Mike Caplehorn has a love for the sea, especially at depths of up to 300 meters, when he's piloting his small submersible.
"Inside the submersible's transparent sphere, you gradually lose awareness of the barrier between you and the sea," says Caplehorn, president of an Australian construction company. "When you turn off the lights underwater, it feels as if you've become part of the ocean."
While not exactly mass production, SEAMagine, a Los Angeles company that makes small submarines, has sold just nine of their underwater vessels in 12 years, two to Caplehorn.
But that's enough to make it a major force in the small submersible industry and, with each two-seat sub going for around $1.5 million (120 million yen), founder Charles Kohnen sees a bubbly future.
Customers come from all over the world and, while most buy the subs for recreational use, some are tourism operators and leasing firms.
Caplehorn's first purchase, about 10 years ago, was for a sub that could dive 100 meters, but he recently upgraded to a $1.5 million model that has a 300-meter depth capacity.
The purchase was partly justified by his side business making wildlife documentaries for television, which involves using a ship-based helicopter to track down humpback whales and other creatures of the deep and then hunting for underwater shots with the submersible.
Kohnen, a former oil drilling company engineer who founded the company in 1995, with his elder brother, is now planning on selling his submarines, which can reach a depth of up to 1,000 meters, to coast guards and oil drilling companies.
"Large submersibles can only be used by a select number of researchers," Kohnen says. "Submersibles that can easily travel through shallow areas have a broader range of applications. They can also be used to respond to accidents at sea."
U-Boat Worx, located near Europe's largest port city, Rotterdam, is another big player in the market.
For Bert Houtman, company president, undersea exploration had been a dream since childhood. In 2005, the 55-year-old sold a software company and used the proceeds to found U-Boat Worx.
Three engineers are in charge of the entire production process, from design to manufacture. A standard two-seat model is priced at 850,000 euros ($1.07 million, or 85 million yen).
"We sell two or three a year to wealthy people who want to see sunken ships, coral reefs, and the like," says sales manager and executive Charlotte Schroots. "We just received an order from a Russian customer for a new five-seater."
Buyers receive around two weeks of training in handling the subs.
"The price is still too expensive for the average person, but I dream that there'll come a time when submersibles are as easy to ride around in as cars," Schroots says.
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