A B.C.-built manned submarine success
By Cam Cathcart
For a young Alberta construction and real estate entrepreneur hit by the 2008 recession, it was a eureka moment while vacationing in the Caribbean. Looking for a pathway ahead, Harvey Flemming took an underwater trip on a mini submarine. Upon surfacing an hour later, the idea for Aquatica was set in motion.
Fast forward to 2013 and the concept for the Stingray 500 was underway. Flemming teamed up with naval architect Gary Hancock, and after researching the manned submersible industry, a prototype was designed and development began. The next step was to begin building and the obvious place to do so was Vancouver.
With a small team, construction began in 2015 in rented space at Thunderbird Marina in West Vancouver. Sea trials began a year later and in the fall of 2016 the submarine was ready for a robust, day-long certification process conducted by Det Norske Veritas-GL of Houston, Texas. Aquatica got the green light and the Stingray 500 manned submarine became operational soon after.
There’s no question the manned submarine industry is highly competitive and to survive internationally, a Canadian manufacturer must find a niche that will be sustainable. After 150 underwater missions on the B.C. coast, Harvey Flemming is confident that Aquatica has found it, adding “our operational excellence is the foundation of each dive by taking advantage of new, innovative technologies to help lower the barriers to safe, productive marine exploration.”
Flemming contends the ‘eyes-on’ approach offered by the Stingray 500 is a huge advantage over remotely controlled submersibles. TV producers used it to dive on the former HMCS Annapolis, showing close-ups of rapidly growing bio accumulations on the artificial reef off Gambier Island. Another was the lengthy but successful tracking of the elusive six-gill shark in Howe Sound, the first sighting of this shark in years.
However, the most satisfying scientific expedition on the B.C. coast for Aquatica’s submarine was the large, glass sponge reef found at the mouth of Howe Sound at a depth of 300 feet (91m). As a result, in November 2017, Fisheries and Oceans Canada declared this unique ecosystem a permanently protected area from further prawn, crab or bottom fishing. Exploration of the glass sponge mirrors Flemming’s desire for increased scientific research.
Exploring the glass sponge bed in 2017 sparked plans for the next big mission for Aquatica: a major expedition later this year led by the Stingray 500 to the bottom of the famous Blue Hole, a giant marine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. Aquatica will team up with Sir Richard Branson of Ocean Unite group, conservationist Fabien Cousteau (grandson of Jacques Cousteau), and a submarine from the Roatan Institute of Deep-Sea Exploration (RIDE).
Aquatica’s manufacturing has now shifted to the North Vancouver waterfront where construction will begin soon on the S3, an updated version of the Stingray 500 and capable of 1,000-foot (305m) depths, while plans are finalized for two more submarines — the S5, aimed at the tourism market, and the SX, built to dive to an astounding depth of 3,300 feet (1,005m). Once built and ready for sea trials certification of these subs will be handled by Lloyd’s Register.
Support for the Stingray 500 and the future Aquatica submarine fleet for dive missions off the B.C. coast will be provided by the Seahorse, a purpose-built, 50-foot aluminum catamaran built by JR Marine in Saanich, B.C.
Aquatica’s founder and CEO Harvey Flemming is convinced that his locally designed and built manned submarines with safe functionality are ideally suited for British Columbia’s offshore commercial industries; underwater inspections; research and scientific expeditions; and TV production and tourism.
Flemming is a determined B.C. entrepreneur who is matching his passion, and survival, on innovative manned submarines — so far, successfully.