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It’s a Boat. It’s a Sub. It’s a ‘SemiSub’! Talking Story with CEO Curtiss Jackson

Posted in: People, Things to Do


By Kent Coules, Publisher

The SemiSub One is a brand new, five-star, 149-seat semi-submersible watercraft that opened its galleys to the public on O‘ahu in November 2019. The vessel is the first of its kind in the world and has garnered major buzz both locally and worldwide for the unique experience it provides lucky guests.

“The SemiSub One prototype has been in development for more than a decade,” says Founder and CEO Curtiss Jackson, “and has undergone rigorous scrutiny on its road to sailing openly in Hawaiian waters.”

The SemiSub One at rest
The SemiSub One at rest

Jackson, a New Jersey native, operated a 44-passenger semi-submersible on Maui for years. “Customer demand was high, and guests loved learning about our amazing underwater world, but there were significant drawbacks to the experience.” The vessel was slow, the capacity was small and there was no way to deliver a high-end experience. “We couldn’t provide the comforts or food capabilities that a luxury above-water vessel could offer.”

It wasn’t until a trip to the Great Barrier Reef that Jackson had his epiphany for SemiSub. “I had this vision of the young, old and disabled enjoying breathtaking underwater experiences all over the world,” he says. “And I needed to come up with a vessel that could reach the reefs from shore faster.”

The Vietnam veteran, who flew in a Helicopter Squadron off the USS Denver LPD9, tapped into his electrical and mechanical engineering background to envision the hybrid catamaran/submersible. “My father was a vice president at Bendix, who built the guidance system for the Redstone Rocket. Dad also owned a company that did small runs as a prototype shop. Engineering is in my blood.”

Following his Great Barrier Reef inspiration, Jackson immediately began developing the schematics for what would eventually become the SemiSub. “It would have the ability to ballast down and up, use jet drive technology that was safer for marine life, and provide a faster transit time,” Jackson says.

In addition to the core changes, he designed the vessel so that it was luxurious with rich carpeting from Italy, and seating and tables from Australia. He then added a full galley, multiple restrooms and two bars with one on each deck, and a dumbwaiter system that moves the food and beverages between the decks for faster customer service.

A view of the SemiSub's upper deck
A view of the SemiSub's upper deck

“There are countless catamaran and diving tours all around the island of O‘ahu, though there is nothing else that quite resembles the experience of the new SemiSub One,” Jackson adds. “The SemiSub vessels are designed to function as enclosed, air-conditioned, commercial luxury yachts that partially submerge, allowing guests an underwater view similar to that of a scuba diver, all from spacious and comfortable seating. It’s theatre underwater viewing of the beautiful Honolulu reefs and their sea life—turtles, dolphins, sting-rays and squid. Because the SemiSub is powered with jet propulsion, the vessel transitions from shore to desired touring destinations quickly, before slowing and ballasting down.

“The SemiSub vessels are wide and open, with spiral staircases that allow guests to go from the view compartments up to the main deck, easily overcoming the effects of any claustrophobia,” says Jackson. “The SemiSub is also spacious enough to allow guests to lounge in fine seating and enjoy a full dining experience. The food menu is the creation of Hall of Fame restaurateur Chef Chai.”

View turtles, fish, squid, stingrays, dolphins and more in their natural habitat
View turtles, fish, squid, stingrays, dolphins and more in their natural habitat

Today Jackson is already preparing changes for the next generation of vessels using what has been learned from the
prototype to further improve the vessel’s capabilities and sustainability for future guests, as well as company investors. “The SemiSub One is our prototype. Someday, we envision people all over the world experiencing the enchantment of our underwater world. But today, the only place to have this cutting-edge experience is right here on O‘ahu.”

SemiSub provides the luxury of a first-class boating and dining experience with the viewing privileges of a submarine. “We create a lifetime memory for all who come on board,” Jackson concludes. In addition to the reef cruises, SemiSub offers a VIP Friday Evening Fireworks Cruise that includes a lei greeting, gourmet cuisine and an amazing fireworks display, viewed with the background of the beautiful Waikīkī skyline. To book your SemiSub adventure, go to semisub.com or call
(808) 468-7585.

 

[A version of this article appears in print in the pages of This Week O‘ahu]

 

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