Bert Houtman has the résumé of a rational businessman. The 61-year-old Dutchman studied economics, co-founded a company that makes accounting software, and led it to a successful initial public stock offering.
After leaving his firm in 1996, though, he began casting about for his next act, and got to wondering what was happening in the world of underwater vehicles. "This was the thing that wanted me," he says. Here is where things start to get less rational.
We sit at a table on the upper aft deck of the Alk, a steel-hulled 100-foot former research vessel anchored in the clear blue sea off the island nation of Malta. The sun blazes, and the air temperature, even on the water, is in the eighties. In the middle distance off the stern, something breaches the surface and rises up out of the sea: a five-foot-wide clear acrylic sphere and what looks like two bright yellow pontoons.
It is a C-Explorer 2, a two-person sub made by Houtman's company, U-Boat Worx. The submarine obsession he called "a fantasy that became a passion" had also produced something real.