They may not be blood brothers, but Paul G. Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft, and Larry J. Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corp, the world’s second largest software company, are the Cain and Abel of the silicon set. Their rivalry knows no bounds. They compete with the same intensity as the characters in the Jeffery Archer novel, at every level in business, sport and pleasure-particularly in the yachts they own. Lastly, and most ironically for two titans whose head-butting contests have raised such a heavy wake, both men are obsessed with secrecy.
When Allen ordered his latest superyacht, the 416-foot Octopus from the Lürsson yard in Germany, Ellison was soon to follow with an order for the monster 452-foot Rising Sun, which became the second-largest private yacht when he had the hull extended from 387 feet during construction. Naturally some amateur psychologists say the extension was done simply to steal Allen’s thunder.
If so, lightning may have struck twice, from an unexpected quarter. Rising Sun was launched from the same German yard as Octopus last autumn, but surprisingly, Ellison, a dropout from the University of Illinois, has yet to accept delivery-the sort of pouty ploy practiced by billionaires who’ve learned to throw their weight around. The latest word suggests that he has now lost interest in her since the $270 million vessel has been superseded in the size league by the 525-foot Platinum, launched for engine trials in April and currently being completed in Dubai for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Crown Prince of Dubai makes a most worthy foil, being the owner of the Emirates airline-which just placed a $28 billion order for the new Airbus.
Allen, 51, is known for indulging his enthusiasms with more zest than sensibility. He owns both of the Northwest’s underperforming professional teams, the football Seattle Seahawks and basketball’s Portland Trailblazers, and bankrolled the Experience Music Project-a Frank Gehry-designed museum-cum-technological marvel that includes a giant walk-through of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar and a Sky Church for rockers. He plays electric guitar (when not smashing it, a la Jimi), sometimes on board his 199-foot Feadship Meduse, which has an onboard recording studio. He’s ranked seventh in the latest Forbes 400, two places ahead of the 60-year-old Ellison, whose stock took a tumble when the IT bubble burst and who has also had to navigate through the choppy waters that surrounded his third divorce. Ellison, whose abiding ambition is to drive Oracle above Microsoft as well as springboard ahead of Allen in the Forbes list, did have the consolation of bettering his rival in the 2003 America’s Cup in New Zealand.
Ellison and Oracle mounted a traditional syndicate approach to the Cup. Allen, however, came to the world’s most exclusive competition by accident-stepping in to support the Seattle-based OneWorld group when founder Craig McCaw found himself overextended. Along with the Cup team, Allen inherited the McCaw-commissioned 301-foot Tatoosh. For Allen, the Cup experience proved to be a familiar fizzle-first with accusations of design espionage prior to his takeover, followed by a humiliating defeat at the hands of Ellison’s Oracle BMW in the semifinals of the Louis Vuitton Challenger series.
But though Allen has since dropped out of the America’s Cup scene, he did find his bliss-and a winner-backing Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X prize last October for the first privately funded spacecraft to reach 330,000 feet and return to land. Ellison, meanwhile, has been busy reconfiguring his San Francisco-based America’s Cup team for a second tilt at the trophy, to be sailed off Valencia in 2007.
Ellison also owns the maxi Sayonara, which won the infamous 1998 Sydney-Hobart race that cost the lives of six sailors from other yachts. Sayonara was in such another league that it literally outran a storm of epochal brutality across the Tasman Sea-further proof, if needed, that the rich do indeed lead different lives and play under different rules. And sail on different yachts.
Such as Octopus. The fifth largest private yacht in the world is Paul Allen’s flagship. Launched late in 2003, Octopus was built under a shroud of secrecy by a consortium of two yards in Bremen, and then took off immediately for a winter cruise around the Caribbean. She has a permanent berth at the International Yacht Club Marina in Antibes, in the South of France, which Allen only acquired by purchasing the sitting tenant-the 162-foot Hanse, which he quickly sold. So great is the shore power required when Octopus is in dock that Allen had to install his own three-phase electrical substation alongside to avoid tripping the fuses for the whole harbor.
Like Allen’s second yacht Meduse, Octopus is lavishly equipped for extended cruising, including an ice-classed hull that will give him the opportunity to also explore both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The ship’s own helicopter is housed on the aft deck and guests are encouraged to land their aircraft on a separate helipad situated on the foredeck. She also has a canal within the bowels of the hull with lock doors at the stern to allow a 60-foot submarine-which reportedly carries eight and can run submerged for two weeks-as well as a powerboat and other water toys to embark and dock. When the vessels are safely inboard and resting on their chocks, the water is then pumped out to provide a drydock facility.
Allen’s third yacht,Tatoosh, named after an island in the San Juans, has to be one of the most attractive throw-ins on a deal in history. When fellow American billionaire Craig McCaw handed the keys to Allen, along with his America’s Cup syndicate, he was delivering quality. On this HDW-Nobiskrg 301-footer, Allen and his family have the entire top deck to themselves. The owner’s suite includes a full-width bedroom, two other staterooms, a communal family room, an office, gymnasium and an observation lounge above. Six guest staterooms, panoramic lounge and dining saloons and a cinema are positioned on the lower decks.
Toys include a McDonnell Douglas MD500 helicopter (and a second helipad for guests to drop in on); a 40-foot German Frers all-carbon daysailer that, given the right winds, will outperform its mothership; a 37-foot speedboat to starboard and a swimming pool. A tender, PWCs and other watersports equipment are stored in the stern garage where there is also a diving room and decompression chamber.
Then there’s Meduse, which may be Number 90 in the list of top 100 superyachts but remains a favorite within Paul Allen’s fleet. Built in 1996, and named rather ominously after the opera Le Naufrage de la Méduse (“The Wreck of the Medusa,” written in 1839 by the German-born French composer Baron von Friedrich Flotow), the yacht has served the Microsoft cofounder on cruises up the Amazon River and many other undisturbed areas of the globe. A keen student of music who has broken his share of Fender Stratocasters, Allen had her fitted out with a full digital recording studio with the reported assistance of Peter Gabriel, who has cut tracks on board, as have other stars, including the Eurythmics. The vessel also boasts a 12-seater acoustically optimized cinema. This Feadship has the owner’s and principal guest suites on the main deck and four other staterooms below, together with a gymnasium for guests to work off the five-star a la carte fare. Essential toys include a helicopter and a garage full of tenders, PWCs and scuba equipment. Meduse has a maximum speed of only 16 knots, but a range of more than 5,000 miles that allows her to “disappear” from the prying lenses of the paparazzi for long periods, reappearing almost anywhere in the world.
Larry Ellison also retires to his yachts to avoid prying eyes-but also uses them to enjoy the limelight. Dubbed “the Playboy Philanthropist,” he’s endowed medical research, and hosted wild parties-though he seems to have settled down with fourth wife Melanie Craft, a romance novelist. As befits a man whose biography is titled The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison, his yachts are impressive. The Rising Sun, christened like all of Larry Ellison’s yachts with names linked to Japan, was extended during her building from 387 to 452 feet to include an internal canal to carry a personal submarine and other toys. The owner’s personal quarters take up the entire top deck and have suites for 16 guests on other decks, all styled by Jon Bannenberg Ltd. She also boasts a basketball court, a billiard room (suitably gimbled we presume) and a theatre. Considering that she produces 48,000 hp, her top speed, said to be 28 knots, seems reasonable. She was launched last autumn but at the time of going to press, she had still to be handed over to her owner.
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Before the Rising Sun there was a striking Martin Francis design was built in 1991 for the late Mexican media mogul Emilio Azcarraga. When he died, the 32-knot vessel, originally named Eco, was snapped up by Larry Ellison to act as a fast mothership for his racing maxi Sayonara and the Oracle America’s Cup campaign in New Zealand. Ellison replaced the flying boat on the stern for a more fitness-orientated basketball court and changed her name to Katana, a type of Japanese sword. During the America’s Cup he held frequent “Silicon Valley All-Star” basketball games to stay fit and hypercompetitive. Her twin diesels are used for slow-speed running and to help her get on the plane, which is where the gas turbine takes over to push her speed up to 32 knots.
Ellison used her to shadow Sayonara in the 2002 Newport-Bermuda Race. On arrival in St. George’s Harbor, she was refueled by two aircraft-fuel bowsers driven over from the nearby airport in preparation for a high-speed hop across the Atlantic to the South of France. She covered the 3,000-mile distance in little over three days, but not without stopping midway across to refuel. Where do you find a filling station in mid-Atlantic? You send your own fuel barge out for a little rendezvous. One can only guess the number of frequent-flyer miles Ellison pocketed with each fill-up.
Katana has since been sold to the Barclay brothers, two British entrepreneurs who own several national newspapers and hotels and live on a secluded Channel Island castle; they have renamed her Enigma.
Built in 1995, Larry Ellison’s maxi racer Sayonara won four consecutive ILC Maxi Boat World Championships and also took line honors in the storm-ridden 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race and the 2001 Chicago-Mackinaw Race. A well-known campaigner, she has given Ellison a well-respected reputation in an uncompromising field of endeavor-and an area where he trumps Allen resoundingly…for now.
The Spoiler: The man with the Golden Star
While Paul Allen and Larry Ellison were busy duking it out, metaphorically speaking, over whose yachts are bigger, the world’s largest yacht quietly took its place on the throne over in Dubai. The 525-footer began taking shape in the shipyards of Lürssen and Blohm + Voss under the name of Platinum, for Prince Jefri of Brunei. When bankruptcy overtook Prince Jefri in 1998-he was accused of diverting $14 billion of his father’s sultanate’s oil money into his own accounts-another prince was waiting in the wings.
But Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is not just another prince. The de facto ruler of Dubai because his brother prefers to spend his time in the UK, Sheikh Maktoum is an ambitious businessman and national visionary who has put Dubai on the map with bold construction projects and newsworthy plans. Chairman of the Emirates Group, which owns Emirates airline, he has led a recent $28 billion purchase of airplanes, including 45 new Airbus A380s. Emirates will likely cut the seating aboard the new 850-seat jumbojets in half, and devote the space to individualized luxury onboard “suites.”
When you live on such a scale, buying an unfinished super-yacht probably qualifies as bargain hunting. In any event, the yacht was barged to Dubai to be completed and launched in early April under a new name: Golden Star. Interior design is said to be by Philippe Starck, who made his name creating trendy hotels; like most of the new breed of superyachts, she is expected to carry a submarine, a helicopter or two, multiple tenders and a landing craft to ferry a complement of cars to distant shores.
Whether Maktoum knew he was spoiling the Allen-Ellison rivalry or not, he certainly must have known his choice of a name could be seen as a tweak of another royal’s cheek. For years Prince Khaled of Saudi Arabia has carried on a tradition of “golden yachts.” Besides his 265-foot Blohm + Voss Golden Odyssey, he acquired a “toy caddy,” Golden Shadow, which carries among its complement of toys a nine-passenger Cessna turboprop Caravan.
But like Sheikh Maktoum, Prince Khaled isn’t all about excess. In addition to being minister of defense, Prince Khaled is president of a foundation that works for the protection of coral reefs, and Golden Odyssey is a veteran of several expeditions with scientific overtones. To remind himself and others of his charge, there is a living reef in an aquarium beneath the swimming pool.
The Golden Shadow is a 219-foot Campbell. To assist in the expeditioning of its larger sibling, it carries a decompression chamber for those coral reef divers and a medical suite that also caters to the underwater set-with staff.
Will Prince Khaled respond to Sheikh Maktoum’s throwing of the gauntlet? Only the oil cartel at OPEC may know for sure, but odds are that somewhere at this moment an even bigger yacht than Golden Star is on somebody’s drawing board. And with the way gas prices are rising, it will be a whopper.