Michael C. Darcy has a grand and complicated plan for restoring the glory to Baltimore's doddering old shipyard in Sparrows Point.
He has persuaded the former yard of Bethlehem Steel to retool its entire business and dedicate six full years to building cruise ships.
He has some of the best engines, thrusters and naval architects in the world lined up and a powerful maritime union lobbying for him in Washington.
What Darcy doesn't have is the $1.64 billion he needs, or the congressional blessing he wants, or any history of closing deals this immensely complex. His fledgling company, Voyager Holdings, doesn't have its own office - or a phone, a staff or any money-making business.
And throughout the shipbuilding and ship-operating industries, people wonder whether Darcy has the credibility to pull off so ambitious an enterprise.
"If you figure that out, would you let me know?" said John Avis, president of Kvaerner Masa Marine, an Annapolis naval architecture firm that has agreed to design Voyager's new vessels. "We've been talking with him for three years or so, and we're still waiting to see."
Darcy unveiled a plan two weeks ago to construct three 1,000-foot cruise vessels at Baltimore Marine Industries in Sparrows Point. Two of the ships, using an untested tri-hull design, would be capable of reaching 45 knots using water-jet propulsion.
He also announced agreements with such industry stalwarts as Kvaerner, General Electric and Rolls-Royce, and claimed private commitments for the first $230 million in expenses.
For the balance of the project's costs - $1.64 billion - he applied for a government-backed loan. The whole deal hinges on the U.S. Maritime Administration's decision whether to guarantee that loan.
It was a bold proposal even for Darcy, who has a long history of proposing spectacular plans and expensive ideas. But it was a major step in a plan that he has pursued at least since 1985, when Darcy - then in his early 20s - is known to have first floated his vision for a new American passenger line called Voyager Cruises.
His goal is to operate the ships in the Hawaiian islands and Alaska, and perhaps to offer high-speed cruises from the Northeast to the Caribbean. As a selling point to Congress, the ships would be equipped with strengthened decks and removable cabins for conversion into military transport vessels in wartime.
"He's really pulled all the pieces together," said Mike Horner, project manager for the marine engine unit at General Electric Aircraft Engines, which is to build gas-turbine engines for the ships. "Programs of this nature are difficult to bring to fruition, but he's stuck with it and really put together something worthwhile. We're enthusiastic."
Darcy left college in 1979, after only a year, to work for his family business of stripping and salvaging old passenger ships. Since leaving the business in the late 1980s, he has been one of the maritime industry's most ubiquitous deal-seekers.
Fueled by his childhood passion for ships, he has toured the industry for more than 10 years in search of any opportunity that would give him a stake in the shipping trades.
His odyssey is being financed by money from the now-defunct family business and backed by the lawyers and lobbyists for the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots.
In the mid-1990s, Darcy formed a company called D'Arcinoff Group - his old family name - and continued his quest to "exploit innovative business opportunities" in the maritime industry.
Rare is the shipping executive who does not know of him. Darcy's name is well-known in the backrooms where maritime policy is made and in the boardrooms where shipping deals are negotiated.
"I grew up with passenger ships - it's what I know and what I love," said Darcy, now 40 and living in Northern Virginia. "And while I haven't run a cruise line, my strength is the ability to put together complicated transactions."
But Darcy has built a reputation based largely on what he has not accomplished, rather than what he has.
Over the last decade or more, he has proposed or been associated with numerous buyouts or financial transactions that didn't materialize when it came time for money and ships to change hands.
A former official with Norwegian Cruise Lines said Darcy negotiated a deal in the early 1990s to become a "major investor" in the company, even traveling to the headquarters in Oslo to nail down the details. The arrangement fell apart because he couldn't produce the money.
The biography on his company Web site says Darcy was "active in various financings and acquisitions, including ... the leveraged buyout of Dolphin Cruise Lines, which closed in late 1990."
But Paris Katsoufis, president of Dolphin Cruise Lines at the time, remembers Darcy's role differently.