By Eric Barton
Robert Collada was in Greece in September, relaxing on a friend’s yacht, when he spotted a couple of ships heading into harbor. They were massive super-yachts, and rumors started flying about who might be on them.
That night, a tour bus pulled up and an entourage poured out. Paparazzi snapped photos as the wildly dressed bunch got on board one of the ships. Leading the group was Lady Gaga.
It didn’t surprise Collada, president of the tender sales company Novurania of America in Vero Beach. “The charter business is kind of on fire right now,” he says. And what attracted Lady Gaga on board that particular ship, Collada figures, was a whole lot of toys. “When you have a charter business, you want a boat that has all the toys on board.”
Those toys may be the limo-style tenders that Collada sells, jet skis hidden in a below-deck bay, or a helicopter strapped to the back – all fully on display this year on the docks at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
But nowadays, there’s a new standard of whether a yacht is fully equipped: submarines. These personal subs, which typically hold a handful of people and can head down a thousand feet or so, have become the toy of choice for the yacht crowd.
You’ll see one of them at this year’s boat show, Oct. 30-Nov. 2. Triton Subs of Vero Beach, one of the world’s biggest personal sub makers, will be back to display its most popular model, which will set a yacht owner back a couple of million.
One company, SEAmagine Hydrospace Corp. in California, first started selling a two-person sub in 2000. But owner Charles Kohnen didn’t picture subs on a yacht until he got a call in 2004.
“It was a captain friend of mine, and he said he had an owner who wants to put a sub on his boat,” Kohnen recalls. “I told him that a ship needs to be 85 meters to house a sub, and no yacht is that big. He said, ‘This one is.’”
Suddenly a personal sub became the new extravagant add-on for mega-yacht owners. Russian billionaire Roman Abamovich added a two-person sub to his ship. Microsoft founder Paul Allen one-upped him by buying two.
In response, marine companies began proposing luxury subs, ones that look like fish and leap out of the water and other wild designs that appear ready to battle the Death Star.
Triton opened in 2007, picking up submarine experts from an underwater program that lost its funding at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Triton’s design includes a simple bubble of transparent acrylic next to two yellow arms that hold ballast tanks. It was reliable, easy to steer, and simple to load and unload using a yacht’s robotic arm.
Triton now offers several models that hold anywhere from two to eight people. Prices range from $2.3 million to $5 million, which will buy you a submersible that can reach depths of 5,000 feet.
Only 5 percent of the ocean floor has been explored, so most trips in a sub mean a maiden exploration, said Marc Deppe, Triton’s vice president of sales and marketing
“For the yacht owners, they can provide family and friends with a unique experience. Imagine telling someone you’re about to take them somewhere that no person has ever seen before,” Deppe said.
Triton expects to build about a half dozen new subs in the next year, mostly of the three-person model that can travel 3,300 feet below the ocean surface. That model also happens to be the sub they’ll be bringing this year to the boat show in Fort Lauderdale.
For yacht owners thinking about buying one, you’ll need to wait about a year for a build to be completed. You’ll also need to send one of your crewmen to Triton for about four weeks of training – included in the price, of course.
Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show
Date: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 30 through Nov. 2 and 10 am.-5 p.m. Nov. 3
Tickets: $22 online, $24 at the show
For more: 954-764-7642,
By the Numbers
Boats in the show: 1,500
Value of boats in the show: $4 billion
Temporary docks built: 1,653
Square footage of event space: 3 million
Beer sold: 5,500 gallons, in 30,000 cups
Length of boats in show if put end to end: 42,500 feet
Source: Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show organizers