Visiting Easter Island (Boat-Based)

Visiting the Simpson (continued)

I'm about to climb down the hatch. (Photo by Marcie Connelly-Lynn)  

Now it was my turn. I rode the dinghy to the sub, climbed up on deck (using a handy grab-rope hanging from the sail), and met my tour guide, Jean Paul Chassin - Trubert Correa, Oficial de Marina, who welcomed me to the Chilean Submarine Simpson. After we descended through the forward hatch, my guide led me through the entire sub, from stem to stern, and my head was on a swivel as I gawked to take it all in. What an amazing vessel!

I have toured World War II submarines in stateside naval museums, but the Simpson made those subs look like Model T's. Inside the Simpson, everything was very high-tech and fully gadgetized; the bulkheads, sides, and overhead surfaces were crammed with equipment that bristled with knobs and dials and valves and switches, on and on, endlessly throughout the whole interior. I remarked to my guide that the sub was so amazingly complicated, and he nonchalantly replied that he knew how to use every instrument and control, since it was a requirement of his submarine training.

Starting forward, my guide showed me the eight forward torpedo tubes, although he admitted they had only three torpedoes aboard. Every compartment was crammed with gear, and some compartments had sleeping spaces for the crew. Their berths were tiny stacked bunk beds provided with sleeping bags; I noticed there wasn't enough room to sit up in bed. I saw the captain's private quarters and the cabin shared by the executive officer and engineer. There was a comfortable and reasonably spacious wardroom where the officers dine and hang out; the crew eats forward. I also saw the small all-electric galley where the cooks prepare all meals for a crew of 42 using a single four-burner electric stove with oven (plus a microwave oven).There were two small heads (bathrooms), one forward and one aft.

In one compartment, I saw the sub's helm, which consisted of a pair of airplane-style control yokes. I also saw the sonar and radar consoles, which had black curtains around them to dim the ambient light. According to my guide, the sub has three levels including the sail and a lower deck. He also said the Simpson was 20 years old, although the meticulously maintained interior made the sub appear practically new. The sub carries 200 meters of chain for its anchor.

In the machinery areas, I saw the four huge diesel engines and electric generators that power the diesel-electric sub; there were numerous banks of electrical controls and readouts to manage the battery banks and operate all the electrical machinery. The generators or batteries power an electric motor, and all the way aft, I saw where the shaft exited to the single propeller. The aft compartment didn't have any torpedo tubes, but I did see an exercycle for the crew's use; they also have a DVD player, TV, and an ice cream machine.

The high point of the tour was getting to play with the periscope. The part that you look through was surprisingly massive though it rotated easily. Peering into the eyepiece I could see Nine of Cups peacefully riding at anchor. The reason David asked me to bring a diskette is that the sub has a digital camera hooked up to the periscope, and as I aimed at Nine of Cups a crewmember used an ordinary PC to display the camera's output and capture an image to disk. I thought it was funny (though I didn't dare laugh) that the PC was running Microsoft Windows and the application crashed, requiring a reboot of the PC.

As my fascinating tour ended and we walked back to the forward compartment, my guide said that after Easter Island they'll go to Hawaii, then San Diego, California, participating in naval exercises along the way. When I climbed up to the foredeck, there were people waiting to go below, and I briefly met Francisco, the communications officer we had talked to on the radio.

Being an engineer, I thought the sub tour was really interesting; to be sure it's a very complex machine but in return you get some amazing capabilities. I have to say, though, that submarines aren't for everybody. You have so many people crammed into such a small space, with very limited creature comforts and a very difficult mission. It's not a place for claustrophobics or for those who dislike or distrust machinery and technology. To do well on a submarine, you really have to be somewhat of a techno-geek, and someone who doesn't need a lot of elbow room or even daylight or fresh air.

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