Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Trip Back in Time in an Old Brazilian Submarine

This article was published originally on Brazzil Magazine at But here it is in its entirety.

A Trip Back in Time in an Old Brazilian Submarine

Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Wednesday, 20 September 2006

For most tourists, a trip to Brazil is rarely complete without a visit to her second largest (São Paulo is the largest) and most famous city, Rio de Janeiro, the city on the bay. With its beautiful beaches, rich museums, architectural variety and booming nightlife, it is a place where memories are often made.

For those who love Rio de Janeiro, with all of its energy and cornucopia of activities, one site not to be missed is Espaço Cultural da Marinha. Located on Avenida Alfredo Agache at Avenida Presidente Kubitschek, this museum is on the seafront, at the site of a formal naval establishment.

Here you can look out into Guanabara Bay and watch planes taking off from Aeroporto Santos Dumont. To see large planes landing on such a seemingly short strip is truly a sight to behold and can make for some memorable photos as well.

The location also provides a great view of Ilha Fiscal and other islets in the Bay, and one can watch ships of all shapes and sizes setting out across its waters - from sailboats to the Niterói ferries to far larger vessels. But the real gems here are the two ships: a World War II Brazilian submarine, Riachuelo, and the Torpedo boat Bauru.

You can guide yourself on a tour of these ships which are well preserved and have helpful displays showing what life would be like aboard. Both ships seen together in the marina are like a time capsule back to a different time, and their decks provide impressive views also of the bay and surrounding area.

Making one's way down the ladders and through the portholes of the Riachuelo, one is led to wonder how so many men could possibly live here. For someone larger than average, the narrow, steep ladders and small spaces seemed difficult to maneuver with the ship anchored. To imagine doing it with the ship moving underwater in the open sea is mind boggling.

It was impressive to see how quarters were often very small and bunks were tucked into whatever space was available, even in areas where one could not imagine sleep coming easily. The torpedo tubes, engine room, bridge, and officers' quarters were all open to visit for up close inspection. Also, the submarine's periscope is working and can be used and maneuvered by visitors to peer around at Centro Rio or out to sea.

I had always wondered what life might be like on a submarine, and it was even more cramped and tight than I had imagined. As I ducked down and lifted one leg first through each porthole, climbing through, it was easy to understand why naval men often say it takes a special kind of man to become a submariner. One visit to the Riachuelo and there is no doubt.

The Bauru was equally as impressive with its doctor's office, barbershop, hospital area, and bridge all among the sites on the tour. It has many steep ladders and narrow portholes of its own as well, and there were mannequins in uniforms on both ships at various points to demonstrate the activities of the crew in each area.

I tried to imagine myself maneuvering up the various narrow ladders and passageways on rocking waves with a seawind and battle raging around me. It must be truly an impressive accomplishment.

One can also recreate the famous Leonard DiCaprio-Kate Winslet moment by leaning out on the prow into the wind with the cry of "I'm the King of The World." Just leaning out like this and staring down the side, I was impressed by the size of the chain leading to the anchor. Later, a spare anchor also was impressive in its mass. For those who have not had opportunity to see such ships up close, Espaço Cultural da Marinha provides a unique opportunity.

I also tried to imagine being employed in the kitchen of either vessel. While the Bauru's kitchen crew had much more space than those on the sub, it still must be challenging not to get burned or otherwise injured when the ship is out to rough seas or otherwise rocked by the waves and wind. Truly these men had to develop real skills in their jobs just to get it done.

For those who favor living history, this is as close as one can get without actual reenactments and the freedom to explore on one's own, often a hindrance at some lesser attractions, is here a great benefit. The lack of formal tours allows one to wander through them at leisure and spend as much time examining the various details as you desire.

There is also a Museum of Underwater Archeology and Historical shipping, and the Galeota, a boat used by the Portuguese royal family. The museum features most of the exhibits formerly found at the Museu Naval e Oceanográfico. These include paintings and prints, weapons, and figureheads.

Finally, from a launch nearby you can catch boats to Ilha Fiscal to see the former Custom's House, which is now a museum. It was built by the Emperor Dom João II but then deemed too beautiful for use as anything but to host official parties. Only one was held there five days before the Republic began. It is now linked to the Naval Cultural Center.

We had a great deal of trouble finding this gem when we first attempted, because even taxi drivers didn't seem to know how to find the address. After taking a taxi in a circle back to where we started, we spotted it, behind the Casa França-Brasil and rushed across a busy throughway to get to it. It was worth every effort and a true delight. I took some of my favorite photos from the trip there and both my Carioca fiancé and I agreed it was a highlight.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

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