Seafaring Super-Rich Dive to Ocean Bottom in Luxury Submarines
By A. Craig Copetas / July 10
The luxury-submarine business is sometimes hard to fathom. “If you can find my submarine, it’s yours,” says Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich. And that’s all the reclusive owner of the Chelsea Football Club has to say. The ocean floor is the final spending frontier for the world’s richest people. Journeying to see what’s on the bottom aboard a personal submersible is a wretched excess guaranteed to trump the average mogul’s stable of vintage Bugattis or a $38 million round-trip ticket to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket.
Luxury-submarine makers and salesmen from the Pacific Ocean to the Persian Gulf say fantasy and secrecy are the foundations of this nautical niche industry built on madcap multibillionaires. “Everyone down there is a wealthy eccentric,” says Jean- Claude Carme, vice president of marketing for U.S. Submarines Inc., a Portland, Oregon-based bespoke submarine builder. “They’re all intensely secretive.” Who owns the estimated 100 luxury subs carousing the Seven Seas mostly remains a mystery. Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corp., warned his boat builder that loose lips sink ships.
“Not really supposed to talk about the sub, but it’s a fancy one, a mighty nice piece of work,” says Fred Rodie, one of the engineers who designed Allen’s undersea yacht at Olympic Tool & Engineering Inc. in Shelton, Washington. “If I told you, I’d have to shoot you,” says Bruce Jones, president and founder of U.S. Submarines, about the names in his client book. Jones, the 50-year-old son of a marine-construction engineer, built his first diesel- and battery-powered sub in 1993. Every sales contract since then has included a confidentiality clause to protect the buyer’s identity. “This is a nasty cut-throat business,” Jones says. Herve Jaubert, a former French Navy commando, swapped his cutlass for a screwdriver in 1995 to build his first luxury submarine. Now chief executive officer of Exomos, a Dubai-based custom-sub maker, Jaubert takes a more romantic view of the work: “I’m a poet who builds submersible yachts for rich people.”
“Spending $80 million for a boat that goes underwater in a market where one that doesn’t costs $150 million is a deal,” Jones says. “Our Phoenix 1000 is four stories tall, a 65-meter- long blend of a tourist and military sub.” The ultimate war submarine, the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class New Attack Submarine, costs $2.4 billion and carries 16 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Jones says the most dangerous projectile aboard the Phoenix 1000 is a Champagne cork. “Navies want weapon-delivery systems,” Jones says, walking in a forest near Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille, site of the U.S. Navy’s Farragut Naval Submarine Training Station. “I build luxury-delivery systems for people who have more money than they know what to do with.” It isn’t cheap to run silent and sleep deep. Jaubert’s 10-passenger sub costs $15 million. A gymnasium is optional. U.S. Submarines’ mid-size model is the $25 million Seattle 1000, a three-story-tall vessel with five staterooms, five bathrooms, two kitchens, a gym, a wine cellar and a 30- foot-long by 15-foot-wide observation portal. It has a range of 3,000 nautical miles.
“The one thing I won’t make for anyone is a yellow submarine,” Jones says. The 40-foot-long sub owned by Microsoft’s Allen came with a $12 million sticker price and enough extras to remain submerged for a week. Its color: yellow. Inside the Exomos showroom at Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone, customers choose from 14 luxury models. Since 2005, Jaubert’s 170 workers have launched 18 vessels. There are 26 clients awaiting delivery on subs such as the trendy Stingray runabout and the fashionable 65-foot-long Proteus luxury liner. “The Proteus is an underwater bus,” Jaubert says. “It’s more fun in the Stingray, drives like a Ferrari.” Jaubert says one of the dangers shared by members of this underwater fraternity of the super-rich is being blown to smithereens by depth charges.
“Side sonar scanners are always mistaken for torpedo tubes,” the 50-year-old engineer says, slapping the blue hull of a three-seat, $350,000 “sport luxury model” under construction in his factory. “Government agencies make visits to see if there are torpedoes aboard our boats. Owners are supposed to let authorities know when they’re in the area. They often don’t, and it causes problems.”
“What we might do gets into classified Tactics, Techniques and Procedures,” says U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Steve Blando. “TTP is not something we talk about.” As for the chance of Allen’s sub being reduced to flotsam, “We don’t comment on personal matters that involve the Allen family,” says his spokesman, Michael Nank. In Tahiti, Tetuahau Temaru, son and chief economic-development adviser to former president and current opposition leader Oscar Temaru, says the Pacific island territory is pursuing luxury-submarine skippers to sail into French Polynesia’s warm crystal waters.
“Luxury submarines are the future vision for Tahiti,” Temaru says. “We call it our life-saving plan. Developing a luxury-submarine market and the tourism that would come from it is on target with visitors enjoying our beaches and marine life.” As for that marine life, the local dolphin population can be a problem for some submariners. Jaubert says he has clients who wrestle with how to conduct a deep-sea love affair in front of an observation window without creating an underwater paparazzi. “Dolphins are easily excited when they sense people making love,”
Jones says. “They get jealous and bang their noses against the window.” The best solution? Curtains, says Jones.
“Pre-owned submarines and submersibles can certainly be a bargain when compared to new construction. Yet, it is important to recognize that operating older, obsolete equipment may not be as productive in task completion, satisfaction and economics. Tourist submarines are relatively recent in terms of design and because they are quite expensive there can be some real benefit to operating pre-owned equipment which is often 50% of the cost of new construction. The utilization of a pre-owned tourist submarine can decrease the economic barrier to entry, improve profits or allow for a reduction in ticket prices.
Used deep submersibles represent much older technology with most of the available vessels having been built prior to 1980. Any older deep submersible is likely to have a reduced life expectancy. Older technology typically means the vessel will be less effective at accomplishing its tasks, and maintenance costs are likely to be significantly higher as well. Today, contemporary submersibles with diving depths of 1000 meters or less generally have transparent acrylic pressure hulls which makes them much more attractive for observation. Used civil diesel electric submarines are very rare. Two that have been available for several years and are now off the market under option are not classed and are essentially uninsurable. The luxury submarine market is in its infancy and it will likely be several years before pre-owned vehicles become available on the open market.
Used Tourist Submarines
The tourist submarine business is highly specialized and tourist submarines themselves are technically unique. There are a number of used vehicles on the market currently, and we represent all of them.
Used Deep Submersibles
Deep submersibles are not very popular outside of the scientific research community simply because of their high operating costs and the necessity of a large support ship for operations. Many of the deep submersibles available are hopelessly obsolete. Here are the best ones on the market.
Used Diesel Electric Submarines
Civil diesel electric submarines are very rare. There are generally no vessels in this category available on the market. However we own a remarkable small diesel electric submarine, the S-101, which is currently for sale at $640,000 and is completely dive ready. It is located in Seattle and is available to qualified potential buyers for a trial dive. A brochure and specifications for S-101 are available. Further information can be obtained by calling Ellis Adams in Seattle on 206-422-2899.
Used Luxury Submarines
At the moment, there are no used luxury submarines available. However, we would be happy to build a new one for you.
PO BOX: 261489
Dubai , United Arab Emirats
Telephone: +971 4 8835222
Email: info [at] exomos [dot] com
CUTTING EDGE SUBMERSIBLES
“Based in Shelton, Washington, and wholly owned by Sealaska, Olympic Fabrication, LLC is a leading manufacturer of components and assemblies for the aerospace and nuclear industries and is active in both the commercial and defense sectors. Olympic Fabrication has extensive experience in satisfying customer requirements for safety critical parts and assemblies. Its competencies include manufacturing design, precision CNC machining, and complete fabrication. These strengths allow Olympic Fabrication to offer a wide array of services from a single machined part, to major sub assembly and completely manufactured products that have undergone rigorous testing and certification.
Olympic Fabrication is in the process of obtaining Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUB) certification, 8(a) and Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) certification from the US Small Business Administration and minority-owned business certification from the National Minority Supplier Development Council.”
Don Putvin, General Manager
Olympic Fabrication, LLC
410 W. Enterprise Road
Shelton, WA 98584
dputvin [at] olympictool [dot] com
COMMODORE L. RON HUBBARD’S PRIVATE NAVY (1967)
BE RICH in SECRET
Submarine war breaks out among super-rich
Lois Rogers / December 11, 2005
BILLIONAIRES are going to ever greater depths to outdo each other: they are competing to have the biggest private submarines that money can buy. Paul Allen, co-founder with Bill Gates of the Microsoft empire, recently bought a bright yellow submarine capable of taking 10 passengers. The craft is said to be docked, James Bond-style, inside Octopus, his 416ft vessel, claimed to be the world’s largest yacht. Last week Paul Moorhouse, a Plymouth-based submarine designer, said that two oil billionaires in the Emirates now own private submarines
offering pressurised overnight accommodation, and that an additional “seven or eight extremely wealthy people” have invested in more modest two-man subs. “You have to be weird to want one,” he declared. “They cost at least £10m to build and £100,000 a year to maintain.”
Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who owns Chelsea football club and four super-yachts, has a two-man “run-around” sub, which sits alongside his helicopter on the 340ft Pelorus. A source last week implied that he may want to trade up: “If other people have got bigger ones, he will have to be told that he’s behind the times.” The ocean depths are seen as an exclusive playground for the super-rich and one entrepreneur is preparing to build the world’s first submarine cruise ship. The vessel, to be named Poseidon, is aimed at the booming market for luxurious but extreme adventure and will be the first commercial vessel to provide cruises to the bottom of the sea. Costing £100m, the 286ft ship is designed to perform as well on the surface as it does submerged. The intention is to enable tourists to hop from port to port but also to spend several days at depths of 1,000ft, observing wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef and undersea formations off Caribbean and Hawaiian islands. It is the brainchild of Bruce Jones, a submarine entrepreneur from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who believes that deep ocean tourism rivals space as a new frontier for holidaymakers. Three multi-millionaires have already paid fortunes to fly on space missions. Jones, a member of the American Bureau of Shipping’s committee on underwater systems, has designed the Poseidon and is raising finance for its construction. He believes it can be in service within three years.
The design envisages accommodation for 70 passengers in luxury staterooms costing upwards of £1,300 a day. Part surface ship, part submarine, the Poseidon will have large acrylic windows capable of withstanding the pressures of extreme depths while giving floodlit views of the undersea world. The mother vessel will also carry a smaller submersible for close-up exploration of reefs and wrecks. Jones is confident that there will be almost unlimited demand. “The idea of this kind of experience captures people’s imagination,” he said. “There are millions of intelligent high-end tourists in the world who are fascinated by the idea of underwater travel. We will be able to accommodate only a few thousand a year and our research shows massive interest.” In the Bahamas he is already developing the Poseidon underwater resort, the first submerged hotel. Planning and finance are in place and Jones hopes the 22-room facility will open next December. Since status symbols such as mega-yachts have become more common, billionaires are vying to find novel and extreme ways to outdo each other. So as well as submarines, the super-rich are seeking unusual planes. Larry Ellison, boss of the computer compay Oracle, has his own jet fighter. The most distinctive display has come from Gates, who is Ellison’s arch-rival. After giving billions to charity, he can probably claim the title of the world’s greatest philanthropist.
“It started as a very simple idea. “The boat sits at the dock because I just can’t seem to find the time to use it anymore.” “Waterfront property is too expensive.” “I don’t have as much time as I’d like to go diving.” The original SeaRoom concept was an answer to these statements. A floating residence with an entire floor underwater. Large acrylic windows that provide a panoramic view of the subsea world. Open air decks to fully enjoy life on the water. And an optional generator, watermaker, solar power system and sewage treatment setup to provide you with complete, ecologically acceptable independence, if necessary. Permanently anchored from a four point mooring system. Commute by boat. Enjoy the underwater world in perfect comfort and safety. A new lifestyle, dramatically different from your peers. Peaceful, exploratory. And why not? After all, none of us live forever.”
Poseidon Undersea Resort
Ambient Seafloor Habitats: An Introduction
“The initial defining underwater habitat project was Jacques Cousteau’s Conshelf II in 1963. The purpose of the project was to record very basic observations on the psychological and physiological ramifications of life underwater at ambient pressure. Conshelf II placed five divers at a depth of 33 feet for a month, with two divers in a separate dwelling at 90 feet for a week. The project was a huge success, and demonstrated man’s ability to live in saturation at depth, in comfort and safety. The U.S. Navy was quite interested in the physiological aspects of saturation diving, and in 1964 they sponsored the SeaLab project, eventually placing SeaLab III in over 600 feet of water.
Tektite I & II were other leading U.S. habitat undertakings. Again, the sponsoring agencies carefully monitored the physiology of the occupants, but there was now an increased emphasis on the psychological aspects of living at depth in relative isolation. NASA became a leading sponsor of the programs in order to collect data relevant to the space program. One of the more notable Tektite II missions involved an all female team of aquanauts, lead by Sylvia Earle, recently Chief Scientist at NOAA. In July of 1970 the five-woman group spent two weeks in the habitat at 50 feet off of St. Johns, USVI. More recent habitat undertakings have been executed for advancement in marine science, where extended in-situ observation is possible and allows for more accurate observation and longer-term data gathering. Today, the world’s leading habitat, Aquarius, is operated by the National Undersea Research Project under NOAA. Aquarius is situated in the Florida Keys, and is available for use by research scientists. Teams of scientist enter the habitat for 10 day periods, and the entire program has been a critically acclaimed success. Several years ago, the old Chalupa Habitat was upgraded and placed in the Florida Keys as Jules Underwater Lodge. The facility, located in 30 feet of water, will sleep six guests in relative comfort. It has proven quite popular with SCUBA divers and is often booked months in advance. The motivation for the establishment and use of underwater habitats has gone from studying human diving physiology, to collecting psychological isolation study data, and has then progressed to routine marine science research with a wide range of scientists. Recently, Jules Underwater Lodge has pioneered the use of an underwater habitat as a leisure mechanism, with great success, despite the rather unimpressive water quality.
A Luxury Ambient Pressure Habitat Concept
All of the existing underwater habitats are primitive and overbuilt. Typically cylindrical, and equipped with small viewports, some of these facilities were actually constructed as pressure vessels, capable of withstanding hydrostatic pressure with a one atmosphere interior, a situation analogous to that found in a submarine. Yet, the actual pressure differential between the exterior and interior of the habitat is zero, the only real requirement being that the habitat interior is leak-proof. The most-significant structural consideration is dealing with the buoyancy stresses, which are typically quite substantial. There is absolutely no reason why a contemporary ambient pressure seafloor habitat cannot be spacious, luxurious and comfortable, with large acrylic panels that provide extraordinary viewing and allow high levels of ambient light. U.S. Submarine Structures, Inc., has done some preliminary work on just such a design. The design includes:
* fully equipped galley
* private 2nd floor sleeping cabins
* lavatory with hot tub
* control and office area
* dining and leisure area
* access area with equipment storage
* lab area
An attached submarine garage would provide access to a 4-passenger, 1000 foot capable submersible for local exploration.
Such a habitiat could be funded by a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization. The organization would lease space on an existing island for the shore based habitat infrastructure. The initial occupants of the habitat would be a family of four, which would mark the first time an actual family would inhabit such a facility. The family would break the record for submerged habitat duration by staying submerged in saturation for 90 days. The opportunities for publicity would be enormous. Subsequently, the habitat would be made available for use, at a fee, by divers, scientists, and other groups after an on-site short training course.
While there have been approximately 70 habitats built in 17 different countries, only Jules Undersea Lodge and Aquarius are currently operating. Clearly, there are problems with ambient pressure habitats, making a one-atmosphere habitat critical to the future of undersea living.
Problems with Ambient Pressure Habitats
Virtually all of the habitats developed to date have been ambient pressure habitats where the occupants are exposed to the pressure induced physiological effects of living at depth. The major physiological problem is the saturation of tissues with nitrogen when the occupants of habitats situated at a depth of more than 10 meters remain on-site for more than several hours. Once tissue saturation occurs the diver must gradually decompress. With habitats as shallow as 15 meters this decompression procedure takes up to 20 hours. In deeper habitats decompression can take several days. Insufficient decompression or premature or accidental surfacing will lead to decompression sickness (e.g. “the bends”), a condition that often results in crippling injuries or death.
Occupants of habitats deeper than 15 meters can no longer breath normal air due to the possibility of oxygen toxicity, and so expensive mixed gas mixtures must be supplied. Other problems such as bone necrosis, inert gas narcosis, high pressure nervous syndrome, carbon dioxide poisoning, thermal problems and chronic ear infections increase the risk of living in ambient pressure conditions. In addition to the potential physical risks, the cost of ambient pressure habitat development, placement, operations, support and maintenance is quite high, and as a consequence few habitats have functioned on a long term basis.
The One-Atmosphere Habitat Solution
The solution to the problems associated with ambient pressure habitats is simply to develop a one-atmosphere habitat system. In a one- atmosphere habitat, the occupants remain at surface pressure regardless of the habitat’s depth. Life in a submerged one-atmosphere habitat is no more stressful than life on the surface. A one-atmosphere habitat is composed of one or more pressure hulls capable of resisting the external hydrostatic pressure of the sea, just as in a submarine or manned submersible. However, a stationary habitat does not require the complex systems that provide a submarine with autonomy. Typically, a one-atmosphere habitat would have normal air supplied from the surface through a pressure resistant pipe. Likewise, power and water is easily routed to the habitat from the surface. And, most importantly, access to the habitat can be through a cylindrical access tunnel. Visitors to the habitat simply walk there, down a series of ramps and steps.
The purpose of a habitat is observation, and with contemporary materials a one-atmosphere habitat for water of shallow to moderate depth can now be built almost entirely of transparent acrylic. The capability of habitat visitors to observe the seafloor and the myriad forms of marine life, in both daylight and night, is remarkable. Habitat occupants who are trained divers can also “lock-out” of the habitat through a lock out chamber that isolates the ambient pressure exit area from the surface pressure habitat. A diver can then explore the local area, in keeping with conventional no-decompression limits, returning later to the habitat and locking back in. A further possibility is to include a dry-transfer lock so that people and equipment could transfer from the habitat to a submarine.
A one-atmosphere habitat with large viewports of monolithic polymethyl methacrylate (acrylic plastic) could easily be built by U.S. Submarines. The habitat could have surface access and surface supplied air conditioned air, power and water. In some ways it would simply be an advancement of the Living Seas concept of Epcot Center. The habitat could be built in interconnected modules with separate private apartments which could be rented to guests or set-up on a time share basis. A common viewing area could be available to area visitors who would like to walk down to the structure to temporarily experience life on the sea floor. Castaway Habitat could also be viewed by the occupants of a related tourist submarine as it makes its journey around the area coral reefs.
The concept of an economically viable undersea leisure habitat has been proven with Jules Underwater Lodge which has been successful despite its limited capacity, poor surrounding water quality and accessibility to only trained divers. There is absolutely no reason why a contemporary habitat cannot be spacious, luxurious and comfortable, with large viewports that provide extraordinary viewing and allow high levels of ambient light, and with access to everyone regardless of age or physical capability. Like the tourist submarine, the Castaway Habitat would allow visitors to experience first-hand, the wondrous underwater world. But unlike the short-term and relatively transitory submarine experience, a stay in the habitat would involve relaxing in a spacious environment, replete with fish feeders, underwater lights and an exquisitely sea-scaped external environment capable of providing hours of fascination.
The SeaRoom Complex is a revolutionary floating, semi-submersible ocean activity center, the major elements of which are a 40-seat underwater restaurant, a 40-seat underwater cocktail lounge and five luxury hotel suites with underwater bedrooms and above-water living rooms with private decks. The structure also contains a gift shop, open deck areas for sunbathing, a snack bar, a floating watersports center and support facilities for a 16-passenger tourist submarine. The SeaRoom Complex is classed by the American Bureau of Shipping and is constructed in modules that can be easily transported and then assembled on-site. The complex can be accessed from the shore via a land bridge, or it can be made completely autonomous with its own diesel generators, watermakers, sewage treatment plant and other equipment to form a complete, self-contained system anchored off-shore. A SeaRoom Complex is a versatile, highly profitable establishment that can be custom designed for any site. The expansive underwater viewing provides hours of entertainment for guests and provides the owners with extraordinary market differentiation. And the cost of a SeaRoom Complex is quite reasonable when compared to the price of alternative waterfront real estate and construction.
Sea Room Experience
The fortunate owners of a residential SeaRoom might leave the office on a Friday afternoon and drive to the local marina, where they’ll board a small outboard powered boat for a quick trip to their SeaRoom habitat, permanently moored in a nearby harbor. They approach the SeaRoom and tie up alongside. A door in the waist high bulwark admits them to the large deck area, where they admire the view that their floating island provides, a vista far superior to that of virtually any waterfront home. The French doors to the deck level solarium are opened and drinks are prepared at the nearby wetbar. For a few minutes the couple sits in the warm, tranquil environment, surrounded by tropical plants. Lounging in heavily cushioned wicker chairs they enjoy the view provided by the floor to ceiling glass walls. Minutes later they descend down the spiral staircase into another world of mystery and luxury. Surrounded now by rich woods and luxurious fabrics they stop at the bottom of the stairs to gaze across the room and out into the sea. Two adjacent panels of acrylic provide a wondrous window ten feet wide and six feet high. Outside that window fish cavort in the fading light, feeding on the encrustations of an artificial reef attachment stretching outward from the window’s base.
They cross the room and slip into the comfort of an over-stuffed couch. Minutes go by as they watch, mesmerized by the activity. As the light fades to darkness they turn on the stereo and start the generator. As they begin cooking with the galley’s modern appliances, the generator charges the 12V batteries and powers the watermaker which makes 40 gallons of freshwater each hour. Run for two hours each day, there is enough fuel on board for the generator to operate for over a year and a half without refueling. The automatic viewport cleaning mechanisms cycle back and forth across the windows, spraying the outside surface with a high pressure jet of water.
The dining room table is a cozy booth set against another large 5′ x 6′ viewport. Behind this window is a special enclosed aquatic exhibit that highlights the fish and invertebrates of the region. An artificial rock wall forms the backdrop and while having their evening meal the couple watches the large plumose anemones and soft corals sway in the current. After dinner, the dishes are placed in the dishwasher and they adjourn to the master bedroom suit. Soon they are both immersed in a luxurious Jacuzzi tub sipping champagne in the dim romantic light. But far from being a standard bath, this tub has had one side cut away and is attached to yet another large viewport. The couple lounges in the tub and enjoys the illusion of being immersed in the sea. At the flick of the switch, brilliant 1000 watt underwater lights illuminate the darkness. Within moments the sea life, attracted to the brightness, pirouettes in front of the viewport. Squid, shrimp and large pelagic fish dance from light to shadow. Another switch turns on the hydrophone, allowing the eerie sounds of the sea inside our luxury retreat. The nearby king-size bed beckons and within minutes, our fortunate couple is sound asleep in the dark silence.
Morning comes with sunlight cascading through the large skylight above the bed. A quick look out the unique periscope window confirms the advent of a calm and brilliant day. Breakfast on the main deck will be followed by a leisurely swim, then some fishing and sun bathing. Later friends will arrive for drinks and a barbecue. Our couple remarks on their fortunate decision to purchase a SeaRoom as their vacation home. The wife notes that someone at work has purchased a time share unit in a SeaRoom in the Caribbean, adjacent to a SeaRoom restaurant. The husband indicates that his boss is interested in a SeaRoom configured as an executive office so the company can expand its existing waterfront office space.
Marine leisure as it applies to undersea vehicles and structures in a tourism environment is a technically demanding and inherently complex subject. Every business failure in this arena has been predicated on management’s unwillingness to seek professional advice. This business sector can be amazingly profitable – but only if you take advantage of the knowledge available and avoid historical mistakes. After a thorough review of this website, one thing should be clear. We are among the world’s leading experts in this highly specialized area. If you want to enter this market sector you will need significant business acumen and financial erudition and you will also need access to substantive capital. The rest we can provide. However, like the airline business, the cost of entry here is high. Business development work for subsea projects is one of our mainstays. When we are not designing or building undersea vehicles we are consulting – in the areas of business planning and feasibility analysis, site survey, vehicle selection, crew acquisition, etc. Indeed, we can provide a complete turn-key operation that will be exceptionally profitable. Provided you are willing to pay for the advice and to listen when it’s delivered.
L. Bruce Jones at U.S. Submarine Structures, Ltd.
email : ussubs [at] ussubmarines [dot] com