Run Silent, Run Cheap
What do you get for the friend who has everything? How about a personal submarine from U-Boat Worx of Breda, Netherlands?
Now, you might want to quibble with our headline, because the C-Quester 1 submersible costs about US $130 000, which many would say is anything but cheap. Then again, it's a submarine, and that means it takes you where no other commercial product can go.
”This is a fantastic toy, and it's very easy--anybody who can drive a car can drive this little thing,” says Tom Juijn, who early this year became the first person to purchase one. Juijn, a professional diver who operates a marine salvage company in Cartagena, on Spain's Mediterranean coast, likes the sub so much that he has become U-Boat Worx's designated retailer in Spain and the Middle East.
Juijn takes us through the machine's paces. First off, he says, ”there's no need for a diving suit--you can get in wearing a tie and a Sunday suit, and sit on a normal chair,” which puts your head in an acrylic dome that affords 360 degrees of visibility. Next you turn on the computer and check the safety data, including carbon dioxide concentration, air pressure (which always stays at 1 atmosphere), and temperature (which remains at whatever level you've set the air conditioner to). ”Then you push the joystick forward, and you go forward; push it left or right, and you go left or right.” The stick controls a rudder in the back as well as side thrusters, which can rotate through 45 degrees. You can power your way up and down, also, but for serious vertical motion you can always blow out the air tanks in order to dive or release ballast in order to rise.
The sub is 2.8 meters long, weighs 1030 kilograms, and works off three electric motors that draw on good old-fashioned lead-acid batteries. The oxygen supply and the CO2 filters could, in an emergency, keep a person alive for 36 hours.
Juijn and his company's employees have taken their sub to speeds of 2.5 to 3 nautical miles per hour for as long as 2.5 to 3 hours, two figures that together define its range of about 6 nautical miles. It can descend as far as 50 meters, ”which is fine, because most of the interesting stuff is under 20 meters,” he says. That diving floor is not a suggestion but a requirement: try to go lower and the submarine's depth-control system will stop you.
You might think an undersea voyager could just sneer at the weather, but that is not the case, Juijn says. You need to be able to get into and out of the sub without getting swamped--which means sailing only when the short waves (as opposed to long swells) measure less than half a meter.
The natural customers are marine biologists, environmentalists, and tour guides. Guides will be particularly interested in a $190 000 two-seat model, the CQ2, which is in development.
Of course, the truly wealthy may enjoy such a bauble if they can use it to entertain a guest: ”Perhaps you would like to see my little underwater operation before I kill you, Mr. Bond.”
One thing affluent owners will be able to afford is a crew to maintain the sub between dives and to watch over it while it's running. Nobody should ever dive without a surface vessel and crew standing at the ready with a crane and other rescue equipment, Juijn says. A pilot who loses wireless contact with the surface crew must surface immediately--a person who gets stuck has no way to get out. --Philip E. Ross
The C-Quester 1 costs about US $130 000, plus taxes, import duties, and registration fees. Contact the manufacturer at http://www.uboatworx.com.