Patti Lou and who knows who?

Megayacht: His vessel is big, has marble baths and costs millions, but like many owners, he just wants a little privacy.

July 29, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The owner wasn't trying to make waves. Just the opposite, even if he did recently cruise into the Inner Harbor for a two-month stay on an eye-popping 120-foot yacht that cost $10 million.

The man wanted to keep a low profile, a crewman said.

"He's here to have a good time," explained ship's mate Paul Victor, part of a five-member crew that keeps Patti Lou humming. "People bother him a lot."

Who was this mystery man Victor referred to as "the owner"? Some tycoon? Obscure royalty? A celebrity? It's a question that passed the lips of curious water taxi riders and weekend captains of lesser vessels.

A brief glimpse showed him to be older, with gray hair, but he wasn't talking. As for his identity, learning that would require phone calls to a tiny Caribbean country, e-mail to Monaco and a wire transfer to a Swiss bank. More on that later, but suffice to say it's not chicken feed he's rolling in.

One thing was certain. The owner belonged to an elite club of wealthy people whose floating toys eclipse 80 feet and therefore rank as "megayachts," according to experts. (Some say real megayachts start at 100 feet; either way, Patti Lou qualifies.)

Those who track this well-keeled set for a living say it's not unusual for an owner to berth his yacht where thousands can gawk, while lying low behind tinted windows under the crew's attentive care.

It's a rarefied world where extravagant showiness and extreme privacy mix, said Reg Potterton, editor of Yachts International magazine. "You very rarely find out who those people are. I would say one out of 10 welcome publicity."

Go to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., or New York's harbor, and it's easy to spot yachts like this - and plenty that are bigger, including some with helicopters. In Baltimore, they stand out. In a typical year, local marina managers say, two dozen or so will glide up the Patapsco River past the tugs and freighters.

But few linger as long as Patti Lou, which may occasionally leave the harbor on excursions. Surrounded by boats less than half its size, the sleek vessel is a whale among porpoises at the Inner Harbor Marina, between the Rusty Scupper restaurant and Maryland Science Center.

Even owners of some pretty hefty yachts seem to lust after Patti Lou. While dismissing its size as "overkill," John Negri, whose company sells business telephone systems, gazed at it and said, "You see that, you say, `Someday.'"

This from a man who just bought his 59-foot Kiss N' Tel for $900,000, more than he paid for his home in New Jersey.

Big private yachts are nothing new. J.P. Morgan had one. So did the Vanderbilts. But thanks partly to the 1990s boom, boats have gotten bigger at every level, experts say. The weekend boater once content with a 30-footer is now likely to pilot a 40-footer. And of the world's 100 largest yachts, 37 were delivered in the past decade, says Power & Motoryacht magazine.

Megayacht owners, when they go aboard, often take with them a taste for living as large as their yachts. In June, the 152-foot Northern Light docked at Inner Harbor East Marina. One night the owner threw a lavish party and bought big bouquets of orchids and birds of paradise.

"At the end of the week, $3,500 worth of flowers went into the Dumpster or to whoever wanted them," said general manager Bill Flohr with a chuckle. "That's how rich folks live."

Who was the owner?

"He lived in Sweden is all he told us," Flohr said, adding that he didn't ask too many questions. Since the captains often deal with the marinas, the owners can bask in anonymity.

Not all shun attention. Sausage titan Jimmy Dean has a yacht of around 120 feet that has visited. He flies a flag that says "JD," as if to remind everyone who's captain.

"He's not too shy," Flohr said. "A good ol' boy."

Megayachts follow the seasons. In spring, they migrate north from Florida and the Caribbean to Newport, R.I., Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and the like, and some head to the Mediterranean. Come fall, they go back to warmer climes. In between they may duck in to Baltimore, though some have local ties that keep them here longer.

For example, Jack Antwerpen of the Antwerpen car dealerships recently kept his 116-foot Avante, once owned by the Forbes family, at HarborView Marina & Yacht Club for six weeks.

It's a nice boat, said marina general manager Richard Feiner, "if you like gold-plated faucets and marble floors."

He paused. "I don't want to give out too much information. I like to keep my slip-holders' privacy."

Such discretion is typical. A 200-footer stopped not long ago at Inner Harbor Marina.

"I can't remember whose it was, and if I did I wouldn't mention it," said general manager Stephen McBride.

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