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GRAND AMBITION by G. Bruce Knecht


An Extraordinary Yacht, the People Who Built It, and the Millionaire Who Can't Really Afford It

by G. Bruce Knecht

Pub Date: March 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1416576006
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A meticulous account of the building of one of the largest American-made yachts since the Gilded Age.

Royal families have long enjoyed large pleasure vessels, writes former Wall Street Journal senior writer Knecht (Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish, 2006, etc.). In modern times, yachts have been the playthings of Russian oligarchs, Greek shipping magnates and Arabian sheiks. In the United States, the leisure vessels became a hallmark for a new kind of nobility, including J.P. Morgan, in the gilded 1890s and remain so for today’s self-made entrepreneurs. This readable account tells the story of a former milkman’s son, Doug Von Allmen, now a successful private equity investor in his late 60s, and his experience building a mammoth $40 million, 187-foot yacht. Knecht vividly renders the construction process. He describes the work and lives of the shipfitters, welders and others who joined thousands of pieces of metal in a noisy Gulfport, Miss., yard; the yacht owner’s dealings with the boat designer and builder; and the complex steps required to install air conditioning, finish surfaces, create a huge mural for the stairwell, etc. Beyond his tale of luxury shipbuilding, the author provides an intriguing study of the wealthy and overreaching Von Allmen, who hoped to make the Lady Linda the “best-ever American-built yacht” and the “ultimate embodiment of his success.” As the investor contemplated interior designs two years into the project, the 2008 financial meltdown imposed serious new constraints. While cutting expenditures in his Manhattan and Florida residences, Von Allmen tried to overcome losses by investing (and losing) more than $100 million in an elaborate Ponzi scheme. He now hopes to sell or charter the yacht, delivered three years late.

Revealing and well-written.