Billy Joel is definitely a New York kind of guy. After all, he was born in the Bronx. He sings about New York. He comes alive in New York. He clearly loved New York-and his new boat-as he sped down the East River this particular summer morning on his drop-dead gorgeous 57-foot commuter Vendetta (view the photo gallery here).
The evening before, several of us (including Gene Pelland, who's been Billy Joel's full-time captain since 1998, and Doug Zurn, the yacht's designer) had been on Vendetta's first sea trial. We left Derecktor's yard in Mamaroneck, conducted some speed tests on Long Island Sound, and then sped over to Billy Joel's waterfront estate in Centre Island on the north shore so he could see his boat running in the water for the first time.
As we raced against fading twilight into Oyster Bay, Gene called ahead to tell Billy to look for us. At first Billy waved from his upper lawn but then drove down to his beach with his wife, Kate, and waved some more as Gene turned Vendetta around in her own length. On his cell, Gene asked if Billy wanted a ride. It turned out that Kate needed to go to New York the next morning. After all, Vendetta was built to be a commuter, a modern-day, high-tech reincarnation of the long, low, sleek yachts that carried the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys and the Pulitzers from their Long Island homes to their Wall Street offices in the '20s and early '30s, the golden age of yachting. We agreed to pick up Billy and Kate the next morning and, in the growing dusk, sped back to Derecktor's for the night.
When Billy first got behind the wheel the next morning, he seemed fairly serious, feeling his way, checking things out. Half an hour later, however, as he drove past the Upper East Side, he turned the wheel over to Gene and walked around the boat, admiring the view, grinning from ear to ear and softly singing "I'm in the Mood for Love."
Actually, Billy Joel has loved boats all his life. Vendetta is just the latest, most beautiful and, at more than $2 million, the most expensive in his impressive fleet so far. He grew up in Levittown, where he started taking piano lessons when he was four. He now lives in his brick Georgian Revival mansion on Centre Island; his boating office (or "chart room," as he calls it) is in the second floor of a smaller building next to the main house; it offers sweeping views of Oyster Bay. But this is merely proof of how a modern rock star can live. Billy Joel recorded his first gold album, "Piano Man," back in 1974. All told, his 16 albums have sold more than 100 million copies to date. His musical, "Movin' Out," opened on Broadway in 2002 and is still playing to full houses.