No, we didn't reverse the numbers or misplace a decimal point. The super secret IX-529 Sea Shadow that cost $50 million to build back in 1985 just sold for a decidedly underwhelming $2.5 million. What's worse than the colossal flip-flop on price? It was sold for scrap.
It's not that the Sea Shadow didn't work. In fact, it did. The ship was built by Lockheed-Martin to see if the same cutting edge technology behind their F-117 Nighthawk would work in a naval vessel.
The resulting twin-hull Sea Shadow bore a striking resemblance to its winged big brother, and was able to prove it could evade radar and maneuver with stealth on the high seas. It also proved sturdy enough to take a beating in tough weather.
While a resounding success in terms of proving the technology seaworthy, after the ship was unveiled in 1993 the Navy didn't have a usable mission for it. It wouldn't be able to house many sailors, and simply looking like the boss of the seas wasn't enough to secure a commitment to production.
So how does the Navy unload a $50 million boat? First they tried to give it away to any interested museum. Strangely, there were no takers. One can imagine the upkeep of such a vessel would be rather cost prohibitive, no matter what type of crowds it could draw.
The next step was sending the Sea Shadow and the equally super cool submersible dry dock barge the Hughes Mining Barge (HMB-1) that had been used to ferry the boat during testing to the purgatory that is the mothball fleet at Suisun Bay, in the northern portion of the San Franciso Bay.
Finally, like old satellite dishes and missile silos before it, the Sea Shadow and HMB-1 were listed for auction by the government. The only requirement was that the ship be scrapped after purpose — presumably to prevent any gazillionaire industrialist with sketchy intentions from getting up to no good.
The opening bid was set at $100,420 and the winning bid was around $2.5 million. The California-based Bay Ship & Yacht Co. were the victors and though the company really purchased the dynamic duo of the seas for the HMB-1 dry dock, the sad thought of having to scrap the Sea Shadow wasn't lost on the company's general manager Alan Cameron.
In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Cameron said:
"We don't think we're going to make money on Sea Shadow at all […] In fact, it would have been wonderful if we could have just floated it out of there and given it to somebody."
It is a pretty lame end to what was a promising (and expensive) ship. On the other hand, allowing the general public the potential to get behind the helm of a boat like this would be like tossing the keys to a Formula One racecar into a sandbox filled with five year olds. Mayhem would no doubt ensue.
So long Sea Shadow!