Lear Jets of the Deep: Private Submarines Gain Popularity With Millionaires
A new class of private submarines has become the latest plaything for the super rich. They allow would-be adventurers to navigate the wonders of the coral reefs, explore shipwrecks or even to cruise alongside dolphins. The cheapest models start at $1.7 million, but prices can go as high as $80 million.
Just recently, Graham Hawkes tracked down a group of hammerhead sharks. Along for the ride on his Deepflight Super Falcon at the time was an investor named Tom Perkins, a potential client. “We were literally stalking them from below,” Hawkes says. “It felt like flying in liquid sky.”
Hawkes is an engineer in Point Richmond, California, and his workshop is located at the town’s marina, directly on San Francisco Bay. Visitors don’t exactly wander in here often, but when they do come, they generally have full pockets. Hawkes builds submarines for millionaires.
His company, Hawkes Ocean Technologies, is one of a number of businesses that specialize in taking the superrich diving. Hawkes’ asking price for the Deepflight Super Falcon, for example, is $1.7 million (€1.3 million). American manufacturer SEAmagine’s Ocean Pearl costs even more, at $2.5 million, but has the benefit of being able to dive to depths of around 900 meters (3,000 feet).
Triton Submarines, based in Vero Beach, Florida, is another company that specializes in submersibles for the well to do. “Our customers are large yacht owners who want to offer their friends and their family something special,” says Bruce Jones, CEO of Triton. In the deep sea, “they can show them things they have never seen before.”
Crisis Hasn’t Stopped Demand
The financial crisis hasn’t stopped the demand for submarines, says Jones, 55. “There are 2,500 large yachts in the world today,” he adds, and most of them have enough room to carry a submarine.
Today, Jones is in the Bahamas for a trial run. Around 20 prospective clients have come to Grand Bahama Island to try out Triton’s submarines. From the dock in McLeans Town, a speedboat zips them across the turquoise water to the Atlantis II, a retired research vessel Jones uses as the mother ship for his submarine fleet.
The mustachioed CEO welcomes his guests on the deck, where two yellow submersibles sit waiting. Voluminous floats mounted on their sides also function as ballast tanks. Triton’s trademark features, however, are the acrylic spheres jutting from the top and bottom of the submarines, offering a 360-degree panoramic view.
A shipboard crane lowers the three-seater Triton 3300/3, which weighs eight metric tons (nine US tons), into the water. The guests board through a hatch in the top. Pilot Troy Engen points to two black valves located behind the gray artificial leather seats and explains they can be used to quickly “bring it (the submarine) up in an emergency.”
“Roger, payload is okay,” Engen then calls into the headset that keeps him in contact with the Atlantis II. The pilot lets water gush into the floats.
A few waves crash over the submarine, then it’s calm again. The only sounds are the whirring of the electric motors and the hum of the air conditioning.