Super-yacht owners accessorize their boats in a myriad of ways, from amphibious vehicles to a jet-chopper hybrid that will get them to the helicopter pad on deck faster. Latest on the list: a luxurious personal submarine.
Code named Project Neptune, the world's most luxurious personal submarine design was revealed at the 2017 Monaco Yacht Show in the glitzy South of France location. The initial drawings show a sleek looking sub with blue and gray colors, blade-like pontoons and an enormous transparent acrylic "bubble" of a cabin for maximizing incredible underwater views. Project Neptune's price tag, a cool $4.4 million, plus options.
The three-person sub marries the diving and operational expertise of Vero Beach's Triton Submarines with Aston Martin's design, materials and craftsmanship. Loved and revered in Britain, the century-old automaker is best known for making beautiful high performance sports cars. However, Aston Martin recently branched out into complementary side ventures. Project Neptune enhances its brand into new aspects of the luxury world such as the AM37 powerboat that partnered with Quintessence Yachts and a 66-story residential tower in Miami.
Triton has pioneered the sale of million dollar personal submersibles to the ever-growing - in both size and numbers - global fleet of super yachts. Triton's bright yellow subs are also aimed at explorers, scientists, and filmmakers pushing back the ocean's frontiers. In 2013, the first astonishing video footage of a giant squid was captured from a Triton 3300/3 submersible, while in 2016 Sir David Attenborough (at age 90) was seen exploring the Great Barrier Reef in a Triton sub for his BBC documentary series.
"Bruce (Triton CEO Jones) and I attended boat shows 25 years ago and were laughed at when we said we could put a submarine on a yacht," recalls Triton president Patrick Lahey, in his cheerful manner. "It took one visionary customer willing to try something new and show we weren't crazy. Yacht owners these days want more diverse experiences. So we're not just selling subs, we're selling the experience — opening up a whole new world of adventure, especially for younger buyers."
Teams at both Triton and Aston Martin are taking part in the design and manufacturing.
“It is a true collaboration in every sense,” says Lahey who has more than 10,000 dives in 53 different submersibles over the course of 34 years. "We have always admired Aston Martin's sports cars that represents a deeply held passion for technology, engineering and timeless, elegant design. From our first interaction, it was apparent that we were natural partners. Project Neptune will be faster and more maneuverable than existing Triton models and will reach depths of 1,650 feet. This is gonna be a whole lot of fun.”
Project Neptune is the flagship project of Aston Martin Consulting. Its styling is unlike that of any submarine on the market, featuring sleek body panels made from materials sourced by Aston Martin’s design team. The platform is based on Triton's acclaimed 1650/3LP (low-profile) sub, but Aston Martin says it will be produced on a strictly limited edition basis. The low profile allows for discreet storage on the deck of a super-yacht. The new partners said Project Neptune will make its premiere at the lavish Monaco Yacht Show in September and start shipping later in the year.
The Aston Martin design team is tasked with creating the sub's richly detailed interior.
"We have used forms and proportions that express the same devotion to design, engineering and beauty that shape our cars, such as the Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercar project," says Mark Reichman, chief creative officer. "We want to make the submersible simpler to operate and by using the right aesthetics inside the submarine it will make one feel immediately at ease.”
All the hype is likely backed up by some serious performance. Early sub specs say it will travel down to 500 meters (1,650 feet), has a speed of 5 knots (6 mph) and can carry enough oxygen for an 8-hour dive. Electically powered, it's just 5' 11" feet tall and 8,800 pounds, the lightest and smallest three-person sub in production in the world, according to the company.
Six years ago Triton's 3300/3 submersible was spotlighted on the Discovery Channel in the network’s most watched special in history, the documentary Giant Squid: The Monster Is Real. The first-ever images of the elusive 40-foot long creature were filmed in its natural habitat from the sub in the north Pacific Ocean. Regularly used by researchers in the arctic and deep oceans, Triton's submersibles are also operated by tour companies in island destinations.
Lahey grew up in Ottawa, Ontario where the sole body of water was a frigid river that snaked through town. His father was a member of the Royal Canadian Navy who battled German U-boats during WW II. In the 1960s he took a job building houses in Holetown, Barbados and brought Patrick and his brother to the island.
"I had never seen the ocean up to that point, that's where my love affair with the ocean began," Lahey recalls." I learned to snorkel and scuba dive in the family pool at 13."
In the early 1980s Lahey piloted small subs for offshore oil companies, capable of welding and repair work on the rigs deep in the ocean. He topped those adventures by laying explosives from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico and later working oil rigs in the treacherous waters of the North Sea.
Lahey worked at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute north of Fort Pierce in 1986 on their successful mission for NASA locating the remains of Space Shuttle Challenger after it exploded over the Atlantic. Then Lahey headed to the Caribbean where he toted tourists on subs beneath the waves. In 2007 Lahey teamed up with CEO Bruce Jones to launch Triton Submarines. Patrick lives in Vero Beach along with his wife Tiziana and their 14-year-old daughter, Victoria.
"We believe submersibles are here to stay," Lahey maintains."Our market is growing each year. For those who've tried it, it's a truly sublime experience." On a cloudless Thursday morning I travelled to Triton's manufacturing facility in a pair of unassuming metal buildings in West Vero Beach. The shop floor is humming full throttle with talented workers and a band of uniquely skilled engineers. In addition, Triton employs former and current submarine pilots who have worked on scientific missions as well as tourist submarines around the world. The company employs 26 people in Vero Beach with another eight overseas. The majority of their products are clustered in the $3.3- $5.1 million range. Triton's 1000/7 can hold up to a pilot and six passengers and dive to a depth of 1,000 feet. It sells for $4.9 million.
Triton started out building a couple of subs a year, but ran into a problem with producing the acrylic sphere, which halted production for three years.
"We have gradually built production back up from one to two orders per year to four this year and possibly six next year," Lahey noted.
Each submersible requires roughly 12 months from order to delivery. Triton conducts initial sea trials in the Fort Pierce Inlet, with demonstration dives for new owners in the turquoise waters off Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. An existing super-yacht crew member can be trained at Triton's facility consisting of classroom exercise, submarine theory, practical maintenance training, and practical dive training in a simulator. It's closer to flight school than submarine training. Most of the pilots get a minimum of 20 dives before they are certified by Triton.
The sub owner and a guest sit in the prime seats up front inside the clear acrylic sphere that allows almost 360-degree visibility. Dropping through another world, the sub's five LED light bars illuminate everything from huge barrel sponges and a limestone labyrinth of coral to bioluminescent creatures such as a trumpet fish to massive six gill sharks. The pilot is stationed behind the passengers, steering is via a tiny joystick and a touch-screen for safe navigation. The sub can remain submerged for up to 12 hours complete with air conditioning and humidity controls.
Triton submersibles are designed, tested and certified to the most rigorous safety standards. The civilian submersible industry claims a perfect safety record with roughly one million passengers per year going on dives as tourists.
"There are tons of different analyses and reports detailing every aspect of the sub," Lahey explains. "All materials are fully traceable, independently verified and accredited by internationally recognized and independent certification agencies like ABS and DNV/GL. Unlike scuba diving the internal pressure of a Triton submersible remains at surface pressure regardless of the depth so you can dive as deep as you want with no physical effects, like the bends."
The greatest leap forward in the submersible world has been in the acrylic spheres where passengers sit inside. At $500,000, it's also the most expensive component of a submersible. The Triton 7500/3 has the thickest transparent acrylic pressure hull ever produced (12 inches thick), which is capable of withstanding the crushing weight of water at 7,500 feet.
Traditionally, acrylic spheres in submersibles have been made by slush casting the material then bonding it. Triton together with two innovative German companies pioneered a new and much better acrylic manufacturing methodology (thermoforming), which results in material that is far stronger, clearer and superior to anything previously made.
"Evonik Industries in Darmstadt manufactures the acrylic block and thermoform discs made of acrylic into hemispheres," Lahey explains, "and a second company Heinz Fritz in Herbrechtingen performs the machining, polishing and bonding necessary to create the finished product.
"Triton submersibles are built using completely transparent acrylic spheres. The acrylic sphere is so clear that when the submersible dives, the barrier between you and the environment appears to vanish and you become one with the ocean.”
The name Triton comes from Greek mythology, where Triton, son of Poseidon, was the messenger of the sea. Today, the oceans are the largest, yet least understood ecosystems on our planet, and vital to our survival. Modern submersibles are finally allowing us to explore and witness the wonders at the heart of the ocean. Aquanauts like Lahey are leading the way to explore an unseen world.
"I'm not a scientist or an engineer, but I have had a deep and abiding love of the ocean since I was seven years old," Lahey says. "We live in an age where we know more about the far side of the Moon and Mars than we do about what goes on in the world’s oceans. That doesn't make any damn sense.
"We call this beautiful underwater world 'inner space.' Remarkably, 95 percent of the sea floor has yet to be explored. You can film wonderful new sea creatures on virtually every dive because the moment you go beyond the typical SCUBA depths you will probably see things no one has ever before and that's exciting."