Pelagic Travel

by Julian Ryall

amuzasubmarineThe Final Frontier: Submarines open up new horizons for jaded travelers.

You no longer have to be in the navy to pilot a submarine.

When he was a boy, the one thing that Kiyotaka Miyagawa wanted more than anything was his own underwater craft. It has taken him a couple of decades—and a lot of money—but he has finally achieved it.

And he is so confident that other people will want to share his boyhood dream that he has set up a company producing revolutionary, two-seat leisure submarines.

“I started the project in Perth in 1996, but it was very difficult to find submarine technicians and experts in Australia so we moved to Okinawa in 2002 and last year completed work on our first two-person submarine,” said Miyagawa. “We already have orders for 10 craft and we have a production capacity of 15 vehicles a month,” he said. “We plan to make our first delivery by the end of the year and there are some orders from customers in Japan, although the majority are being exported to members of the royal families in the Middle East and other wealthy people there.”

Each submersible has a cool price tag of US$2 million.

Word-of-mouth has been such a powerful marketing tool for the next must-have rich man’s plaything that the company is not advertising yet and a showroom in Tokyo is probably 18 months away, he said.

And by then, Miyagawa plans to have added at least two more designs to his stable of leisure submarines, one capable of carrying six people and another with room for 10 with a spacious lounge area beneath an oval dome.

For now, however, his 20 technicians are fine-tuning the first Amuza submarine, which has a steel hull reinforced with titanium alloy that incorporates a range of cutting-edge technologies.

amuza-submarineAt nearly 4.9 meters long, a little over 2 meters wide and 1.9 meters high, the Amuza weighs 3.4 tons and an impressive maximum speed of 20 knots, both submerged and on the surface. The craft can operate to depths of up to 120 meters, stay under water for three hours when operating at minimum speed, and is powered by lithium-ion batteries linked to environment-friendly water jets.

Other companies have built leisure use submarines, but none of them have the maneuverability of the Amuza or the advanced interior equipment that is packed into its cockpit. The compact craft is able to perform vertical dives and climbs, run on an angle or upside down, spin on its own axis and do underwater somersaults. The vessel is fully computer controlled—although that can be over-ridden in an emergency—and is equipped with GPS and monitors to keep an eye on its blind spots, a three-dimensional attitude control system, a whole plethora of safety devices and even a CD player.

But it is the acrylic canopy that catches the eye, its oval shape giving the pilot and passenger 360-degree views of all that is going on around the submarine. “Other leisure-use submarines are slow and made in the military style, with small portholes that make it difficult to see outside, so we believe this oval shape is the best,” said Miyagawa. “It was very difficult to make because we are the first to do it, but I think it had to be like this to make the shape of the submarine attractive.”

Those design philosophies are being carried over to the next generation of larger submarines, which look positively space age in the artists’ impressions that the technicians are working from. Yet another project is a private yacht equipped with doors below the waterline in its hull from which a personal submarine can emerge.

And Miyagawa waves away concerns over the technical hurdles that need to be overcome. “When I was a child, this was my dream,” he said. “Ten years ago, I decided to make it a reality and we have had lots of problems in the meantime, but now I have gathered together the experts and specialists we need, then it is easy to make these submarines.”