A Secret Sub Base!
Location: Kuril Islands - Simushir Island
by Wayne Brown
Today I am hoping to explore a place that I never knew existed. When I was here with Russian scientists in 1992, they never told me about this place. If the conditions are good we will be visiting a secret Russian submarine base! We are 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Yankich Island. I can see the north end of a long (over 30 mi/48 km) and skinny (about 3 mi/4.8 km) island, called Simushir (Sim-uh-shir) Island.
Simushir Island was made by a chain of volcanoes. On the north end it has large volcanic caldera, like Yankich Island, but a lot bigger. This caldera, called Broutona (Brew-tone-a) Bay, is over 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) across! Unlike Yankich the Simushir volcano is not active, it is extinct. This huge caldera may be a little older than the Yankich caldera.
If you have read the book "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne, this is like the secret hideout that Captain Nemo had for his submarine, Natilus. The Russians must have read that book, because they made this caldera a secret base for some of their submarines!
As Odyssey approaches Simushir Island I can see the island is covered with clouds, but the clouds are clearing. I looks like we will have sunshine today! The seas are fairly calm and there is only a light breeze. It looks like it will be a prefect day for getting inside the caldera to explore the sub base! Our Russian host, Sergey, tells me that the Russian Navy used explosives to make a channel into the caldera for the submarines to get in and out. The channel is not very deep (about 28 ft/9 meters) or wide (about 100 ft/33 meters). Odyssey is 51 feet (17 meters) wide goes down about 18 feet (6 meters) underwater. Our captain will have to be very careful when he tries to get into the caldera. If there is thick fog, or it is night or if there are choppy seas our captain will not risk getting our ship into Broutona Bay.
As we approach they narrow channel the captain sends out Sergey in a Zodiac to check the channel to make sure everything is OK. Sergey call us on his radio that everything is OK and the captain slowly and carefully brings Odyssey through narrow channel and into the caldera.
Inside Broutona Bay the water is deep. On the west side of the caldera I can see the secret sub base. The submarines and people are all gone, but the buildings are still here. (Sergey tells me the Russian Navy built this in 1987, then abandoned it in 1994. When this was an active sub base about 3,000 lived here.) There were three floating sub docks for the submarines to tie up to. Only one dock is still floating and Odyssey ties up to it. This is great because we can easily get on and off the ship without having to use the Zodiacs.
We are going to be here for most of the day, so I have plenty of time for exploring. There are so many things I want to do: climb the small volcano on the south side of the base, go inside the base headquarters buildings, climb the north rim of the caldera...I decide to climb to up the north rim of the caldera and take some pictures of the base from there. The sun shining now, but I know that the weather in the Kuril Islands can change at any time. I can explore the buildings later, even if the weather turns bad.
From the dock I walk past a rusting truck and hundreds big of rusting steel drums. These drums probably had diesel fuel for refueling the submarines. The drums are all empty now. I walk up the hill past a small building. I look it inside but it is empty. It was probably a small warehouse. On the side of the hill just past the warehouse is a big antiaircraft gun overlooking the base. It is rusting, too. I find a dirt trail that goes up the side of the caldera's rim. After a short distance the trail ends. Tangled together are short trees (alders) I that are just over my head. I have to slowly step over and push branches aside as I climb up the rim. I get out of the trees and now the ground is covered in colorful wildflowers and tundra. Tundra are low-growing greenish plants that only live in very cold places.
I am now about 500 feet (167 meters) up on the side of the rim and 200 feet (67 meters) from the top. Suddenly I get a call on my radio. The captain tells me he can see a huge wall of fog is heading right for the island! If the fog gets to the island before the ship can get out we could be tramped inside the caldera. Most of the people from the ship don't have a radio, so they don't know about the fog coming in. The captain sounds the ship's horn. The horn is so loud it echoes across the caldera. That is the emergency signal to return to the ship.
I run back down the side of the rim and back to the ship. The captain has already started the engines. After the last person gets onboard the captain heads Odyssey out toward the entrance of the caldera. A gigantic wall of fog is just in front of the entrance to the caldera and closing in on us! As we get into narrow channel that fog starts to close in on us. As soon as the ship escapes the channel the fog totally surrounds us. Standing near the front of the ship I can not see the back of the ship because the fog is so thick. We got out just in time!
I was hoping I could have explored some of the sub base buildings, but the weather had other ideas! I was glad the weather was good for as long as it was so we could get into the caldera and see the secret sub base.
Odyssey is now slowly cruising past Simushir Island, but we can't see it because of the fog. Tomorrow, I will pray for good weather again, so we can see more of these strange and beautiful Kuril Islands.
Simushir Island, Russia
Position: 47º 08' N / 152º 15' E
Midday Air Temp: 53ºF
Weather: broken clouds, fog,
light winds, and slight swell.
Water Temp: 43ºF
The north end of Simushir Island. The entrance to the secret sub base in just to the right of the center of the picture.
This map shows the north end of Simushir Island where the secret Russian sub base is located at Broutona Bay. (he numbers on the map are altitudes marked in meters.)
Clipper Odyssey is tied up to the only remaining floating sub dock. I am up on the side of the rim of the caldera looking down toward the sub base headquarters.
The sub base headquarters. The buildings are like a ghost town.
I am looking at the north end of the caldera. Notice the narrow entrance. I can see just outside the caldera a huge fog bank is moving toward the island.