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Superyachts of the CEOs
From miniature submarines to multiple helipads, boats of the business elite keep getting fancier.
July 29, 2005: 12:13 PM EDT
By Steve Hargreaves, CNN/Money staff writer
Photo GallerylaunchSee more photos

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Imagine yourself cruising the high seas in a lavish, super-secret ocean-faring vessel complete with a remote controlled undersea rover, a 12-man submersible and a personal crew of 60, including several former Navy Seals and a recording studio.

No, you're not 007's nemesis in some 1970s James Bond flick. You're aboard Microsoft (Research) co-founder Paul Allen's $200 million private yacht.

Details about the 416-foot boat, named Octopus, are hard to come by. Spokespeople for all the boat owners in this story declined to comment. One even asked if this was an investigation into executive compensation. Of course it isn't -- it's simply an unabashed celebration of maritime largesse.

But according to various reports, Allen's Octopus is what's called an expedition boat, its high bow allowing for better handling in rough seas and icy waters and equipped for travel to remote places. It has two helicopter pads (where else would guests land their chopper?), one on the bow and one astern. A garage near the rear deck houses a four-wheel drive vehicle, which can be transported to shore via a specialized landing craft.

The submersible -- yes that's right, submersible -- which is said to be able to stay under water for up to two weeks, launches through a hatch in the bottom of the hull. The former Navy Seals are presumably there to fend off pirates, or just in case you run into a real-life Dr. No in some forlorn corner of the South China Sea.

Of course, Octopus has more refined amenities as well, including a pool, a basketball court, a movie theatre and a full assortment of watersports toys that can launch from a seaside compartment. And what mega-billionaire's pleasure ship would be complete without a bar and hot tub?

The rivalry

Octopus is just one of Allen's three superyachts. He also has the 301-foot Tatoosh and the 198-foot Medusa. But Allen's Octopus is not the largest private yacht in the world.

That prize goes to Allen's arch rival, Oracle (Research) founder Larry Ellison.

The two computer guys have been locked in competition in software development -- and yacht racing -- for years.

Power & Motor Yacht said that Ellison's boat was under construction about the same time as Allen's. The magazine said Ellison's original design, which on paper was a few feet shorter than Allen's, subsequently ended up being a few dozen feet longer.

Either way, the result is the 452-foot Rising Sun, a $200-million superyacht with a low, elegant profile and three smaller boats, known as tenders, more than 40 feet in length.

Whereas Allen's Octopus is like the rugged Land Rover of the high seas, Rising Sun is more the plush Caddy.

It's got 82 rooms spread out over 5 stories, with a staggering 86,000 square feet of living space, roughly the size of an average Wal-Mart. In addition to the standard gym, basketball court and private cinema, Rising Sun boasts vast crystal chandeliers, onyx counter tops, leading chefs and an extensive wine cellar.

"As a display of wealth and power, I don't think Rising Sun can be easily matched," wrote technology reporter Karlin Lillington, who was invited aboard for a news conference recently in the Mediterranean. Lillington also noted that it was an unusual news conference, as reporters were both camera-less (to protect Ellison's privacy) and barefoot (to protect the boat.)

Yet Ellison is unlikely to retain his owner-of-the-world's-largest-yacht status for long. The British newspaper the Independent reported in April that the boat was for sale and a buyer was interested, although no names were given.

And a 525-foot superyacht, built for the crown prince of Dubai, is currently getting its final touches at a dock in the Persian Gulf, according to Don Wallace, executive editor of Yachting magazine.

I can do anything you can do, better

"The bragging power with this cannot be understated," said Wallace, when asked why people buy boats that have yearly operational costs estimated at 10 percent of the boat's value. For Allen and Ellison, that's $20 million a year, or just under $2 million a month, to keep the things afloat.

"It's privacy and the level of service," he said. "Anyone can stay in a five-star hotel. This is a higher level of exclusivity."

Imagine the guy who has just bought himself a 100-foot yacht and sails to some Caribbean island, he said. "Then along comes a 180-foot yacht and it totally dwarfs him. This guy didn't come here to play second fiddle, and now's he playing fourth, maybe fifth fiddle. What this does to the ego of the super-rich... it produces a form of road rage."

It's not just U.S. CEO's who are in on the action. Russian oilman Roman Abromavich has the 354-foot Le Grand Bleu, in addition to at least two other superyachts.

Among Le Grand Bleu's most interesting features are the two 40-foot pleasure craft carried on the rear quarters. One is a speedboat and the other is a sailboat, its mast protruding up almost as high as the upper decks of the main yacht itself.

Le Grand Bleu also has an array of smaller toys stored in a "side locker," including jet skis, kayaks and diving equipment.

Other current or former business leaders relaxing on the seas in high style include Leslie Wexner, whose 315-foot Limitless is undoubtedly a play on the clothing company that made him rich, Limited Brands (Research).

Peter Lewis, former CEO of insurance company Progressive Corp. (Research), has the expedition-style 255-foot Lone Ranger, a former deep sea salvage tug with a giant communications tower rising far above the upper deck.

Wallace said deep sea tugs are rare, and converting one into a pleasure craft is even rarer. "This is much more than a Hummer," he said, comparing it to a military/civilian conversion. "It's as if someone bought themselves an M1 tank and decided to drive through the Jack In The Box with it."

And Ron Perelman, the billionaire investor with stakes in Revlon (Research) and Marvel Comics (Research), owns the 187-foot Ultima III, which has reportedly entertained such guests as Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein and Jon Bon Jovi.

See the photo gallery of CEO yachts »

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