You've got to be shitting me, he thought as the $150,000 pod plummeted into the darkness. The suddenly buoyant sub began rising toward the surface, and Triton's first open-ocean test dive for the 3300/3 came to an instant end.

The December 7 mishap jeopardized Lahey's whole trip to the Bahamas. It left him and his crew only three days until tours scheduled with more than 40 prospective buyers — mostly millionaires and scientists — from around the world. If they couldn't fix the sub in time, the tours would be scrapped, no subs would be sold, and Lahey could forget about raising the money needed to reach the bottom of the trench.

Lahey immediately sent half of his employees back to Miami for a spare pod, while he and the remaining crew stayed up all night fixing the problem. By the time potential clients arrived two days later, the sub was working perfectly. So well, in fact, that on one dive, the sub followed a giant manta ray the size of a car for 45 minutes. "It was unprecedented," Lahey says proudly.

The sub cost $3 million to build.
South Florida Dive Journal
The sub cost $3 million to build.
Lahey puts an old-fashioned diving helmet on his daughter, Victoria.
Courtesy of Patrick Lahey
Lahey puts an old-fashioned diving helmet on his daughter, Victoria.

Even better, a billionaire who took the sub for a spin said he was interested in funding the dive to the Mariana Trench. Triton might be trailing Cameron and Branson, but the race isn't over yet.

If a sugar daddy doesn't materialize, Triton has a back-up plan: reality television. The company has already met with the producers of reality-TV shows Gold Rush and The Deadliest Catch. One thing is for sure: There would be no shortage of thrills or F-bombs.

On the patio of his two-story suburban house in Vero Beach, Lahey doesn't look much like a reality-TV star. He's just a regular guy flipping steaks on a grill and listening to Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come. He married Tiziana, an aspiring Italian opera singer, a decade ago. They have a mischievous 8-year-old daughter named Victoria.

But like the ocean he adores, there is something remarkable under Lahey's surface: 30 years spent exploring a world most people only glimpse through snorkel goggles and an almost-realized dream of visiting the Mariana Trench. Whatever the risks to get there, Lahey is committed.

"That will be his magnum opus," Tiziana says over dinner, "his Holy Grail."

"You pour so much of your time and energy into these submarines that you care about them," Lahey says. "We all love them a little too much. They are so precise, so beautiful. And because they do these incredible things, they become something more than these fucking inanimate lumps of metal and wires. They become your life."

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R Brown
R Brown

Just want to point out, getting to the bottom of Mariana Trench isn't so hard. Getting back is the trick.