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GES012 - Soviet Submarine

December 2009

I'd seen this on the Forums, and was quite amazed by what washes up on our shores. The fact it was a floating museum put me off a bit. I'd prefer to explore one in it's natural state, decayed or otherwise. However getting into Russian subs can be a little tricky, especially as most sit under the icecaps waiting to start armageddon.

I got a message from GE031 the day I got back from xmas hols, that he was planning to go to the Sub and had acquired the necessary equipment, namely a boat. He was doing stuff in the area with GE023. I rushed to buy a ticket to Strood, clutching a pair of wellies, and I was off. The sub sits just down the street from Strood train station, in the harbour. However in the snow and ice, it was very tricky to walk down there. It was only when I got to the harbour's edge did I realise just how insane this was. I've done some insane things on explores, but this one was the daddy.

The U 475 was launched in the height of the cold war in 1967, and patrolled the seas until 1994. The sub was used for training Libyan, Cuban, and Indian sailors, and saw active service keeping tabs on NATO. It could carry 22 Torpedo's including 2 with low yield nuclear warheads. It's now owned by a guy called John, who opened it as a museum, but it didn't work out, and now lies listing due to a failed ballast off Rochester. A garbage skip boat is tied up next to the Sub, just to add to the pity.

GE031 set about inflating the boat with GE023, while I checked out the access to the water. As I climbed down the steps, a 15m stretch of slimy wet mud reached down to the river's edge. It didn't look good. As I took a few testing steps, the mud went to over half way up my wellington boot. Each step involved some strength to pull the boot out for the next step.

Foolishly, or cunningly, GE023 didn't have wellies with him. So we had to carry/drag him down the mud in the boat. It was muddy, painful and slow progress. A couple of times the mud went over the top of my wellies. I was somewhat worried about the freezing tidal river we were approaching. None of us knew whether the tide was coming in or going out. Eventually we reached the water's edge, and swung GE023 into the water with the boat.

Exhausted, we got everything into the 3 man boat, while trying not to cover everything in mud. I hung my legs over the side, trying to clean the mud off. GE031 using his superhuman strength began to row to the sub, while I tried to navigate. This was the most dangerous bit, if anything punctured the boat, it's unlikely we would have survived the black icy cold waters. Equally we were only a mile from the mouth of the Medway, and the English Channel. One could clearly see the currents running about in the Medway in front of us. We tried to go upstream to the sub, allowing for currents pushing us downstream. It was rather hair-raising, but I was glad when we were getting close. Now the tricky task of docking. We aimed for the back of the sub, where there were some holes we could tie up at, and it sat low enough in the water to climb up on. If we missed the back of the sub, the current would have been a nightmare to fight against to get back.

We reached the back of the sub, and I grabbed the 3cm wide holes with my fingers, and Urbanity chucked me the washing line rope to tie up with. Secure and docked, I carefully climbed up onto the sub. It was very narrow at this point.The snow didn't really help matters either.

I carefully moved up the sub's spine, glad to reach a section where I could stand up. A few more steps and I came across a bit where there looked like there was a hatch. There was also netting and a number of pigeons laughing at the attempts of the owner to keep them out. The hatch was sealed, so on I went to the conning tower. There was another sunken entry in the top of the sub on the far side of the conning tower. However this was also sealed. I'd heard of the scary ascents of the conning tower by other explorers, and had hoped to avoid it. But as I turned back, there was my nemesis.

The steps started over the hull of the sub, but with the sub listing to one side, the top of the steps were over the black river below. We also didn't know how strong the steps were. I'm not sure how, but I lost the short straw pulling, and was the one to go up/die first. I climbed up as quick as I could, to get it over with, and was glad to climb into the top of the conning tower. That was until I saw all the pigeons roosting in there. As I pointed the torch down, I saw the hatch. I breathed in as much air as I could and descended down the 2 metres to the hatch. As I did I was battered by startled pigeons, the air thick with feathers, dry shit and other nasty toxins. It was horrible. When I got to the hatch, I tried it, and with some strength flipped it up. I put the call to the others, and they climbed the tower. I then went down the hatch, so to speak!

We passed the periscope in a separate little area just above the main part of the sub.

Another short descent, and we were in the main part of the sub. The galley went forward and aft in the sub. A huge collection of wheels sat on a wall in front of us, heavens knows what they were all for, and which one you would do first in an emergency.

Tucked in the other side was a navigation type room with a scanner like device.

Due to narrow confines, we split up, myself going to the rear of the sub, and the other two to the front. The back of the sub was where the engine rooms were, and then at the far back, a torpedo room. The soviet emblazoned torpedo tubes looked cool, what was not so cool was the very large torpedo sat in front of them. I knew it was decommissioned and sans warhead, but even so, look at the bugger!

Having got the camera out, I began working my way back to the middle of the sub, snapping here and there. There were obviously loads of instances where Cyrillic script was used to guide the Russian submariners.

Just past here was what I would assume to be the main engine that drives the subs propulsion.

Everywhere there seemed to be walls of dials, gauges and knobs that obviously did something. It was all very confusing to the untrained eye. I climbed up the steps to the main level.

As I went to climb through the door hole to the next section, I encountered a rare problem, that submariners never really had to deal with. A GE023 in the way, many a seafaring legend had spoken of this problem.

Back in the middle of the sub below the conning tower, I went to the front of the sub, there were more crew areas up this end. A long wooden lined galley had different rooms off to the side, the captain's quarters, kitchen, eating area etc.

This is where the crew slept.

Ever wondered how you poop on a sub? Well wonder no more, as it's pretty much the same as everywhere else.

The other end of the sub was similar to the rear end, a load of torpedo tubes.

There was also a large area where I'm guessing torpedoes and food stores were kept. Tragically it had been changed to a function room for works parties.I guess the owner had to make money on it somehow, he paid £100k for it. Where Communism meets Capitalism!

I walked back to the middle, passing the communications room, I say room, it was more of a broomcupboard.

Just time for a group pose, and we were off, back up through the re-settled pigeons and down the scary ladder rungs.

After the precarious walk along the back of the sub, it was the equally dodgy descent back into the boat. Stepping off the sub into the inflatable, I was glad when I was finally sat down. After undoing the slightly over the top knots that moored us, I pushed us away from the sub, and GE031 set about rowing us back to shore. The battles with the currents and bitter cold prevailed, but we made the river bank. The tide had gone out further, so we had an extra 5m or so to carry @&%#ing GE023 back over the mud. It was horrible, dragging a bit, then squelching through the mud two steps, before another drag of the boat. My wellies disappeared in the mud on several occasions. On one occasion my boot stayed in the mud and my foot came out. It would have been funny were it not so dangerous. We did make it to the top of the river bank by the steps, absolutely exhausted. GE023 lept fresh as a daisy onto the steps, as we got the boat back to GE031's car. After goodbyes, and looks out at what we'd achieved, it was a walk over the precarious icey road to Strood station.

Many thanks to GE031 for arranging and providing the boat, and to GE023 for the company.

N.B. The owner of the sub can be contacted here. He knows explorers have got in, and it may be possible to arrange an official visit, without the nasty mud & inflatable boat ride. Website here: http://www.sovietsub.co.uk/