Luxury-sub makers and salesmen from the Pacific Ocean to the Persian Gulf say fantasy and secrecy are the foundations of this nautical niche industry built on madcap multibillionaires.
"Everyone down there is a wealthy eccentric," says Jean-Claude Carme, vice president of marketing for U.S. Submarines, a Portland company that custom builds submarines. "They're all intensely secretive."
Who owns the estimated 100 luxury subs carousing the Seven Seas mostly remains a mystery.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen warned his boat builder that loose lips sink ships.
"Not really supposed to talk about the sub, but it's a fancy one, a mighty nice piece of work," says Fred Rodie, one of the engineers who designed Allen's undersea yacht at Olympic Tool & Engineering in Shelton, Mason County.
"If I told you, I'd have to shoot you," says Bruce Jones, president and founder of U.S. Submarines, about the names in his client book.
Jones, the 50-year-old son of a marine-construction engineer, built his first diesel- and battery-powered sub in 1993. Every sales contract since then has included a confidentiality clause to protect the buyer's identity.
"This is a nasty cutthroat business," Jones says.