Episode 1: The First Submarine
First transmission - 15/01/2005
For 100 years the submarine has been a vital weapon, but records show that the first one might have been built almost 400 years ago. According to the history books, a vessel made entirely of wood and rowed by 12 men disappeared under the River Thames one day in 1621. The crew rowed underwater for seven miles from Westminster to Greenwich.
Professor Chris Wise and Dr Caroline Baillie are challenged to recruit a support team of experts and construct a working replica of the prototype, using 17th-century materials and only the knowledge and technology available at the time.
From the start, the duo has problems. The original inventor, Cornelius Drebbel (1572-1633), was so secretive that he left no plans, no account, not even a picture. What would the design have looked like? How did Drebbel get it to dive? How did the crew breathe? How did they cope with the crushing pressure of 10 tonnes of water? How did they navigate?
A modern submarine can take 10 years to build, but in The First Submarine the team has just 20 weeks. The final test will be to row it underwater, hopefully without drowning anyone. Finally, the wooden leviathan is ready to test…