The crew aboard HMS Vigilant have competed in challenges such as rowing, a triathlon event and NAVYfit and Fitness First Challenges as they stage their own, unique Underwater Olympiad.

Speak to any of the elite athletes currently competing at the Rio Olympics and they’ll tell you that to succeed you need to push yourself to the limit. To perform easy you need to train hard, often in challenging conditions.

Few of the competitors in Brazil, however, will have experienced the challenge faced by the crew of HMS Vigilant (Starboard) recently when they undertook their own underwater Olympiad during a deterrent patrol.

It means we hone our leadership, teamwork and self-discipline

“Competition is a great motivator for staying fit and plays a vital role in our life in the Royal Navy,” explained Chief Petty Officer Bathgate, sports officer for HMS Vigilant. “It means we hone our leadership, teamwork and self-discipline, so we can perform at our very best both on and off the sports field.”

A series of fitness challenges were organised during the patrol, featuring a rowing competition, triathlon event and NAVYfit and Fitness First challenges.

The limited space on board, and the need for the submarine to remain silent, meant that the events were unique to the underwater environment and brought their own particular challenges.

“The atmosphere on a submarine is enclosed and so the body is put to a different test than it would elsewhere,” said Surgeon Lieutenant Tweed, the vessel’s Medical Officer.

Muscles fatigue quicker

“While oxygen levels are not usually lower in a submarine than they are on land, muscles fatigue quicker because carbon dioxide tends to be higher. The chemical receptors in the body which stimulate breathing are driven by carbon dioxide and so it’s likely that submariners will be more breathless when exercising on a submarine.”

Breathless or not, 29 of Vigilant’s crew attacked the first underwater event with gusto. This was the Fitness First challenge, featuring a series of trials tailored specifically for the submariners to test their strength, speed, power and endurance over nine different stances. Taking first place in this event was Petty Officer (PO) Pearson.

This was followed by the NAVYfit competition, again over nine stances. Thirty-nine crew members took part with Engineering Technician (ET) Davies winning what turned out to be one of the most hotly contested events during the patrol.

Such was the success of the event that towards the end of their deterrent mission the crew resurrected the competition, this time in the form of a four nation’s challenge. Submariners from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales battled it out in teams of three. The Scots took first place with CPO Dewar, CPO Petrie and PO Gallagher gaining the glory.

There was also a rowing competition using two Concept II machines on board the Ballistic Submarine. The Fleet 50 x 1 kilometre row is a competition designed for submarines and ships and calls for a team of 50 individuals to row one kilometre each in the quickest time possible.

Commanding Officer of HMS Vigilant (Starboard), Commander Dan Martyn and the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander John Lewis, were given the honour of going first. Despite shaving a second off his personal best, Lieutenant Commander Lewis was defeated by the boat’s CO.

This set the tone for the rest of the crew and their combined efforts took almost three minutes off their previous time, set during a similar attempt last year. The boat came in at two hours, 58 minutes and 27 seconds.

As if that wasn’t enough fitness activity for one patrol, the boat’s Coxswain Sheekey volunteered for a sponsored run, row, cycle and versi-climb of the height of Ben Nevis. His fantastic efforts raised £995 for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC).

Speaking about the crew’s efforts, CPO Bathgate said: “The focus on fitness helps the Royal Navy remain effective in protecting our nation’s interests as part of the UK’s Armed Forces. We call it ‘NAVYfit’ and it’s why we champion a huge variety of sports, delivered through world-class facilities, whether onshore or even on a dived submarine.”