Subsea Stories

Hugh Dasken

HUGH DASKEN

Early in December, I got an email from Hugh Dasken, asking if I’d read the book No Time on Our Side about the 1650-foot rescue of Roger Chapman and Roger Mallison in Pisces III off the coast of southern Ireland in 1973. He mentioned that he’d gotten to know Roger Mallison well, which piqued my interest. And I had also just received an obituary for Roger Chapman, the book’s author.

I wrote back to Hugh saying that I’d actually read the book several times. I also added that James McFarlane Sr. of ISE felt that when that book came out there was very scant attention paid to the Canadian contribution to the rescue. So, he had asked several of those involved to write up their stories and “published” an informal version of ““The Canadian Contribution to the No Time on Our Side Story”. I treasure the copy Jim McFarlane gave me.

I wrote back, asking Hugh about his subsea background and how he’d come to know Roger Mallison and was delighted to get a quick reply from him. “I know Al Trice, Mike Macdonald, and Jim McFarlane well having worked together for many years, although not so much recently. Al Robinson was my early mentor. We built the hydraulic/pneumatic systems on a number of the Pisces subs in the 1970s.

“I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with Roger Mallinson, the “other” Roger in the Pisces III rescue, when I was in Edinburgh a few years later with HYCO’s Taurus for a refit. He reminded me of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, and had built a huge pipe organ in the center of his house.

“There are definitely a lot of stories to be told, and I actually talked with Howard White at Harbour Publishing a number of years ago about finding someone to write a book about the industry. I am so glad that you are actually doing it! Please add me to your mailing list.” He also said he was happy to share his contact info: hdasken@telus.net.

Lastly, Hugh added that he was forwarding my information to Tom Gilchrist, “a tech writer who has been involved with the subsea industry going back to the mid-1970s.” Hugh’s connection with Tom Gilchrist proved to be another delight!

Tom Gilchrist in a “Unisuit” with Rod Butler helping adjust a Rat Hat, preparatory to diving through the ice in Tuktoyaktuk in the Canadian High Arctic, circa 1982. (Photo by Bill Belsey, courtesy of Nuytco)

TOM GILCHRIST

Early in January, Tom Gilchrist replied to my email, explaining that he did technical writing, an extension of his former subsea and fuel cell careers. “Now instead of doing the work myself, I write manuals to help other people do it. In turn, that helps me stay involved and in touch.”

I was delighted that Tom included a brief summary of his underwater history. “Like others of my vintage, my early inspiration was Jacques Cousteau. I never missed his TV show and read every book of his and every book about diving in the North Van library where I grew up.  My father was also a significant influence for me. He was a Master Mariner and spent 50 years of his life at sea travelling the world.

“I began sport diving when I was 13 years old. At 15, I had my first hands-on exposure to a real submersible during a summer job at International Hydrodynamics (HYCO) when Pisces V was under construction. For the rest of my high-school years, I worked part-time at the North Van branch of Willoughby’s Diver’s Den which was the centre of the Vancouver sport diving community at the time.  Following that, I got a pipe welding certificate and gained experience in ship construction working at Vancouver Shipyards.

“Fast-forward, circumstances led me to doing some surface welding work for Can-Dive Services. In the meantime, I had also studied electronics technology, and after the welding stint, I was offered employment there working on oceanographic survey jobs and remotely operated vehicles for Jim English. That’s when I got my first experience working on an offshore oil rig.

“However, I really wanted to get in the water as a commercial diver, so the company gave me a leave of absence to go to California to get my mixed-gas diving certificate. It was really just a formality because the school (the Commercial Diving Centre) was the training division of Oceaneering (Can-Dive was one of the founding companies) and I had a job waiting for me when I finished.

“Following that, I spent summers in the Beaufort Sea working for Can-Dive as a bell diver on the Dome/Canmar rigs. I was fortunate to be employed year-round, outside the arctic season, thanks to my additional technical background. This led to my training at an Oceaneering facility in the UK for atmospheric diving suit (ADS) operations (the predecessor to Phil Nuytten’s Hardsuit and Exosuit evolutions). And periodically Can-Dive would “lend” me to Oceaneering to support their ADS operations in Brazil and Santa Barbara. I was also the ADS technician for the National Geographic Breadalbane Arctic expedition along with Phil, other Can-Dive personnel and Dr. Joe MacInnis.

“Then I spent several years working for Atlantis Submarines (formerly Sub-Aquatic Development Corp) for John Witney, Dennis Hurd, and Tom Roberts. I was involved in the construction of several submarines and directly in operations in Barbados and Grand Cayman Island.

“Eventually, I diverted away from the subsea world and got into electrochemical fuel cells working for another Vancouver technology company, Ballard Power System (BPS). But even that had a subsea connection as one of the founders and some of the early employees had subsea backgrounds. They were my foot in the door and I spent 11 years there.

Eventually I resigned to start a technical documentation business, but BPS continues as one of my customers to this day. I also re-established contact with old subsea friends which led to documentation work for OceanWorks (US Navy submarine rescue system, and other projects), Cellula Robotics (with Eric Jackson from the early ISE days), and Nuytco Research (Phil Nuytten, of course). In fact, I’m working on a project for Nuytco right now. So, my subsea connection and involvement continues from its beginnings in the early 1970s to now. It’s been an amazing life.”

It was also quite the story! Tom lives in Squamish and shares his email: tomgil.mail@gmail.com.

P5Diving
Pisces V diving, photo courtesy of Mike McDonald.

Nhat (Jay) Chu

I was intrigued by a recent email from Nhat (Jay) Chu, who wrote:

There’s no greater frontier than the depths of the abyss. There’s still so much unexplored. And I always look back to the men and women whose courage to plunge into the unknown has inspired my generation to a career of adventure.

My story is rather uneventful. There isn’t any chapter of greatness or drama of any kind.
I’m a young ROV pilot tech that is still learning the ropes. Only, ROVs didn’t come to me by fate or chance of any kind. I could have worked a steady 9-to-5 desk job in the heat of Singapore’s financial but, but I blame my dad for all those adrenaline-filled stories about voyages he had in the 1980s. Mind you, Vietnam in the 1980s was a war-torn country. Food was rationed (1 kg of meat/month/family), and we didn’t have the friendliest of neighbours—big brother China and Khmer Rouge at that time. So my dad would embark on voyages to far-flung places like North Korean, PNG and Cuba to bring back much-needed goods for the motherland.

I too on studies of Marine Offshore and Mechatronics while working as a broker in Singapore. After I completed my studies in 2019, I went back to Vietnam to work as a ROV trainee for the oil & gas industry. The systems I worked with were SMD’s Quantum ROV.

As for Canada, it didn’t happen by chance either. In 2017, I applied for Permanent Residence since 2017. And the pandemic couldn’t stop me from moving here. I’m proud to call Vancouver, the cradle of the subsea industry, my home.

Currently, I’m on the lookout for my first ROV assignment in Canada. My email is jaychu.ndn@gmail.com. I’m looking for every opportunity to get to know folks from the industry. I’d like to know what challenges the Canadian subsea industry is facing and what the industry is doing to prepare for these challenges.

Regards, Jay

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