NOTE: Megayacht News Radio is produced as a podcast and therefore designed to be heard. If you’re able, we encourage you to listen to the audio with Patrick Lahey, which includes emotion and emphasis that this page cannot convey. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech-recognition software and human transcribers, and therefore may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio—each section is timestamped—before excerpting or quoting.
Patrick Lahey, (voiceover), Diane Byrne
Welcome to Megayacht News Radio, the first and longest-running podcast series dedicated to the large yacht industry, hosted by Diane Byrne, the editor of MegayachtNews.com. We feature conversations with engaging and inspiring people in yachting, from shipyard CEOs to designers, from yacht managers to young entrepreneurs. And yes, even owners. You’ll learn how they got into yachting, how they’re building better businesses, and especially how they’re helping people like you get more enjoyment out of the yachting lifestyle.
Diane Byrne 00:52
Welcome, everyone. Today, my guest is Patrick Lahey, the co-founder and president of Triton Submarines. Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, surely you have noticed how personal submarines have become much more popular aboard megayachts. They are more than just toys, though. They open up a world of possibilities to owners, guests, and even crew, letting them see life beneath the surface of the ocean that they otherwise would never see, and in turn better appreciate this big blue marble that we all call home. Patrick has about four decades of commercial underwater experience dating back to his days as a professional diver. So he is well versed in how to make those possibilities a reality for so many of us around the world. We are going to talk about his incredible background, which actually involves designing and engineering dozens of manned submersibles, as well as some of the historic and truly extraordinary experiences that he and the Triton Submarines team have had the pleasure and privilege of being part of–and of course, we’re going to talk about how all of this relates to superyachts. And with that, Patrick, welcome to Megayacht News Radio.
Patrick Lahey 02:14
Thank you very much, Diane. It’s a pleasure to be here. Sorry, I had some technical challenges at the beginning. But I’m ready.
Diane Byrne 02:21
Excellent, excellent. Well, technical challenges begone, we’re rocking and rolling right now. So I know you’ve been an avid diver for some time. But I’m wondering how you got involved in designing and engineering submersibles, because in, in my mind, and maybe the mind of some people who are listening, you know, it’s one thing to die, but it’s quite something different to be involved in creating a, you know, an item that you can die within?
Patrick Lahey 02:50
Well, it’s a good question. And you know, I want to start by saying I am not a designer, I am not an engineer, I certainly contribute to that process. But I have the good fortune to work with some incredibly talented designers and engineers who bring the skill set necessary to create these wonderful vehicles. But that depend on people like me and others who have a lot of operational experience. That’s where I think the where a good design goes from being a good design to a great design when it’s tempered by practical hands on real world experience where you take a wonderfully creative idea that an engineer or a designer might have. And then you temper that idea with the experience that’s needed to ensure that the end result is something that’s going to be effective at what it’s intended to do. It’s going to be reliable, it’s going to be safe, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting. And it’s going to be something that people are going to enjoy to have and are going to be able to look after.
Diane Byrne 03:53
So how did you go from being a an avid diver and I know you turned that passion into your profession. But how did you go from being the diver to coming to the submersible world?
Patrick Lahey 04:04
Let’s say another good question. I started as a diver I began scuba diving at 1319 75 became a commercial diver six years later at the age of 19. And I was very lucky in the early part of my career to work for a commercial diving company that owned some submersibles. And at that time, this was the late 70s, early 80s. There were a lot of human occupied vehicles submersibles being used in the offshore oil and gas industry. When I made my first dive in a submersible, it left such an indelible impression on me that I decided I was going to devote the rest of my life to working with them. I think other people have a similar have had a similar effect, you know on them when they’ve dived into sub mean that the thing that I found so interesting was as a diver, we would often be subjected to hours if not days of decompression. You had real fun Physical limitations to how deep you could go and how long you could stay. And with a submersible, there’s something really liberating about being able to get into this craft, go as deep as you like, and then come right back up and get out again, I thought it was extraordinary. And I just decided that I wanted to work with these vehicles. I wanted to go further than you could as a diver, I wanted to see things that were beyond the reach of traditional divers even experienced in and very well trained commercial divers. And that’s what’s so I think compelling about a submersible is allow you, it allows you to go to places you couldn’t any other way and to see things that you couldn’t, any other way. And I think that’s an enticing prospect to most people.
Diane Byrne 05:48
Yeah, definitely. And I’m glad you mentioned that they submersibles allow you to essentially just kind of climbing and go because that’s one of the questions that people ask me when I talk to them about personal submarines. And not that I’m putting myself out there as an expert by any stretch of the imagination. But when I have conversations with people in yachting, even outside of yachting about personal submarines, oftentimes one of the first questions people have is well, do I need to do any special training? If I want to do this? Do I need to undergo any special preparations? So talk about that, actually, because I love how you said it’s very liberating.
Patrick Lahey 06:25
It is. And I think, you know, I point out, I’ll remind me, and I’ll tell you of one of my clients, that one of my one of my best quotes from a client that came after they made their first dive into sub, but that’s the thing you climb into a submersible, you close the hatch, that’s very important. And inside that craft, you’re at one atmosphere, you’re at the same atmosphere we’re at right now, regardless of how deep you go. It’s like sitting in your living room. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable. It’s usually air conditioned or climate controlled. So you can have a normal discussion like we are, you can look at things without the pressure, and the physical exertion that you would have as a diver. So you have none of the typical worries that you would as a diver, you know how much air is left in my bottle, or how much decompression am I going to be subjected to, you’re just sitting there in this environment that’s like your living room, and you can enjoy the experience, it’s really, to me the best way to explore the ocean because it’s effortless. And it’s sublime, and doesn’t involve any of the stress, or anxiety or discomfort that you would have as a diver. Now to go back to that quote from my client, and I’ll, I’ll clean it up a little bit for the purpose of this interview. But this is an individual who is an avid diver, like me has spent his whole life diving loves diving. And listen, I love diving, too. It’s a very different experience than being in a submersible. But it also limits you, he climbed out of his sub after making his very first dive in it. And he said, That’s it, sell all the F in dive gear, I’m done with that. Because he just enjoyed it. And as we get older and we become less capable, we can’t carry the tank, or we don’t want to carry the tank, or we may have a physical limitation that prevents us from being able to do traditional diving in a sub, you don’t have any of those limitations. You just, you know, climb in, sit down, relax and enjoy it. You know, one thing I would advise is, you know, go to the bathroom before you get in there. Don’t drink lots of coffee or, you know, whatever, so that you can enjoy it and you know, sort of like being on a on a road trip and a car, you know, unless you want to have to keep taking bathroom breaks, you know, you probably limit your intake of fluids so that you can spend more time down there.
Diane Byrne 08:53
Right makes sense got to take those practical needs into account for sure. So when would you say that super yacht owners really started to gravitate towards the idea of having personal submarines onboard?
Patrick Lahey 09:08
I’d say the process really began in earnest about 15 years ago, but it was very slow wasn’t as though sort of a light switch was flipped on. And suddenly everybody recognized how wonderful it would be to have a submersible onboard. Initially, there was a lot of skepticism surrounding the product, a lot of fear, most of it based on myths, or misconceptions that people have of a submersible, this idea that they’re massively complicated, dangerous, scary. I think part of that is because we grow up watching films about submarine disasters, you know, people choking on poisonous gas, as the submarine slowly fills with water, and that sort of thing. And so, it took a while to change the narrative and I wasn’t going to change it on my own because people Just figured while I’m trying to sell you something. So required the early adopters, you know, the real pioneers of our clients who bought subs, and said, You know, I’m going to give this a try. And they changed. They changed that narrative, because they were now talking about these wonderfully rich experiences they were having in a submersible, and how much it enhanced their ownership experience of a yacht, because it allowed them to go and see and do things. They couldn’t any other way. There’s something quite powerful about that, and more powerful, because it were, it were, it was other yacht owners speaking about it enthusiastically, not just me as somebody that builds these things and wants to sell them to you, but people who had bought them, and we’re now really enjoying them, that we’re able to take their friends and family members on these on these dives, that they would never forget, you know, and I think that is really what changed it. So in the last 10 years, it’s it’s increased, but again, not sort of dramatically. And in the last five years, we’ve noticed, and in particular, last few years, it’s really changed, where we now have people and by people, I mean yacht manufacturers, the the big sort of Western European boat builders now coming to us and saying, you know, we have a customer that wants a sub, and can you talk to us about what the practical realities are of putting one on a vessel, launching it, recovering it, maintaining it, training people to operate it, and so on. And that is, I think, what has really changed things for us, because to try and put a sub on a boat after it’s been designed, engineered and built is a lot more difficult than if it’s designed into it. So now that we have customers insisting on putting a sub on their boat, and the planning associated with doing that is done. From inception, it’s not an afterthought, not like trying to put that, you know, indoor swimming pool in the custom home after it’s built. You design it into the craft, and as a result, it’s a more effective installation. And, and it works the way it’s supposed to it’s it’s less of an afterthought and more of something that’s been planned. It’s very exciting to see that change. Because I can tell you, I remember when I would go to boat shows, and people would literally walk by our booth. And they would laugh and they say, look at Looney Tunes here. He wants to put a submarine on a yacht. What a dumb idea. That is. It’s not a dumb idea. I think it’s an inspired idea. And if you think about yachting, and the typical yacht owner, I mean, these are people who are they have the financial wherewithal to afford the product. They’re adventurous people that love the ocean, many cases, they’re they’re already enthusiastic divers. And so why wouldn’t they want to now be able to go way beyond where they could go as as divers? Sure. It’s a long winded answer.
Diane Byrne 13:08
No, no, actually, that’s great. Because I think that’s really what, what drives change for a lot of things, especially in yachting right? It’s a a customer or a yacht builder or designer saying, Well, can I? You know, can I have a cooler experience? Can I engineer something to be, you know, better, stronger, more durable? Can I knock the socks off my client? Right? That’s what everything starts with. So all it takes is somebody to say, Okay, can I and then Hmm, where can I find the answer? And then they come to people like you and say, how do we make this happen?
Patrick Lahey 13:47
Yeah. And interestingly, so many of our great designs have their origins in a client request. I mean, Triton is really a design, engineering and manufacturing company, will design anything within reason. That makes sense. And that stands up to good sound engineering principles. But it’s often our clients that come to us and say, hey, I want to do this or that, could you guys build me a submersible that can achieve that? And and I think it’s really limited by people’s imagination, their willingness to, you know, break with tradition, try something different. And the rewards are enormous. And many of our clients are seeing that and they’re enjoying their yachts more because of what those yachts can do for them, the experiences they can have with them. And I’ve learned that’s what we’re we’re not selling submersibles, we’re selling these, the experiences you can have in them. And those are priceless.
Diane Byrne 14:52
Yeah, absolutely. So in terms of those experiences, technology obviously changes and Advances all the time. And I’m sure you and your team have really embraced a lot of technological advances over the years. But has that been the big driver of change for the submersibles that you make? Or is it more coming from the client saying, Well, can I and then you’re looking into technology to make it happen.
Patrick Lahey 15:21
I think it’s both really, I would say, we live in a very exciting time, where technology is advancing at such a pace, that it’s allowing us to build submersibles today that have capabilities we couldn’t have imagined 20 3040 years ago, in in the last even five years and 10 years, the advances in things like battery technology, materials, technology, allow us to build bigger, thicker, deeper diving subs. Batteries allow us to have greater endurance, greater payload, electronics that allow us to have cameras, imaging systems and sonar systems that, you know, 10 years ago, you’d have been burned as a witch, if you could have done it. So all of that together. So it’s I think it’s a combination, if you will, of advances in technology, and also a sudden, not sudden, but a relatively new interest that’s been shown in the idea of this type of a product on a private yacht, which is really, I think, a very, very exciting thing for me as someone who loves submersibles, and he’s devoted his life to building them and operating them and diving in them. What a privilege it is, to get to create these magical machines that allow others to see the ocean from that perspective, not enough people get that opportunity. Because if you do, I guarantee you, when you dive in a submersible, and you see the ocean, from that perspective, it will create, it will change you forever, you will never look at the ocean the same way. Because you’ve had the opportunity to see it from from, you know, an entirely different perspective. And that I think, is where advocacy comes from a lot of ocean advocacy, a lot of excitement and interest about the ocean is created when people physically get to see it, because so much of it is out of reach of the population.
Diane Byrne 17:34
Right? Yeah, absolutely. We get feedback from owners and from guests and from crew who say, being able to see oceans that they dreamed of as kids have, has just completely changed their life. They feel so much more happy, of course, but they feel more connected to the oceans and wanting to be kind of a shepherd really, in a lot of ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s halfway around the world, they want to make sure that that ocean, and those fish, and those coral reefs are around for years and years and years to come.
Patrick Lahey 18:06
You come back after a submersible dive and you feel like you’ve made a connection with the ocean that you probably didn’t have before. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people climb out of a submersible and say that was the most incredible thing I’ve I’ve ever seen or done. And part of that is because their perception of what it was going to be like is so vastly different from what it was really like. And not only that, I do think that it connects you viscerally with that environment. You know, our most of our subs feature, this transparent pressure boundary, which is made of acrylic, and that that acrylic has an interesting characteristic. It has the same refractive index as water very similar. So when you submerge in that pressure boundary made of acrylic, it’s almost as though the whole vanishes, that there’s nothing between you and that environment that you’re looking at, that the fish could swim into the cabin that you could reach out and touch them. And it makes the experience very immersive. It makes it very memorable. And I say makes it visceral. You know, you come back and you think wow, I mean, I’ve I’ve just been to this extraordinary place. And I feel like I’ve really connected with it in a way that has, I think changed or altered my view of the ocean.
Diane Byrne 19:10
Yeah, yeah, very true.
Patrick Lahey 19:28
We need more of it.
Diane Byrne 19:29
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, speaking of views of the ocean and these extraordinary experiences. You and Triton submarines have been involved in some very high profile expeditions and some world records as well. And I’m thinking about the Mariana Trench dive, which from a from the standpoint of someone who’s just curious, curious about the world. I was reading about it and I just kept thinking, Oh, wow, this is amazing. But I can’t even imagine in my most vivid imagination, what it must have been like. So for you to actually experience it, with everything that you’ve seen, it still must have been mind blowing.
Patrick Lahey 20:13
It really was. I mean, I have, we were so fortunate to encounter a client, Victor, in this case, Victor Vescovo, who had a very specific goal in mind, you know, so go back to this notion that most of our exciting projects and even our products have their origins in a client request. In this case, the client wanted to dive to the deepest point in each of the five oceans. And he wondered if Triton could build him a craft that could do that. So for me, and for all of us who had the opportunity to be part of that. I mean, it was by far the most challenging project that we’ve ever undertaken. But not surprisingly, it was also the most rewarding to build something that I think has fundamentally changed our relationship with the deep ocean is something you know, quite profound about that, you know, to know that we’ve built a vehicle that’s allowed that allows people now to visit the deepest and most remote parts of our ocean, with regularity in absolute safety and a fully accredited DMV certified human occupied vehicle. Well, it was a project that consumed five years of my life and the lives of many people at Triton. From the time it started till the time we completed the five deep tech expedition in the fall of 2019. And all the way through it, it was extraordinary to think of these dives as they occurred. Of course, the mother of them all is the dives that we made in the in the Mariana Trench, and at the time in 2019, only two dives had been made to that depth one in 1960. By the tree asked Don Walsh and Jock Picard made that very daring dive in 1960, in a craft quite different from the one that we built. In 2012, James Cameron, made a successful dive as a solo pilot to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. And then we returned in 2019. And we made five dives to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. And since I think we’ve done I can’t remember the number, but it’s I think, 17, or something in total. And I think that’s worth noting, because, again, not from the standpoint of wanting to brag, because nothing about bragging, it’s about building a craft that allows people to do that, like I said, with with regularity in safety, and that people would use with confidence. So the experience of diving, yes, it was by far, you know, I think the most incredible thing that’s ever happened to me to be able to, to make the those dives. And I think it’s it’s something I’ll never forget least until the Alzheimer’s kicks in. But, you know, I definitely feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity I’ll always be grateful for, for Victor, challenging Triton, with the opportunity to build this revolutionary new sub. And what a great outcome, what a great outcome to know how many other people now have had the opportunity to see that very deep part of our ocean. And to to make it I wouldn’t say commonplace, because it’s still a pretty exclusive club of people that have made those dives. But it’s nice to think that we can do it, we can do it in safety, and we want to take it further. We want to build a sub that can do that with a transparent pressure boundary. You can’t do with acrylic, because the material doesn’t have the strength characteristics to do that. But we aren’t stopping where we are. We continue to innovate, we continue to create new subs and new models that will continue to push the envelope and enhance that experience because in the in the Triton 36,002 or the lf you’re looking at these three windows. But how much more powerful would it be if you’re in a transparent pressure boundary like our our traditionally configured subs?
Diane Byrne 24:34
Yeah, that would be amazing. Absolutely amazing to see.
Patrick Lahey 24:38
But it may be another four or five years before we get there. All right.
Diane Byrne 24:41
All in due time, right? Are there any lessons from from that dive? Whether technologically or even just experienced bodies that are kind of carrying over into the superyacht subs are there things that you’re you’re applying that you learned from
Patrick Lahey 24:59
salutely I would say that anytime you build a craft that pushes the envelope challenges convention, it’s like that vehicle is an extreme example of a craft where everything had to be created everything because there was nothing that you could buy off the shelf. So like, you could walk into the full ocean depth submarine aisle, at your local hardware store and say I just let’s grab some lights, and some, everything had to be created. Either. It was created by Triton, individually, it was created by Triton together with a strategic vendor. I mean, we’d leverage relationships with vendors and individuals from around the world that had an interest and a passion to make that project a reality. And no question that there was equipment technology that came out of that project, which will impact the subs that we’re building today. For example, you know, we wanted to build the deepest diving acrylic pressure Hall stuff, which is under construction right now, at our facility and in San Cuca, just outside of Barcelona, in Spain, are building a sub that will go to 7500 feet, 2300 meters, and it has a pressure haul that’s almost 320 millimeters, about 13 inches thick. And because of the extreme depth of that vehicle, we can’t use the traditional battery pods that we’ve used and some of our other sub. So the battery technology that we’re developing as a result of the experience of building that sub for the full ocean depth project with with Victor is now going to be a standard product that we can offer on our deeper diving subs. But there’s lots of other examples as well of things that you learn technology that you develop, that allow you to continue to evolve. That’s part of what makes Triton such an exciting company. Because we’re always pushing the envelope. We’re always trying to think about what else we could do. Or we have a client that comes to us and say, hey, I want to do this or that. And they give us the opportunity to to innovate.
Diane Byrne 27:22
Right, right. All good stuff. Oh, Patrick, I could probably talk to you for another half an hour about all of this because I’m absolutely fascinated. But I wanted to thank you for coming on Megayacht News Radio and sharing your insight and experiences. It’s, it’s definitely been really interesting and educational. And we’d love to have you back when you guys have some really cool new projects coming up.
Patrick Lahey 27:45
Well, Dan, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak with you about a product you know about something I’m so passionate about. You know, I start with a love of the ocean. But I love Triton. I love these cool products that we continue to build. And I look forward to having a conversation with you again in the future. Who knows maybe when we launch our next maybe when we not last for my next idea. Anyway, thank you very much for having an interest in Triton and and in the new stuff that we’re doing here.
Diane Byrne 28:22
Absolutely. If you’d like to learn more about what Patrick and the team at Triton Submarines are doing, you can visit their website which is tritonsubs.com. Until next time, I’m Diane Byrne.
That wraps up this episode of Megayacht News Radio. Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, please share the word on social media and subscribe to us on Apple podcasts, Audible, iHeartRadio, or Spotify. And of course to learn more about what’s going on in the world of large yacht cruising, new construction, and design, check out our daily updated website, the award-winning MegayachtNews.com.