It is no secret that superyacht owners and charter guests are becoming bolder by the minute. Luxury travellers are already comparing notes on Antarctica or swapping tips on Papua New Guinea – and now, they are heading underwater to explore the oceans by submarine. At this year’s Monaco Yacht Show, Project Neptune was the talk of Port Hercules. A collaboration between submarine pros Triton and British car brand Aston Martin, the sub shares many of its design signatures with the automobile marque, coupled with the expertise and experience of Triton. If anything proves that submarines are having a moment, this perfect pairing must be it.
Louise Harrison, director of sales and marketing at Triton, points to the airline industry to explain the submarine’s gradual rise to familiarity. “People didn’t know much about airplanes in the past,” she explains. “They probably thought it was a crazy thing to be doing and that it wasn’t natural to fly. I think in some respects we are in a similar space with submersibles, but people are beginning to overcome those fears.” The emergence of acrylic hulls over the past ten years has helped, enabling large passenger domes and a far more immersive experience. “It has meant that we’ve progressed from claustrophobic tin cans,” adds Harrison.
Charles Kohnen, the president of SEAmagine, agrees. His California-based company manufactures luxury personal subs, which range from between US$1 and US$3m. “Luxury and comfort is becoming a far greater focus than over the past ten years,” he says. “SEAmagine’s new submarines to be delivered in 2018 are extensively focused on the luxury and comfort aspect and not simply as pragmatic underwater vehicles. You will have to wait to our new launch to see what we mean.” Their existing models are impressive enough. The Aurora 6S, for example, seats six in its extra large spherical cabin; there’s even a staircase to reach the interior.
Beyond improvements in all the requisite luxury and comfort, the last decade has seen huge progress in terms of design, technology and research, all of which makes these machines easier than ever to launch, maneuver and pilot – crucial when it comes to superyachts. Anybody who watched the BBC documentary Great Barrier Reef last year will have noted the ease with which the then 89-year-old naturalist David Attenborough was able to join a research trip on board a Triton 3300/3 submarine. A touring virtual reality experience later introduced thousands more to Australia’s world famous reef system as seen from a submarine. It’s a perspective that more and more people are keen to experience.
Jan Verkerk, who owns the 77m explorer yacht Legend, is a case in point. He built his yacht with room to accommodate a three-man U-Boat Worx C-Explorer submarine. “The sub is very popular with charter guests,” says Verkerk. “The best place we’ve taken it so far is Antarctica. It is just indescribable to dive there alongside large whales, penguins and seals. You can also see large underwater portions of icebergs. It’s like nothing else.” Of course, a superyacht needs to be equipped for such bulky toys – but thanks to the new wave of expedition yachts, they often are. Karen Hawkes, co-founder at DeepFlight explains. “Yacht designers and shipyards are recognizing superyacht owners’ increased interest in carrying a diverse range of toys, and are either building new boats specifically to carry the toys, or designing/re-configuring garages to accommodate this interest,” she says.
Their submarines, famed for their visionary clients such as Tom Perkins, are designed specifically to be as easy as possible to keep on board. “Our focus lies in designing submarines so lightweight and small that launching, recovering and storing them is not that much different than for tenders,” says Hawkes. The flight controls on their subs are so intuitive to use that professional pilots are not required; owners can pilot their own DeepFlight submarines. With any luck, these very superyacht owners and charter guests are seeing the oceans in a new light, something which Triton’s Louise Harrison sees as a motivator. “These submarines are getting more people interested in ocean conservation,” she explains, “which can’t be a bad thing.”