‘Shave and a haircut’ transform West Coast sub

HMCS Victoria is being readied for a dive this summer

HMCS Victoria is preparing to return to its salty domain this year after an extensive five-year overhaul and weaponization program. The submarine is seen here in the Strait of Juan de Fuca just before arriving at CFB Esquimalt in 2003 - the first Canadian submarine permanently based on the West Coast since 1974.

After five years of painstaking work, civilian employees at CFB Esquimalt are celebrating a year of major accomplishments as they prepare Canada’s flagship submarine – HMCS Victoria – for diving.

“All these major milestones are long overdue and great for morale,” said Phil McEvoy, production manager of the fleet maintenance facility, tasked with overhauling and outfitting the vessel with weapons capabilities.

The boat, which was tugged out of drydock in April and tied alongside a dockyard jetty, is being readied for a dive this summer, possibly in early September.

“What that tells you is that it can go down and come back up on her own air systems, which is critical,” McEvoy said, noting the boat will be relocated to a nearby jetty for the day-long event.

“They’ve (dredged) out a spot where she actually can go all the way down without touching bottom and be actually submerged (12 to 18 metres deep),” McEvoy said.

The complexity of Victoria’s overhaul makes it difficult to schedule when major milestones will take place far in advance, such as when the boat undergoes a deep-sea dive in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Although Victoria’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Christopher Ellis, hoped to navigate the vessel into the strait in July, the plan now is to conduct full sea trials later this year.

“(Submarines are) a very complex thing, so one little thing can delay you a day or two,” said McEvoy.

“Even when you start to involve yourself with them, you start to scratch your head on how complex they are,” he said. “This is all brand new ground. Even the Brits didn’t do what we’re doing to this class of vessel.”

Changes made to the sub are significant.

“It’s night and day,” said McEvoy. “She’s in pristine condition from when we’ve started.

“When refits are done, it’s quite impressive – the shave and a haircut – what it can make a ship or a boat look like.”

Workers at the fleet maintenance facility will also continue to maintain and repair Victoria, Chicoutimi and Corner Brook once they are operational. HMCS Windsor is being refitted in Halifax.

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