Full Immersion

Full Immersion

director of Proletarsky Zavod’s Museum,Honored Worker of Culture of the Russian Federation

Principal Design Engineer of the Nerpa Ship Repairing Plant
Yana Smirnova is the only woman who spent 52 days in an independent underwater cruise during marine test trial of the Vepr nuclear-powered submarine

Photo: Lev Fedoseev,
SRZ Nerpa press service archive


Deputy Headof the Engineering Centerof Nerpa Ship Repairing Plant

Born on 13 September 1968 in Krasnokamsk, Perm Region Finished a secondary school in Norilsk, the Krasnoyarsk territory. Her character is Siberian indeed: she is strong, motivated and principled. She took a keen interest way back in the secondary school. She easily passed entrance examinations and entered the St. Petersburg State Maritime Technical University. Yana Smirnova graduated in 1992 with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1993 she joined the Nerpa Ship Repairing Plant. Having started as a design engineer, she progressed to the position of Deputy Head of the Engineering Center.

Vepr was only planned to be put on the shipyard stocks, but Yana Smirnova had already dreamt to be engaged in the submarine construction. From the time when submarines became a subject-matter of her professional interest and she got fully involved in “salt water” affairs, she dreamt of sea faring. However, not for the sake of entertainment, adventure or adrenaline rush, but in order to see for herself the real-time performance of the systems and mechanisms that she had seen thousands of times on diagrams and drawings, for which she had been developing technical documentation, made calculations and drew technical specifications.

When the submarine commander learned that the sea trials that were supposed to last around two months would be participated by a woman, he expressed his bewilderment. However, when he discussed it with Yana Smirnova, he did not resist any longer.

Seing for herself

– The vessel is very important for me, – says Yana Smirnova explaining her decision to join the independent underwater cruise. – The submarine has undergone a significant volume of restoration work using a number of technical solutions, many of which were generated in discussions and close collaboration with contractors’ experts and designers. In fact, repairs of the submarine became a fundamental research work. For me, as an expert, it was very important to see for myself how the submarine systems and mechanisms perform under various modes of the vessel operation. 

The executive officer also tried to prevent “female invasion” into the submarine. When Yana Smirnova and the ship repairing plant team arrived at the submarine pier, he started to convince her that the way of life aboard the submarine is difficult and there were no adequate conditions for the gentle sex. Our protagonist had to advance factual arguments. To obtain access to the sea trip, she underwent a three-month training course in a special training center alongside with other members of the trial crew. The training program included diving in a frogman’s suit, passing tests, exercises in a swimming pool with a special gear, developing skills of leaving a submarine through a torpedo tube in case of emergency.

– I was not afraid of difficulties, – admits Yana Smirnova. – I was well aware of what rough masculine life was, especially in confined space. It was important to make sure by my own experience that the trial program I had developed would show how systems, equipment and mechanisms operate under maximum load conditions. I believe it is an absolute must for a design engineer to participate through a full trial cycle.

It is all different there

One should give credit to the crew: the seamen did their best to create comfortable conditions for the only girl onboard; she was allocated an officer’s cabin and special hours to use the shower room and workout facility. With regard to psychological comfort, no special measures were required, since all the submariners are mentally prepared to spend long time in confined space.

– Under water one looks at things from a different angle, – concludes Yana Smirnova. – Now I understand submariners’ reverential attitude towards their ships. Within a strong hull one feels oneself like in a capsule that moves across the ocean. When the submarine submerges, one feels that it is gaining strength and acquiring energy. 

When off-duty, seamen can brighten up their routine lifestyle.  Our navy has so many maritime rituals: from initiation into submariners to celebrating birthdays. And the sense of humor is an essential and indispensable element of communication in the submarine.

It did take certain time for the civil staff to fall into step with the submarine crew. But during the sea trial I came to realize that the ship repairing plant trial crew and the submarine crew are one single team united by the same aim:
 a reliable and responsive vessel.

Naval brotherhood

As the most precious memorabilia,
 Yana Smirnova keeps a Submariner Certificate presented to her on board of Vepr.  The document confirms her affiliation with a constellation
 of courageous, strong-minded, daring and bold people.  

– Let the day of initiation into submariners become a guiding light for the rest of your life, – she was wished by the crew while being presented the certificate and a flask with overboard sea
 water pursuant to maritime tradition. 

– I was happy to feel myself part of the trial team and submarine crew, to see practical results of the team work, to appreciate that the ship repairing plant could accomplish that difficult task and contributed to the technical strength of
 our Navy, – says Yana Smirnova.

For her significant contribution into restoration of Russian naval vessels, Yana Smirnova has been awarded a Medal For Labor Valor of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation