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Water Ways: Tripping Along Beneath the Sea

We could all live in a private submarine...

By Melissa Waterman
Click to expandPhoto courtesy U.S. Navy Image Library
Click on image to expand.
OK everybody, let’s all sing together! “We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine….” I can distinctly remember watching the animated Beatles movie, Yellow Submarine, years ago while sitting with my siblings on a green vinyl couch in a room wallpapered with extremely large stylized flowers. Somehow that ode to creativity, music, and “our home beneath the waves” made it to one of the three television networks at an hour before my bedtime. I was watching a cartoon—other than that, I had no idea what was going on. That also might be the case for those unutterably wealthy souls who are searching for their own way to experience the undersea realm. I’m talking about the newest toy for the ultra-rich, the private submarine. Private submarines came to my mind while reading a yachting magazine the other day. It was the type of publication that emphasizes the marble floors of a ship’s saloon and the eight-person hot tub on the forward deck. One article tackled the weighty problem of selecting a remarkable vacation adventure with only a million dollars to spend. According to the author, a million doesn’t stretch very far these days. Still, that wad of cash could buy you a very small personal submarine in which to cruise beneath the waves. Sure enough, when I followed up the information at the end of the article I found an American submarine manufacturing company that offers a variety of private subs for one’s personal cruising pleasure. U.S. Submarines, whose main office is in Seattle but lists branch offices in Dubai, London, and Portland, Oregon, has been making diesel-electric submarines for civilian use for more than 15 years. In addition the company now builds undersea houses, called “habitats,” for those homebodies who just want to stay in one place while under water. The cream of U.S. Submarine’s crop is the Seattle 1000. The vessel is 118 feet (36 meters) long and can dive to a depth of 1,000 feet (305 meters). On the surface the sub tootles along using twin turbocharged marine diesel engines; below the surface electric batteries power the vessel. Cruising speed is 14 knots and, fully provisioned, the Seattle 1000 can remain submerged for up to three weeks, according to the company's brochure. As the song says, “and our friends are all aboard, many more of them live next door.” No need to feel crowded on the Seattle 1000. Its two decks offer multiple staterooms, a spacious gallery and salon, and large acrylic viewports through which to watch the undersea world. The temperature-controlled interior space is pressurized to one atmosphere thus passengers have none of the depressurizing constraints experienced by SCUBA divers. You can go up, you can go down, you can go all around, and feel no physical effects. Of course, the price might cause a gasp: $19.7 million. Luckily, the company also sells smaller submarines, from little submersibles that can be carried on large luxury yachts to the 65 foot-long Nomad 1000 whose well-appointed interior is similar to that of a private executive's plane. My only worry is, who drives these things? If you have spent any time on the water in recent decades you know that there are many skippers out there who not only don’t understand the rules of the road, they don’t even know of their existence. Add to that lack of knowledge a liberal helping of liquor and testosterone-driven hubris and it’s an all-too-common recipe for disaster. Yet it turns out that if one buys a submarine solely for personal use, no licensing requirements exist. U.S. Submarine says on its web site that a private owner simply must “satisfactorily complete” the company’s 40-hour in-house training program. I can only imagine the sorts of lectures the company would hold for navigating here on Penobscot Bay: "How to Dock Your 118-Foot Submarine without Taking Out Three Kayaks, Six Prams, Two Windjammers and a State Ferry"; "Use of Ramming Speed When Entangled in Lobster Traps"; and "Navigating the Fox Islands Thorofare on a Falling Tide" among them. Captain Nemo is rolling over in his grave.
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