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Entry isn't ridiculous, finish is 'SubLime'

Despite bent sprockets and snapped through-bolts, the Hernando submarine team pedals its way to third place in an international competition.

Published July 6, 2005

Things were looking bad for the SubLime submarine team.

When the crew of Hernando County high school students reached the International Submarine Races in Bethesda, Md., they found the competition stiff - 17 teams hailing from as far away as Canada and the Netherlands.

June 27, the first day of competition, a teammate from Central High School suffered "ear squeeze," a condition that develops when external water pressure on the eardrum increases rapidly. He was disqualified when a judge spotted blood coming from his ears.

Then, the SubLime submarine started coming apart at the seams.

"The bicycle sprocket was being pushed so hard they were bending it," team technical consultant Steve Barton said. "The propeller shaft through-bolt snapped in half several times."

Despite the multiple crises, Hernando's never-say-die team set the fastest high school mark, clocking a run of 4.81 knots. The team also won third place in best overall performance, placing behind the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands and Florida Atlantic University.

The judges factored team attitude, performance and resourcefulness in the overall score.

"The teamwork was great," Ryan Dudkewic, 18, said. "Everybody worked really well together."

Dudkewic, a recent Springstead High School graduate, plans to major in mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida when he starts college in the fall.

He and others alternated stints as submarine pilots. Besides Dudkewic, the team included Gary Owen, Amilia Carlson, Cris Denney and Nicole Barton.

Dudkewic said being on the submarine team helped him feel more prepared for his college engineering classes.

"That's basically what this was, an engineering competition," he said. "It was a great opportunity to get involved and have a lot of fun at the same time."

SubLime has a storied history of representing Hernando County in sub races near and far. It began as a high school science fair project for Barton's son, Stephen, in 1989.

Stephen was only 16 at the time, making SubLime the first entry by a high school student and the youngest to date in the sub races. SubLime placed ninth out of 19 entries that year.

Stephen raced his submarine again in 1993, winning the "most innovative design" award, and he continued to win awards with his construction.

However, at the age of 20, he was killed in a small plane crash.

The construction technology students his father worked with modified Stephen's design, and in 2001 SubLime was reborn.

At the 2004 race in Bethesda, SubLime came in sixth out of 23 submarines.

Meaning this year's team made the strongest showing yet.

Teammates also got to meet people from around the world and compare different models of submarines.

SubLime was built using a mold, then placing layers of fiberglass over it. The students used bicycle parts to create its pedals. The sub has two hand controls that are used like a joystick on a computer game, and it is human-powered.

As the submariner pushes the pedals, the propeller turns.

Most of SubLime's steering system was built from common supplies found in hardware stores.

The finishing touch on the sub is a black-haired, purple-tailed mermaid decorating the exterior. She was inspired by the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs, who shared their underwater maneuvers to help train the young submariners.

"The kids were great, and we felt (it was) an honor for them to think of including us in the competition," Weeki Wachee marketing and promotion manager John Athanason said. "For them to do so well, we're just really proud of them."

Steve Barton said the team might recruit more submariners to compete in an exhibition race at the amusement park's mermaid theater.

"We'll see if we can put it together," he said.

Mary Spicuzza can be reached at or 352 848-1432.

[Last modified July 6, 2005, 00:49:15]

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