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The Lure of Boats that are Out of Your League

Michael Peters

Sightlines - November 2016

Delusions of Grandeur

It’s hard to resist Playing With Boats That Are Out of Your League.

Feadship Symphony

Spec’ing out a superyacht like the 333-foot Feadship Symphony sure would be fun, but paying for it is quite another matter.

A familiar joke goes like this: A guy goes to the mess hall on his first day in prison and someone yells out “42!” and the whole place rips up in laughter. A minute later, another inmate hollers out “123!” and again, everybody breaks up. So the new inmate asks, “What the heck is going on?” and an older prisoner says, “Most of us have been here so long and heard these jokes so many times, we just call them out by number.” Ask any seasoned designer, broker, or builder in the boat business, and they’ll tell you that the same thing goes for some well-known clients. All we have to do is mention certain names, and everybody just bursts out laughing. 

In the days before the Internet, when a design was published in a boating magazine, we would usually get a stack of mail in response. The letter-writers would request additional information about the boat that they wanted to buy as soon as they came into a pile of money in a few years. I remember getting really hopeful about these prospects, until I saw the number next to their signature and the address of the state penitentiary as the return address. Fully half of the old letters I saved in my files were from prisoners. Some of these men were probably less delusional than a lot of guys on the outside.

Yacht designers don’t get calls every day for a custom yacht, so when we do, we take the bait. We can be a pretty gullible lot, and make easy marks for less-than-genuine clients. A while back, we got a call from a movie director in Denver, responding to a design shown in Power & Motoryacht. He asked all sorts of questions, and for a couple of weeks we sent him everything we could. You would think a movie director ready to spend $25 million on a yacht would be a pretty high-profile person, but I came up blank when checking him out. My sister lived in Denver, so I asked her to look him up. It turned out his office was just across the street from hers, so she sent her secretary over for an undercover interview. This guy had never directed any movie, and was a total flake. He was already counting his money before his first deal had even been inked, and I was just his newest hobby.

For a time, Abeking & Rasmussen was promoting a 44-meter design of ours, and a gentleman from Holland began corresponding directly with me about the yacht. He asked lots of intelligent questions, and seemed to know just about every project I had ever worked on. This correspondence went on for months, and one day the sales manager at A&R called to tell me that this guy showed up unannounced for a tour of the shipyard.

A while later, the same guy stopped by the house of my friend Felix, who designs yacht interiors, just outside of Amsterdam. By this time we all wanted to know just who this elusive character was that he could afford such an expensive yacht. Finally, Felix traced his address and found out that he was a retired postman. I think he was a stalker. 

Lately, we’ve been dealing with a client that wants to build a big sportfish, and tells us his fortune is set to come in any day now. He’s very knowledgeable about what he wants, but has worn out his welcome at many shipyards. From what I can tell, he has been doing this for more than ten years, telling the same story about the same invention and the same reasons for not moving ahead. He’s clearly delusional, but his family just goes along with it all, without intervention. Mention his name to anybody in the industry and they just laugh.  

It’s not hard to ask a guy where he made his money for a $5 million boat, because he’s closer to normal, but qualifying someone that doesn’t show up on any radar, while professing to be really wealthy, is a bit more intimidating. Sometimes I just want to yell, “Show me the money! Or stop wasting my time!” But sometimes I realize that these guys are just like me, playing  over their heads, just on a larger scale. It’s hard to get too angry at them for wasting my time when I see the same dreamer in them as I see in myself.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.