Auroux 183: Ready to Rule the World

A go-anywhere, do anything, scientific research vessel, Alucia does it in luxurious style.

Alucia

When I stepped aboard the 183-foot explorer vessel Alucia, I half expected to find Ernst Stavro Blofeld somewhere on board, ankles crossed in a comfortable chair as he stroked his white Persian cat and plotted SPECTRE's evil reign. If you were planning to best James Bond or dominate the world, this is the kind of vessel you'd want to do it in.

For one thing, she’s damned comfortable. Light maple joinery throughout, complemented by pale wool carpets and windows that allow plenty of light inside, this explorer’s interior has nothing in common, aesthetically, with her commercial sisters where long, narrow fluorescent-lit corridors with overhead piping, and a workboat aesthetic abound. Staterooms are very spacious, with large windows that bring full daylight and provide magnificent views. From the airy salon, Blofeld would have a majestic view of his watery lair when he relaxed after a tough day of sociopathic behavior.

But it’s more likely Blofeld would relax on the deck above, where another salon, equipped with a massive flatscreen television, would allow him to review not only the footage from the day’s underwater projects (building an underwater headquarters perhaps, where his unsavory plans would remain safe from detection by her Majesty’s secret service?) but live action from anywhere aboard. (How’s the torturing going in the aquarium? Too small for sharks but electric eels aplenty!)

Alucia, of course, was designed for much less nefarious purposes. Acquired by Deep Ocean Quest in 2004, the former Nadir was built at the Auroux Shipyard on the Bay of Biscay in France, not far from Bordeaux. She was designed as a heavy lift ship with a launch and recovery platform for diving and submersible operations. One of her missions was serving as the mothership to Nautile, the small deep-sea submersible that explored so much of the Titanic wreck when it was finally located in the late 1980s.

Today, Alucia is hardly recognizable, after a two-year refit in Seattle. As Rob McCallum, of Deep Ocean Quest explained to me, "She's a bloody complex vessel." She is, for all practical purposes, brand new, since Deep Ocean set out to replace everything that wouldn't last another 30 years. An original binnacle, a handrail in the crew quarters and the A-frame on the stern are the only original pieces of Nadir, according to McCallum.

Designer Joseph Artese was tasked with a tall order. More than a refit, more than a luxury conversion, Alucia in her new state incorporates both an impressively comfortable yacht and a state-of-the-art scientific research vessel. Deep Ocean Quest has had the vessel certified to Bureau Veritas standards and has added a photo lab and a deepwater aquarium. There are wet and dry labs for research, and new hydraulic tracks on the stern that allow the submersibles to slide aft for deployment from the A-frame. And a helipad, of course.

Thanks to her excellent accommodations, operations support and systems redundancy, Alucia can operate in every region, from tropical to polar. Deep Ocean Quest can plan and conduct extended expeditions in the most remote areas and under the most challenging conditions.

Alucia is equipped with two deep-sea submersibles that can send personnel more than a half mile down. These twin Deep Rovers with 320 degree-visibility are designed not only to descend to depths beyond 3,000 feet, but to perform scientific, exploratory and documentary work. A 20-ton capacity crane allows safe deployment and retrieval of the subs in all kinds of sea states. Ship-based multibeam sonar provides real-time, high-resolution seafloor mapping, which is beamed back to Mission Control, an on-deck command module where all of the remote operations are controlled and monitored.

Alucia has accommodation and laboratory support for 14 to 20 science personnel, and a submersible team of five to six technicians/pilots. She is equipped with world-class scientific assets that Deep Ocean Quest cites as "broadly comparable to those of a government-operated, ocean-class research vessel."

But on top of all this, Alucia had been outfitted with state-of- the-art filmmaking, communication and media capabilities. Submersible HD-imaging, two editing suites, and powerful satellite equipment allow for live HD video broadcast from anywhere in the world.

As you’d expect, her diving facilities are gold standard. On board capabilities include mixing and storing diving gas, a 52- inch twin-lock three-man decompression chamber and four fully equipped RIBS support underwater operations.

Not as sexy, but equally cool, Deep Ocean Quest added a modern sewage plant and waste incinerator system to minimize her impact on the remote regions Alucia will visit.

Obviously, this is a unique ship. Her research and scientific capabilities make Alucia one of the world's best-equipped vessels for this sort of exploration. But combine that with her luxurious interior and it's clear she is probably the only ship of her kind.

Deep Ocean Quest completed sea trials on Alucia not long ago and have put her on the market for $42 million. That price is merely break-even, and Deep Ocean Quest is hoping someone with deep pockets who is an adventurer with a passion for advancing ocean exploration will step up to take on running Alucia.

“People ask me why we decided to do such an extensive refit instead of just building a new boat,” McCallum smiles. “But there are things we got with this boat that really offset the price.” He’s referring, most importantly, to a sea-proven hull that has been involved in some of the world’s most remote and exciting oceanographic operations for more than 30 years. The design expenses involved in creating a brand new yacht for these purposes would have been huge and the result, unproven.

What's next for this master of the universe? Rumors are she's headed south for the winter. Alucia bobbing in turquoise waters? Gorgeous. Blofeld in a Speedo? Not so much.

Fraser Yachts, 206-382-9494; www.fraseryachts.com