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The thing about submarines is they are heavy.  And the bigger they are the heavier they are.  But it's easy to sink a boat right?  We'll yes, but only if you're willing to fill it with water.  Sinking a boat with 227 cubic feet of air inside means that the boat must weight more that the 227 cubic feet of water that it's going to push aside. That is about 7 tons of water!  So to make the boat heavy enough to sink we add concrete, steel, or lead.  And then we build in some tanks that can be flooded with water.  It's the water in those tanks that will tip the scales and allow the submarine to slip under the surface with her precious cargo of air.  So we have two types of ballast, "ballast weights" and "ballast tanks".

Ballast Weight

We calculated that 5 tons of ballast weight is needed in addition to get the submarine to sink after 35 cubic feet of water floods into the ballast tanks. Five tons is 10,000 pounds or about the same as two cars.

(1) Area required for 5 tons of
steel ballast.

(2) Area required for 5 tons of
lead ballast

(3) Model sections of lead

Perhaps Simon got his lead from
Colwell Lead Co?  This ad is from "The Metal Worker", 1902

Concrete or Iron or Lead

Simon had all of these available to him for ballast weight. Concrete is the least expensive, and you'd thing it would be heavy enough but the problem is that that 5 tons of concrete takes up too much space. Concrete only weighs about 150 pounds for each cubic foot.  The water being pushed aside weighs 62.4  pounds per cubic foot, so you'd need almost 1 cubic ft of concrete for every 2 cubic feet of air to take down. That's not going to leave much room inside.

So what about steel?  It's much better. A cubic foot of steel weighs 490 pounds and will drag down more than 7 cubic feet of air.  (1) The CAD model shows the amount of steel that would need to be set on the floor in order to total 5 tons.  (2) But compare that to the next CAD model that shows the lead needed.  Lead weighs a whopping 708 pounds per cubic foot!

(3) The lead will need to be added to Argonaut Jr. after it is in the water because the wooden wheels will never take the 5 tons of extra weight. So the lead must be fit in around the ballast tanks and the divers hatch in the bottom. And it will be set in as bricks so it can be moved a little at a time in and out of the hatch.

Simon Lake in Argonaut Jr.

Anchor stowed on Argonaut Jr,
on the left side of the image.

Making the anchors.
..more to come.


Bow and stern anchors hung on each end of the Argonaut and were lowered by capstans near the center of the boat. Or the anchors were possibly lowered from the capstans and just swung up over cleats at the bow and stern.  Either way these anchors could be lowered to the bottom, allowing the Argonaut Jr. to rise off the bottom and give a diver room to clear the bottom of the sub when moving thought the bottom hatch.  These anchors also make up some to the ballast weight on Argonaut Jr.


We've decided to make them adjustable so different configurations can be tested.  We'll make lead anchors that can have 20+ lb disc added as needed.  The top of the anchor will be a cone shaped lead cast around an eye bolt so we can tie onto it and also cast around a piece of all thread that sticks down so we can add or remove disc from the stack. Each anchor will weigh about 125 pounds or 250 pounds together.


Casting the drop weights.

Building the drop weight system.

Testing the drop weight system.

Casting the last of the lead.
Installing the Drop Weights
all 3,500 pounds!

Drop Weights

Getting back to the surface is important. The submarine may be taking on water or the air supply could fail and prevents us from blowing the water out of the ballast tanks.  For those emergencies we use drop weights. A drop weight is just something heavy that you can through overboard and make your boat lighter.  The anchors are two obvious drop weights.  If we lower then all the way then the rope can let go from the winch, allowing the anchors to fall to the bottom.  If the submarine is ambient and the divers hatch can be opened then we can simply lift additional weight from the floor and drop them out the hatch. Finally additional drop weights will be installed between the wooded frames below the floor.  Turning a handle inside the submarine will move a latch below these weights and allow them to fall free, immediately making the submarine 3,100 pounds lighter.  

















Ballast Tanks

We don't know exactly where Simon put the ballast tanks inside of the Argonaut Jr., but we can see the plumbing that would have vented the tanks so they could flood. Both sides of the top hatch trunk have pipes that likely each connected to a ballast tank on below.  When the vents were opened, another valve in the floor would have been opened to allow water to flood into the ballast tanks.  When boat is heavy enough to slowly sink the valves would be closed. 

If the anchors were hanging below the boat then they would have touched bottom first.  Once the anchors were sitting on the bottom, they would no longer be pulling the Argonaut Jr. down, so the boat may have then floated off the bottom by it's anchor ropes.  This would have given a diver plenty of room to slip out the bottom hatch onto the ocean without having to crawl out from under the submarine.

When Simon wanted to roll the Argonaut across the bottom, he would simply raise the anchors so the wheels took on there weight. On the bottom the Argonaut Jr. would have only weighed a hundred pounds or so.  And the weight could be increased by adding more water to the ballast tanks, or by blowing water out the bottom of the tanks using the air stored in the air tank.


Testing a design on paper.

Ballast Tank Size and Freeboard

It's all about trade-offs.  The bigger you make the ballast tanks, the higher you are out of the water when they are empty.  The height out of the water is called "freeboard".  The more freeboad the better, because it keeps waves from pouring into the submarine when you have the hatch open on the surface.  But the bigger you make the tanks the less room you have for crew and equipment inside the submarine.  After you bang your head a few times you will start wishing you had more room. :) 





1/4 Scale Model Ballast Testing

We built a scale model which allowed us to also test the displacement, freeboard, and ballast weight calculations.

Ballasting for the Wheels and Diving

So you get the submarine trimmed by adding just enough extra lead so that when your ballast tanks are all empty you are about 200 pounds heavier that the water you and your sub displace.  Why 200 pounds?  Because the Argonaut Junior has wheels and you'll need a little traction on the rear wheels to grip bottom as you drive along.  Then when you find a nice dive spot you will lower the anchors to the bottom.  When the 250 pounds of anchors are sitting on the bottom, the Argonaut Jr. will rise up off the bottom as you let out the anchor rope.  When you get about 4 to 5 feet off the bottom you will have enough room under the

Simon Lake - The Scrounger





Soda fountains in the 1890's stored compressed CO2 in tanks of various shapes and sizes, often displayed as a marvel of the time and again a fascination seen today in rise of Steampunk.                

The Scuba tanks the regulator used in Argonaut Jr. 2010
were not invented until 1942 by Emile Gagnan and Jacques
Cousteau.  So Simon scrounged for his tank and
compressor: "... our compressed-air reservoir was a tank
from a bankrupt soda-fountain, and the pump for
compressing air had begun life as a plumber's hand-pump."    

Plumbers Pump illustration from "The Metal Worker" 1902

 submarine to exit thought the divers hatch in the bottom.

Ballasting for the Diver

A diver leaving the sub will increase the sub's buoyancy by the equivalent water weight of his volume.

Because the air pressure inside the submarine is equal to the water pressure outside the diver's hatch, you can open the bottom hatch and the water will only lap at the opening.  But as you drop out of the hatch, an interesting thing happens.  As you slip below the water, the water rises up through the hatch.  Inside the submarine, you were taking up space.  As you exit the submarine air moves to fill the space and it moves out of the way of the water that is pushing up through the bottom hatch.  So how much water comes in?  If you filled a bath tub to the rim, and then got in and floated, the water that spills over the side will weight exactly what you weigh.  That is your displacement.  But part of you is floating above the water. If you held onto the sides and pulled yourself completely under then you would spill a little more water out.  Now the water on the floor is equal to your volume.  If you put it in a box that could be measured in cubic inches.  So if a 180 pound diver gets out of the submarine, then a little more that 180 pounds of water is is going to rise up in the divers trunk.  And that's just perfect because the anchors are only holding the Argonaut Jr. down with about 200 pounds so if water in the trunk replaces the weight of the diver and the submarine stays on the bottom. And if 5 or 10 pounds of extra water is added, that is no problem either because the Argonaut Jr. is pulling up against the anchors with about 50 pounds of force. Even if that is reduced to 40 pounds the submarine will not sink back to the bottom.  However it is important to keep the extra water in the divers trunk.  If air is added to the inside of the submarine then the extra water will be pushed out making the submarine too light; and it will lift off the bottom and start on its way to the surface without the diver!

Ambient Air Control and Ballast Air

2nd stage scuba regulator valve.

I took an old regulator apart and it looks like no problem to rig it by putting the diaphragm on the end of a pipe with a float inside.  The float could extend to the bottom of the sub and would transfer the psi at the bottom of the hull to the valve which would be 18 inches higher in Argonaut's case.  We could have one on each side and that would give us 60 cfm which would be more than enough.  On most dives the decent speed will be controlled by how fast you crank the submarine down to the bottom where the anchors will be sitting.

Ballast Tank Control Valves

Bottom and top of the ballast
tanks with the valves shown.

Detail of a possible configuration
of the flood valves

Flood valve control handle and
ballast tank inspection port.

The valves in the top of the ballast tanks are used to fill and release air and they are common PVC ball valves.  The valves in the bottom of the tank are more complicated. For most dives they will be locked open, allowing the water to enter and leave the tanks when air is vented or forced into the tanks.  But they will be closed when back on the surface. The ballast tanks are below the water line even when the Argonaut Jr. is on the surface. So having them closed allows for the air pressure in the tanks to be release without water flooding in through the bottom. This allow for the tank to leak or for work to be done through the inspection hatch with the submarine still in the water.  It also lets almost all of the water to be expelled from the tank so the wood has a chance to dry out. These bottom "flood valves" must also act as check valves; automatically opening to let excess pressure inside the tank to vent safely into the water.  The air system will have about 150 psi of pressure above the pressure inside the sub, so if a ballast tank was pressurized to force the water out with the bottom valve accidentally left closed, the pressure would be enough to cause the tank to explode. 

Occasionally we may want to close the bottom valves during a dive. This is a dangerous procedure if not closely monitored but it has advantages.  A ballast tank that is left open at the bottom is called a "soft tank".  Soft tanks on submarines are commonly completely flooded with water during dives.  If a portion of the tank had air remaining inside, the air would compress as the submarine descended and as the air compressed the submarine would lose some of it's displacement and sink faster.  So in order to trim a submarine we want "hard tanks".  A hard tank can have some air left inside in order to make easily adjust the submarine's displacement as needed.  If the submarines displacement is adjusted so that it is just slightly negative then it will slowly sink deeper.  And slowly changing depth is important for an ambient submarine because time is needed for additional air to flow into the cabin and for the passengers to equalize their ears to the change in pressure.  With the valves in the bottom of the ballast tanks, the Argonaut Jr. will be able to add air as needed to the tanks in order to adjust the submarines displacement and then close the bottom flood valves so the pressure inside the ballast tank and the volume of air tapped does not change as the submarine descends.  The danger is that the pressure of the air inside the submarine and the water outside the submarine will become too much for the tank and the tank will implode.  To avoid this, only the two smaller ballast tanks on either side of the divers trunk should be used as hard tanks and the submarine should not descend more than 20 feet after closing the flood valves.

Slow descents can easily be done in the Argonaut Jr. without using the hard tanks.  To do some the boat is simply trimmed so that it still has 50 to 100 pounds of negative buoyancy when the ballast tanks are completely flooded.  To trim the boat in this manner it will be necessary to add up the weight of the passengers and add or remove some of the lead weight ballast as needed.  To submerge the submarine the fist step is to lower the two anchors until they are sitting on the bottom.  That will make the boat 200 pound lighter.  Then flood all of the ballast tanks.  The boat would now normally be 50 to 100 pounds heavier than it's displacement and begin to sink, however it will remain on the surface with just a little of the conning tower out of the water.  The reason is that anchors that weigh over 200 pounds are on the bottom an not weighing down the boat.  Now you only need to turn the cranks to pull in the anchor rode, that's "rope" to you land lubbers.  Because the anchors are 200 pounds and the submarine has less than 100 pounds of positive buoyancy; the anchors will stay on the bottom and the submarine will descend only as fast as you wind in the line.

Building the Ballast Tanks

Mike Bearden, Kay and I having
just completed the divers trunk
and surrounding ballast tanks.


The last of the ballast tank
partitions installed. 


We've started adding all of the
hardware, vents, flood valves,
and other hardware that must be
in place before we can close up
the sides of the ballast tanks.

Sanding down the edges of
the fiberglass tape.

"Z" helping to sand the bottom
hatch seat.

Testing for fit in the diver's trunk.
...better stay on the diet.

The tanks with their plumbing
stubbed out and epoxied to
make them waterproof.

We have started on the ballast tanks.  Lots of clamps and even more very sticky epoxy and a friend to help is all it takes. The next night Kay and I completed setting in the rest of the ballast tank partitions.












Ballast Weight Calculations

Back from the scales: 2,560#

The numbers below are estimates and the actual numbers have turned out better, as hoped, because we tried to be concretive in our estimates.  For example we calculated the weight of the hull without accounting for the 60 gallons of epoxy we used to make it waterproof.  And we built the steel structure of the drop weight out of much heavier than needed steel.  So our estimated 1,482 pound for the hull actually came out to 2,560 pounds.  That means we need less lead ballast.  And our estimated 3,102 pounds for the drop weights turned out to be 3,633 pounds or 528 pounds over the estimate.  Another good thing as is reduces the amount of lead required inside the hull by 1,660 pounds, so instead of 7,353 pounds, we only need 6,803 pounds inside.


Argonaut Jr. 2010 - Buoyancy Calculations - Version #4      
Water Weight 0.0361 Lbs/Cubic In    
Marine Plywood Weight 0.0187 Lbs/Cubic In    
Lead Weight 0.3520 Lbs/Cubic In    
Displacement     Positive Negative
Main Body Horizontal Cross Section Area 6655.00 Sq In    
Height, Bottom to Deck 57.50 Inches    
Main Body Volume 382662.50 Cubic In    
Conning Tower & Divers Trunk Below Hull Bottom Vol 10656.00 Cubic In    
  Total Body Volume 393318.50 Cubic In    
Total Body Displacement (Vol  x Water Weight) 14198.80 Lbs 14198.80  
Plywood Volume, Hull Sides (3/4") 17280.00 Cubic In    
Plywood Volume, Everything Else   (1") 29744.50 Cubic In    
Interior Wood Beams 16149.00 Cubic In    
Total Interior Wood Volume 63173.50 Cubic In    
Hull Wood Weight 1182.68 Lbs   1182.68
Exterior Framing/Wheels Positive Displacement  246.61 Lbs 246.61  
Axel & Steering Hardware 200.00 Lbs   200.00
Ballast Tank Area - Sides 522.00 Sq In    
Ballast Tank Area - Forward & Aft Tanks 3536.00 Sq In    
Ballast Tank Height  15.00 In    
Head Room 39.50 In    
Ballast Tank Volume 60870.00 Cubic In    
Tank Displacement 2197.41 Lbs   2197.41
Anchors 250.00 Lbs   250.00
Passengers 400.00 Lbs   400.00
Scuba Tanks (6) 210.00 Lbs   210.00
Other Hardware and Equipment 75.00 Lbs   75.00
Ballast Weight (Lead) 10140.00 Lbs   10140.00
      14445.40 14655.08
Drop Weight and Internal Weights        
Lead Drop Weight Volume 8821.61 Cubic In    
Lead Drop Weight Mass 3105.21 Lbs    
Lead Drop Weight Mass (Less Displacement) 2786.75 Lbs    
Lead Required Inside 7353.25 Lbs    
Interior Lead Volume 20889.92 Cubic In    
Lead Floor Area 1440.00 Sq In    
Lead Height from Floor 14.51 In    
Divers Trunk        
Divers Trunk Volume 8712.00 Cubic In    
Divers Trunk Displacement 314.50 Lbs    
Ballast Tanks 66120.00 Cubic In    
Conning Tower 10656.00 Sq In    
Main Body Horizontal Cross Section Area 6655.00 Sq In    
Main Body Freeboard (Tanks - CT / Cross Section)  8.33 In    
Air Consumption Cubic Inches Cubic Feet    
Total Interior Volume 393318.50 227.61    
Ballast Tanks Volume 60870.00 35.23    
Interior Lead Ballast Weight Volume 20889.92 12.09    
Interior Framing Volume 63173.50 36.56    
Crew and Equipment (Estimated) 20000.00 11.57    
  Interior Air Volume 228385.08 132.17    
Model Required Actual    
Interior Pounds 114.89 104.55    
Exterior Pounds 48.52 48.95    
Wood 18.48 16.00    
Expoy and Glue   7.00    
Total  181.89 176.50    
  Fixed Ballast Difference   9.91    
  Additional Displacement   4.00    
  Crew and Equipment   14.61    
  Lighter Wood   0.30    
    Total Lead to Add to Interior   28.82    


Facts We Need To Know

Modern regulators have a maximum flow rate of 30+ cubic feet per minute @3000 psi
An 80 cubic foot scuba tank only holds about 77 cubic feet.
Scuba guidelines recommend 1 foot / second max depth changes.
New regulators have an inhale and exhale effort measured as between 0 and 2 column inches of water (ciw.) 2 ciw equals 0.072 psi sensitivity, which is the equivalent of 0.00491 atmospheres.