It all started with a dandy named George Crowninshield, the foppish heir to a shipping fortune, who commissioned a pleasure yacht for himself in 1816. Named Cleopatra's Barge, she was the nautical version of the wildly painted carriages that Crowninshield favored ashore. She sported colorful stripes on the starboard side, while the port hull had a herringbone pattern. Velvet ropes surrounded the cockpit and, below, the yacht was the epitome of decadent luxury: tassels and gold leaf, gilt chandeliers, and inlaid mahogany. She was quirky, too, from her paint scheme to the tall cigar-store Indian in full warpaint bolted to the deck.