296: Diving Bell Ships

296: Diving Bell Ships

Brain Junk
Brain Junk
296: Diving Bell Ships

Go look up the Carl Straat diving bell ship. It’s insane to think that it’s possible for people to walk on the bottom of a river in regular clothes and rubber boots. There’s no special equipment except for the boat and compressed air.

Show Notes:

Carl Straat diving bell ship (the video Amy watches during the episode): https://www.tiktok.com/@machinepix/video/7255824577534725418

wocomoMOTORS video short

Ship technology magazine article on the Carl Straat

How the ship works, interview with the captain: https://www.damen.com/insights-center/articles/your-questions-answered-the-german-diving-bell-vessel

Need more weird ships? Check out this wiki of the now decommissioned R/P FLIP


[00:00:03] Speaker A: Welcome to Brain Junk. I’m Amy Barton.

[00:00:05] Speaker B: And I’m Trace Kerr. And today is everything you never knew you wanted to know about diving bell ships.

[00:00:13] Speaker A: I am delighted by swimming, but terrified of drowning. So I’m sort of morbidly fascinated with anything with the word diving. And then this gives me those old timey. Yeah, I’m curious.

[00:00:25] Speaker B: Yeah. This is going to give you the heebie gajibis.

This all takes place on the Rhine river, which goes from Switzerland through Germany and the Netherlands out to the North Sea. You know what a river through so many developed cities needs? A riverbed cleaning crew.

[00:00:42] Speaker C: Yes.

[00:00:43] Speaker B: So I’m going to send you a TikTok of the Carl strot diving bell ship doing its job.

[00:00:48] Speaker A: Oh, this is much more modern than I expected. I expected old timey.

[00:00:53] Speaker B: Right.

[00:00:54] Speaker A: This is going to scare me more.

[00:00:57] Speaker B: It’s going to.

[00:00:59] Speaker A: Oh, my gosh! I can’t wait to hear about the things they have found.

Does it make a pressurized cabin on the floor?

[00:01:07] Speaker B: It does.

[00:01:11] Speaker A: Okay. I might have to conquer my fear and get an internship there.

[00:01:15] Speaker B: That is wild. Yeah.

[00:01:19] Speaker B: So what Amy’s looking at there is a floating tugboat. It’s quite long, very flat, just above the surface of the water. It looks almost like a floating rectangle as opposed to a boat, and has a huge boom, almost like a crane that splits down the middle of the boat. And it reminds me of like a vacuum cleaner attachment with a rectangular room on that far end. And that room that’s on the end is open at the bottom and compressed air is pumped into the arm to keep water out of the room. Have you seen it touch down on the riverbed?

[00:01:52] Speaker A: But it’s wild.

[00:01:53] Speaker A: It’s like a dry river bottom.

[00:01:55] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:01:56] Speaker A: And they’re just roaming around, picking up like an old plate.

I wonder how much effort it takes to move it. Or if they can kind of slowly cook along, or if they have to lift up and pressurize. Sit down and pressurize every time.

[00:02:14] Speaker B: I have so many answers to your questions. Okay.

[00:02:17] Speaker A: I’m going to stop talking.

[00:02:18] Speaker B: So this is in the show notes.

[00:02:20] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:02:20] Speaker B: So go and watch the TikTok. So the boat picks a spot and this arm lowers into the water. Because it has this compressed air, the crew have to get acclimated to this high air pressure. So when the bell is down, it seats against the river bottom at around 22ft down.

[00:02:39] Speaker A: Wow. Yeah.

[00:02:40] Speaker B: And then the crew go downstairs in the middle of this tube, down to where? And it does. It seats on the river bottom. The water is all gone. The rocks are bare. They’re picking up plates. They pick up an anchor. I mean, they are down there cleaning up stuff off the bottom of the river.

[00:02:58] Speaker A: I’m sure they find some absolutely wild things, right.

[00:03:01] Speaker B: Especially because this is the Rhine river. I mean, this has been here for major cities. Yeah. Such a long time. So when they retrieve the dropped anchor, and this is the thing that just makes me go, is it goes down and they’ve put it on the rocks. They know they’re near the anchor, but they’re not there. And so what they do is they raise the arm a little bit. The guys stay in the room, and this little room has like a walkway around the edge that’s maybe person width, right. They stay there. It lifts up, the water comes pouring in. But because it’s pressurized, it doesn’t come above the walkway. And then they just kind of slowly move it. And as the water comes in, it fills the room with fog because of the water hitting the compressed air. And then they move it, and you can see the guys and they’re looking and they’re like, oh, there’s the anchor. And it moves over and it moves over. And when they’re over the anchor, they bring it back down and push all the water out again. And I don’t know about you, but it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.

[00:04:05] Speaker A: Yeah, that would be. Is that in this video? This one’s a shorty.

[00:04:09] Speaker B: No, I do have a longer video that will also be in the show notes.

[00:04:14] Speaker A: I am for sure going to go do some poking around.

[00:04:17] Speaker B: It just raises up and the water is coming in, and it’s like, what are you doing?

[00:04:22] Speaker A: This looks like to me about the size of two horse stalls. And there’s a handful of tools on the wall. And it looks like maybe a winch from the ceiling to pick up heavy things like an anchor.

And they’re just wearing their little rubber boots and they’re cruising. Now I understand why they have rubber boots on, because I’m like, it doesn’t look wet.

[00:04:41] Speaker B: No, it does.

[00:04:42] Speaker A: It’s wet.

[00:04:43] Speaker B: Yeah. And it just seats down there and then pushes all the water out. And the rocks are clean. He was saying, the fellow that’s down there, the captain of the Carl strot, he was saying that because the river is constantly moving, it’s not like the rocks are slimy. It just looks like the beach when the tide is out.

[00:05:01] Speaker A: Yeah, they look very clean. It’s not like the rocks at a lake edge, which is what I’m much more familiar with slimy.

[00:05:08] Speaker B: Exactly.

[00:05:09] Speaker A: No, they look totally. They look lovely.

[00:05:12] Speaker B: And not only that, but they can be down at a max of 32ft. And I was like, it seems like an odd thing. Here’s this boat and it can do this and like, okay, we have to get things off the bottom and it’s better than raking it. But what are they using it for? Well, they use it for maintenance, like inspections on lock doors, water locks, boat anchor points, cargo retrieval, obstacle removal, and even ordinance from World War II.

[00:05:42] Speaker A: So it must have some kind of. Or some functionality for imaging must go along with it to identify problems.

[00:05:50] Speaker B: Yes.

At one point you can see the deck and there is like some preliminary radar sort of stuff. But I mean, you could be like, okay, it’s kind of here and you get the boat oriented. I imagine they anchor or something and then they drop this thing. Captain was saying that once they were down working and a bomb rolled along the bottom and ran into the bell while they were working.

So you hear this clong and you’re like, oh, that’s weird. And then raise it up a little and it would just roll in. And then it was like, oh, that’s a bomb.

[00:06:25] Speaker A: Oh my goodness.

[00:06:26] Speaker A: And I understand that World War II ordinance is still potentially active and really dangerous.

[00:06:32] Speaker B: He was like, it was a very exciting day.

[00:06:34] Speaker A: Oh my gosh.

[00:06:38] Speaker A: And then the next day they’re picking up saucers and just making sure that.

[00:06:44] Speaker B: You can move the Hinges on a lock. But here’s the thing. So I got curious about working in compressed air.

[00:06:52] Speaker A: Yeah.

[00:06:52] Speaker B: Compressed air is equal to the pressure of the water that’s trying to come in. So the crews have to get pressurized to work.

[00:07:00] Speaker A: Right.

[00:07:00] Speaker B: So they drop this thing, they go into a little chamber and it pressurizes them. You can see them like blowing, popping their ears and stuff like that. And then they go down, they can do their work. And at their end of the shift they have to be decompressed because you get bubbles in your blood and that’s bad.

[00:07:16] Speaker A: So the longer they work in that compressed situation, the longer they have to.

[00:07:20] Speaker A: Decompress, I would assume.

[00:07:21] Speaker B: Well, they’re not going down super deep, so that’s not so much of an issue.

[00:07:25] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:07:26] Speaker B: But they still have to do something. And then I was like, well, where else do we use compression? Well, we do it while tunneling, where there’s a high water table. So, for example, I watched a PBS movie about digging tunnels back in the early nineteen s and eighteen s and stuff like that and they were using stationary steam engines to pump compressed air into the dig site.

[00:07:48] Speaker A: Oh, yeah.

[00:07:48] Speaker B: Super safe.

[00:07:49] Speaker A: Super safe.

[00:07:50] Speaker A: I have some concerns about that.

[00:07:52] Speaker B: Me too.

[00:07:53] Speaker A: There are probably some bad stories that go along with that.

[00:07:56] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:07:57] Speaker B: With the boat that you looked at, the Carl Straat. It has been working the Rhine since 1963.

[00:08:03] Speaker A: Oh, wow. That same boat in the picture or that same boat?

[00:08:07] Speaker B: Yes.

[00:08:07] Speaker B: It’s only one boat. As of late 2021, they have plans for the Archimedes and it was going to pick up the job of getting things off the riverbed in the Rhine and the Mosul in Germany.

[00:08:19] Speaker A: Wow. Yeah.

[00:08:20] Speaker A: And this one can be a recreational boat where you can go and spend the night at the bottom of the Rhine. I don’t know if you can do it that long.

[00:08:28] Speaker B: The captain did say he was like, you’re exhausted at the end of the day because it’s a lot of compressed. I was even wondering and I couldn’t find it. We just pressurize it and we go down and we pick stuff up and then we go back up. And I was like, no one’s checking on you guys, are they?

[00:08:42] Speaker A: They’re having a cup of tea and then they’re like, I feel pretty good. Let’s go back and see what other crazy stuff is down there, you guys.

[00:08:50] Speaker B: Yeah, I think that’s exactly what’s happening.

[00:08:52] Speaker A: That job would never get old.

[00:08:54] Speaker B: That would be fascinating.

[00:08:55] Speaker A: Endlessly. Like, do you guys think that’s a foot? I think that’s a foot. Let’s go check it out.

[00:09:01] Speaker B: What do they. Yes, they’ve had to have find bits and pieces of people. Of course.

[00:09:07] Speaker A: Buried treasure. Well, abandoned treasure.

[00:09:10] Speaker B: Jewelry. I do like that in the video. What do they find with this brown, like, little plate?

[00:09:18] Speaker A: Is that a fiesta wear that looks like a cobalt fiestaware saucer?

[00:09:26] Speaker B: Yeah. And then I wondered the stuff that. Okay, so they have to get the anchor, because clearly that could catch on a boat, right? If it’s only 22ft deep. If you had a low boat, that could be really dangerous. But are they just coming home with all sorts of really cool stuff in their pockets? That’s what I want to know.

[00:09:39] Speaker A: True. Where does all of that go? There must be some sort of policies.

[00:09:44] Speaker A: Like if you find something really awesome.

[00:09:46] Speaker B: Yeah, but who are you going to tell? That’s true.

[00:09:49] Speaker B: Look, Franz, do you want to end up down in this bell when the water comes back in? I didn’t think so. I’m taking this home.

[00:09:54] Speaker C: Germans do rock, paper, scissors.

[00:09:56] Speaker A: What’s their version of that beer?

[00:09:59] Speaker B: Knockwurst?

[00:10:03] Speaker A: I like that.

[00:10:04] Speaker A: And that’s a well trafficked river.

[00:10:06] Speaker B: Right.

[00:10:06] Speaker A: That would be a shipping lane in addition to just being a pleasure cruise.

[00:10:10] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:10:10] Speaker A: I had never thought about that. I wonder what other countries do.

[00:10:14] Speaker B: They just say, be careful, guys.

[00:10:16] Speaker A: It’s a mess out there. Like, is anybody going down the Thames looking that? I would like to see what they find at the bottom of the Thames.

[00:10:23] Speaker B: I don’t know. I didn’t look into that. I would imagine field trip.

[00:10:26] Speaker A: Yeah, it would be cool.

[00:10:29] Speaker B: So that’s your diving bell ship.

[00:10:31] Speaker A: I had no idea. And I’m going to absolutely be subjecting the family like, you guys, hang on. Look at this.

It’s amazing.

Monopolizing the tv later, of course. I love it.

You all should definitely visit the show notes and click the video link. Videos of Trace is kind to you and puts more because it’s wild. They’re just in this white room on a rocky bed.

[00:10:57] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:10:57] Speaker A: So, brainjunkpodcast.com for all our show notes. And if you’d like to tell Trace how you felt about that, you can go to our social media platforms.

[00:11:07] Speaker B: You feel good about it.

[00:11:08] Speaker A: I know you do.

[00:11:09] Speaker A: You’re interested. That was exciting. Facebook and instagram, we’re brain junk podcasts. So chat us up wherever you hear your podcasts. We are there. All right. Trace and I will catch you next time when we share more of everything you never knew you wanted to know, and I guarantee you will not be bored.

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