered.

Diving chamber Hyperbaric pressure vessel for human occupation used in diving operations

A diving chamber is a vessel for human occupation, which may have an entrance that can be sealed to hold an internal pressure significantly higher than ambient pressure, a pressurised gas system to control the internal pressure, and a supply of breathing gas for the occupants.

Julius Hermann Kroehl was a German American inventor and engineer. He invented and built the first submarine able to dive and resurface on its own, the Sub Marine Explorer, technically advanced for its era. His achievements in architecture, civil and mechanical engineering were also significant.

James Preston Delgado, Ph.D. is a maritime archaeologist, historian, maritime preservation expert, author, television host, and explorer.

Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment Whole-body exposure suit that allows submariners to escape from a sunken submarine

Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment (SEIE), also known as Submarine Escape and Immersion Equipment, is a whole-body suit and one-man life raft, designed by British company RFD Beaufort Limited, that allows submariners to escape from a sunken submarine. The suit provides protection against hypothermia and is rapidly replacing the Steinke hood rescue device. The suit allows survivors to escape a disabled submarine at depths down to 600 feet (183 m), with an ascent speed of 2–3 meters/second, at a rate of eight or more sailors per hour.

Pacific Pearl Company

The Pacific Pearl Company was incorporated in the American state of New York on November 18, 1863. Principal officers included John Chadwick as President, George Wrightson as Treasurer, and Julius H. Kroehl as Chief Engineer. Other shareholders included William Henry Tiffany, Charles D. Poston and William M.B. Hartley. The company was a venture to harvest pearls and pearl shells in the Pacific Ocean. The first site chosen was Panama, in particular the Pearl Islands. After Kroehl recovered sufficiently from malaria he contracted while serving the Union Navy during the Vicksburg Campaign, he began designing and building a vessel at Ariel Patterson's Shipyard near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Also being built nearby was the Intelligent Whale under the direction of Scovel S. Merriam. There were many companies active in submarine salvage at this time.

In underwater diving, ascending and descending is done using strict protocols to avoid problems caused by the changes in ambient pressure and the hazards of obstacles near the surface or collision with vessels. Diver certification and accreditation organisations place importance on these protocols early in their diver training programmes.

Decompression practice Techniques and procedures for safe decompression of divers

The practice of decompression by divers comprises the planning and monitoring of the profile indicated by the algorithms or tables of the chosen decompression model, to allow asymptomatic and harmless release of excess inert gases dissolved in the tissues as a result of breathing at ambient pressures greater than surface atmospheric pressure, the equipment available and appropriate to the circumstances of the dive, and the procedures authorized for the equipment and profile to be used. There is a large range of options in all of these aspects.

Isla San Telmo is located in the southeast area of the Pearl Islands in Panama. It is the first landsighting when sailing to the port of Panama. The Reserva Natural Isla San Telmo was established in 1996 as a protection measure for the island; marine turtles are noted on the beaches, endemic birds and animals are found in the premontane forest, and the island waters are a whale breeding area.

History of underwater diving History of the practice of descending below the waters surface to interact with the environment

The history of underwater diving starts with freediving as a widespread means of hunting and gathering, both for food and other valuable resources such as pearls and coral, By classical Greek and Roman times commercial applications such as sponge diving and marine salvage were established, Military diving also has a long history, going back at least as far as the Peloponnesian War, with recreational and sporting applications being a recent development. Technological development in ambient pressure diving started with stone weights (skandalopetra) for fast descent. In the 16th and 17th centuries diving bells became functionally useful when a renewable supply of air could be provided to the diver at depth, and progressed to surface supplied diving helmets - in effect miniature diving bells covering the diver's head and supplied with compressed air by manually operated pumps - which were improved by attaching a waterproof suit to the helmet and in the early 19th century became the standard diving dress.

Outline of underwater diving Hierarchical outline list of articles related to underwater diving

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to underwater diving:

Index of underwater diving Alphabetical listing of underwater diving related articles

The following index is provided as an overview of and topical guide to underwater diving:

Built-in breathing system System for supply of breathing gas on demand within a confined space

A built-in breathing system is a source of breathing gas installed in a confined space where an alternative to the ambient gas may be required for medical treatment, emergency use, or to minimise a hazard. They are found in diving chambers, hyperbaric treatment chambers, and submarines.


  1. Delgado, James P. (6 March 2012). Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns, and Pearls. Texas A&M University Press. p. 100. ISBN   978-1-60344-472-9 . Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  2. "America's Lost Submarine". Smithsonian Channel . Smithsonian Institution . Retrieved 2012-08-23.

Coordinates: 8°16′54″N78°50′45″W / 8.28158°N 78.8459°W / 8.28158; -78.8459