Money Well Spent?

Our intrepid columnist finds out that true love isn’t a bargain.

Steve Haefele illustration
Love may be blind, but it can also be really expensive.Steve Haefele

I was reminiscing with my pal Dan recently about our careers in yacht design. He waxed on about a custom motoryacht he’d penned back in the day before he got to his point: “Coyle, I could buy her for little more than she cost to design. Can you believe it? She was perfect.”

I believed it, although I was thinking: She is the perfect storm.

The folks we’d penned boats for were smart guys, and while they typically wielded a sharp pencil and could argue over a nickel spent, they spared no expense when it came to their yachts.

“She’s a gold-plater,” Dan said dreamily as he studied her brokerage listing.

“Those look like her high school pictures,” I teased.

I’ve had experience with “legacy rides.” I had served as an enabler for my former boss and friend, Tom Fexas. Tom’s fame as a designer was born with his 44-foot Midnight Lace. She was a modern throwback, reminiscent of the great commuter designs, and Tom had not only designed her, but he’d also helped to build Hull No. 1 in the 1970s.

By the early 1990s, I had added “yacht brokerage” to my business card, and I discovered that Hull No. 1 was for sale. A fan of Tom’s work, the owner offered an inspiring “family discount” should Tom be interested. Lacking the steel will of a true yacht broker, I volunteered my commission to sweeten the deal.

As money seemed no object, I went with a legacy pitch, suggesting to Tom that he would be remiss if he failed to invest in the boat that had launched his career. He hedged, insisting that he was too busy and had no time for her. I suggested that he could simply enshrine the vessel at his dock. Within view of his drawing board, she would provide inspiration.

Tom didn’t invest, and I scratched “yacht brokerage” from my business card. I figured I’d failed him—until I fell for the soggy remains of a boat I had labored over as a designer. I bought her for a pittance, only to discover that my “investment” had simply been a down payment. Keeping her from settling to the bottom drained me.

Tom was a smart guy.

It is said that the design of a yacht follows a spiral path. The truth is, it’s more like a tornado that churns until a designer (wind) and client (fuel) run out of steam. Once a boat burps out of a builder’s shed and onto the water, nature has its way with her. Absent serious rehab every seven years or so, she builds her own head of steam. Without fuel (cash)—or a time machine—there’s no turning back the clock.

After an hour of reanimating the brainstorming that had spawned his gold- plated design, Dan returned to the present and assessed the potential of a relationship.

“Coyle, if she’s down on her luck, I’d be sopping up her bilges with dollar bills until she sucked my wallet dry,” he said.

Dan is a smart guy.