For readers familiar with Aberdeen Maritime Museum, you will have seen the object which greets you at the Adelphi entrance – the Newt Suit.
Indeed you can hardly miss it! Imposing in stature, it stands as if on sentry duty, surveying those who stop and stare. It looks almost otherworldly, as if its voluminous nature and bulbous shape were designed to explore the edges of outer space.
But while this suit is indeed designed for exploration, it is not for the far reaches of the solar system, but for the depths of the earth’s oceans. It is in fact an atmospheric diving suit designed and originally built by Phil Nuytten.
The one in our collection dates from the 1990s and was used extensively in the North Sea for work on ocean drilling rigs, pipelines, salvage work and photographic surveys. The suit allows diving to take place at a depth of 300m and protects the pilot from outside water pressure, thereby avoiding the need for decompression. The unique design of the oil-filled rotary joints allow for a wide range of mobility.
There are 20 joints in total, the wrist being the smallest and the hip being the largest. The big pincers, or manipulator jaws, at the end of each arm allow the pilot to handle tools. Not easy however in cloudy or choppy seas! The fingertip work of a commercial diver whose hands are free to touch and feel is lost. No surprise really when the pilot is effectively wearing a submarine as a suit.
The Newt Suit is almost robotic-like, something inherently cold and clinical in its outlook with that huge metal surface area. At the same time however, it is operated by a very real, living, breathing, person. An interesting contrast that reinforces our ideas of the relationship between man and machine. How do you think you might feel wearing it? Just looking at it makes me feel claustrophobic and uneasy. But there is also something comedic about its big bubble-like colourful presence, making me want to laugh at the same time.
Aberdeen Maritime Museum is closed for the time being, but you can still explore the collections on our website at www.aagm.co.uk/collections where you’ll also find a link to the Aberdeen Built Ships website where you can search for information about any of the nearly 3,000 recorded ships built in Aberdeen since 1811. A group of volunteers has gathered information about these ships from the shipbuilder’s yard lists, the library of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, local resources and the memories of local people associated with the shipyards of Aberdeen. Photographs, ship plans and other related material are also available to look at online.
Or enjoy a tour of the museum from the comfort and safety of your own home – click here, or on the Discover Aberdeen Maritime Museum link on our Museum From Home page,