Technical problems sink Tennessee Tech's chances in World Submarine Invitational '97

Technical problems and a too-close encounter with a guide rope sidelined Tennessee Technological University's chances for glory in the World Submarine Invitational '97, which ended Sunday in Ft. Lauderdale.

The university's human-powered submarine team, represented in the race by navigator Brad Klena of Maryville and propulsor Chad Roberts of Soddy Daisy, entered the three-day competition Friday with high hopes of winning. But a snare in scheduling led Friday's heats to be canceled. Saturday dawned with waters too rough to permit runs and on Sunday, a sunny day with perfectly calm seas, Tennessee Tech's Torpedo III became entangled with a rope marking the course early in its first and only run in the competition. The encounter bent the sub's rudder and disqualified the team from the contest.

Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami also fell victim to problems, leaving only one sub in the field. And that sub, Sublime II, completed the course with no difficulties, winning the invitational for students in the marine magnet program at South Broward High School in Ft. Lauderdale.

Sublime II was the sentimental favorite of the field because it represented the hopes and dreams of the teenager who built it who later died in a plane wreck. His father donated the vessel to South Broward and even served as a crew member aboard it during its successful run Sunday.

While disappointed with the problem that sidelined them, members of Tennessee Tech team were quick to stress positives in evaluating their experience at the WSI.

Team adviser Joe Scardina, professor of mechanical engineering, said the event afforded Tennessee Tech a chance to get some experience with their sub in the open ocean -- experience that should prove valuable for races in 1998 and 1999 that are planned to occur in open water rather than in the U.S. Navy test basins where events in recent years have taken place.

"We got tremendous experience that will pay off for us the most next year and the year after when we go back to the ocean," Scardina said.

Klena, who navigated, said the event was both exciting and frustrating, but despite the setback of the damaged rudder, "it all came down to a lot of good sportsmanship -- getting to meet the organizers and the other teams was well worth the trip."

"We gave it all we had," said Roberts, a former Navy SEAL who joined Tennessee Tech's team for the event and is already planning to take part in the team's next competition, June 23-27, at the fifth running of the International Submarine Races at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in Bethesda, Md. For that event, Tennessee Tech will be racing both two- and one-person subs in a field that is expected to include 20 or more competitors from across the U.S. and throughout the world.

The purpose of the human-powered submarine competitions is educational, with emphasis on improving efficiency of hydrodynamics, propulsion and life support systems for small subsea vehicles. This weekend's event was co-sponsored by FAU's Department of Ocean Engineering and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

Details about Tennessee Tech's submarine team, including images and even downloadable motion videos, can be found online at