Yachts: Race to build the most luxurious yacht-style submarine is on

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 20, 2017.

A rendering of the M7 by Migaloo.

A submersible design by Triton.

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For those bored with multimillion-dollar mega yachts, with their ho-hum helipads and snooze-inducing jacuzzis, consider the 928ft-long (283m) M7, designed by the Austrian company, Migaloo Private Submersible Yachts.

If you are the helipad-on-a-sea-vessel type, the M7 not only has a place for your chopper to land, it has a swimming pool, VIP suites, multiple hangar bays, and a design inspired by the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyers. (Alas, its engines are diesel-electric, not nuclear-powered.)

And unlike a yacht, which is just going to sit there on top of the water, floating around like a US$200 million (RM838 million) chunk of burnished driftwood, the M7 can dive to 1,500ft and cruise underwater at 20 knots. The real excitement, as Sebastian the Crab once sang, is “under the sea”.

Life may be better down where it’s wetter, but the M7 will cost you. There’s no precise price tag yet, says Christian Gumpold, chief executive officer of Migaloo. But the US$2.3 billion figure mentioned in this report is close. “This would make it for sure the most expensive private object worldwide,” Gumpold told us via email.

The M7 is not the only submarine available to those rich enough to afford one. For a couple of decades, companies such as Triton Submarines, DeepFlight Adventures, U-Boat Worx BV, and Seamagine Hydrospace Corp have been producing and selling “submersibles”. These are smaller vessels, capable of taking from two to eight passengers thousands of feet down to explore the ocean for hours at a time. OceanGate Inc, founded by the adventure-loving entrepreneur Stockton Rush, is planning to take passengers to the remains of the Titanic in 2018.

Submersibles can’t, however, regenerate their own power, and they rely on yachts or other vessels for long-distance transport and servicing. They’re pretty awesome, but they’re more James Cameron, less James Bond.

Full-on, luxurious, yacht-style submarines are a more recent development. Three companies — Migaloo, the Florida-based US Submarines Inc, and Ocean Submarine in the Netherlands — produce sub designs that aspiring Bond villains dream of: capable of travelling 1,000 miles (1,609km) or more, luxuriously appointed, and the kind of underwater headquarters from which you can plot world domination, or maybe just host friends for a week of exploration.

As you might expect, private submarines are phenomenally expensive. US Submarines’ Nomad 1000  begins at US$6.5 million. Its top-of-the-line, 213ft-long Phoenix 1000, which has more than 5,000 sq ft of interior, is estimated to cost US$90 million.

So while dozens of private submersibles are bobbing around the deep, there are currently no private luxury subs in existence. For all the renderings zipping around the Internet, subs such as the M7 and the Phoenix 1000 remain (mostly) theoretical.

“We’re not building anything right now,” said L Bruce Jones, the founder and chief executive officer of US Submarines, adding that his company, which is affiliated with Triton, is focusing on submersibles “because that’s where the market is”.

“It seems like a massively expensive engineering exercise — and an unproven one — in the recreational sector,” said Stewart Campbell, editor of Boat International. “Yachting is often a volume game — how much space can you pack into your hull and superstructure? There’s a cost-per-gross-tonne calculation that the super yacht world understands. I imagine with one of these big submersibles, that equation goes out the window. You’re not getting much volume for the money, and the equivalent yacht will give you more of everything.” — Bloomberg