By Dorie Cox
When Microsoft co-founder and yacht owner Paul Allen died on Oct. 15, he left a legacy for the yacht industry, one of adventure, exploration and humanity that some say will change how the world views its wealthiest citizens.
Mr. Allen was, above all else, a philanthropist. A follower of Warren Buffett’s The Giving Pledge to give away a majority of his fortune, Mr. Allen created foundations and permanent monuments to help everything from elephants and medical cures to rock ’n’ roll guitarists.
Former yacht captain David Reams was part of Mr. Allen’s world as senior director of yacht operations for the Seattle-based company Vulcan that owned his fleet of yachts. What he will miss most, he said, was Mr. Allen’s extraordinary penchant for looking at the big picture.
“He thought totally outside the box,” Reams said. “Nothing was impossible. Instead, it was ‘how can this be done?’ ”
Solving big problems is exactly what his 413-foot Lurssen M/Y Octopus does. Designed for exploration, the largest in Mr. Allen’s lineage of yachts was built with two helipads and an internal docking area for a submersible up to 65 feet in length. He also refit an old 250-foot commercial vessel into the R/V Petrel, and has owned the 303-foot M/Y Tatoosh, the 197-foot M/Y Meduse and the 164-foot M/Y Charade.
His most recent excursions have carried scientific teams that have found 18 previously undiscovered World War II wrecks from depths of up to 5,200m (3.5 miles). And that’s just in the program’s first year of operation, Reams said.
“He was a history buff, and finding the wrecks is part of honoring the men who served on these ships,” Reams said. “Now the families have knowledge of a final resting place. … These ships are a part of history. People forget, but when these are found, it brings it back to people’s minds that there were men lost, not just the things.”
His expeditions also researched the oceans themselves. In just four days in the Galapagos, scientists discovered three new species and previously unknown deep-water coral.
From the yacht captains and crew to the staff on the submarine and helicopters, everyone would exude positive energy on Mr. Allen’s yachts, Lisa Greenberg said. She worked as the yacht agent for Meduse, Tatoosh and Octopus with Pacific Bound Yachts. The yachts explored in Mexico, Galapagos, Peru and Chile.
In Mexico, the expedition sought red devils, so Greenberg called fishermen up and down the coast to find the giant squid, which they did. She was told that Mr. Allen said it was one of the most serene things he had seen. Because of his renowned curiosity about space, a top observatory in the north of Chile opened its doors for his team on a Sunday, Greenberg said.
Octopus was awarded the first submarine permit for a private yacht in Galapagos, and local scientists were offered use of the submarine, helicopter and remotely operated underwater vehicle, as well as Octopus, she said.
“That type of willingness to support conservation efforts is par for the course for the Vulcan fleet,” Greenberg said. “It’s truly an incredibly unique operation. We have worked with fleets, hundreds of megayacht captains, crew and owners, but there is something special about Vulcan.”
Many of Mr. Allen’s passions and ideas helped create the International SeaKeepers Society 20 years ago, according to ISS Chairman Michael Moore, a Miami-based maritime attorney. Mr. Allen’s initial donation provided the seed money for the group to begin its two decades of work.
“He was a remarkable guy,” Moore said. “But for Paul Allen, there probably wouldn’t be a SeaKeepers.”
Mr. Allen wanted the scientific data gathered from yachts through ISS programs to be free and available to anyone. It was that philanthropy that Moore says helped foster a more positive view of yachting by optimizing the underutilized capacity of yachts around the world. Mr. Allen did not let his boats sit unused, Moore said.
“Twenty years ago, you would routinely hear people talking about yacht ownership in a negative way,” Moore said. “SeaKeepers had significant impact in changing that.”
Actual credit goes to responsible yacht owners, Moore said. “And for yacht owners, he was the most responsible on the planet. He was the best.”
His fleet of yachts will not only be remembered for their underwater discoveries, but for the way they managed people above water.
“The people I work with, the captains and crew, are the most professional I’ve worked with, by far,” Reams said of the Vulcan fleet. “These are small ships and we run them like full-on ships with unlimited-licensed officers. We’re very careful who we hire. It’s not an easy process.”
Despite the magnitude of projects Mr. Allen worked on, he made time to check on the people who worked for him. If it seemed the boat sat too long, he checked in.
“He didn’t want crew to get bored, so he would send them out to scout areas he might like to visit,” Reams said. “He wanted them to be happy. He understood that work on yachts requires separation from family and normal life. He wanted them to be as comfortable as they could be.”
With that in mind, he was one of the first owners to adopt crew rotations for more than just captains and engineers, Reams said, and he enhanced the broadband on Octopus so crew could connect with their families when they were away at sea.
“He was going through the worklist and he said, ‘What can we we do to make crew life better? What can we do to help their quality of life?’” Reams said. “He was a great owner and he really cared about the captains and crew.
“I’ve been privileged to work for wonderful owners. He’s up with the best, in my experience. And in his work to make the world a better place, there is no match.”
Some of the army of suppliers who were lucky to work with the Vulcan program shared similar feelings. Twenty years ago, Mike Prado worked with Atlas Marine selling shore-power conversion units. His company sponsored the ISS’ Bal de la Mer in Monaco as Meduse was launched. He remembered watching Mr. Allen demonstrate his company’s new video-chat technology to the roomful of more than 500. Mr. Allen “called” Bill Gates and they “chatted” for a few minutes, with the video and audio not quite in sync, and then he lost the signal. “We’re still working on it,” he deadpanned to the audience.
He remembers fondly the tour Mr. Allen arranged for him of the new yacht, and he was awed by the seven guitars propped up in the onboard studio, where apparently Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan had played the week before.
When asked what it means to yachting to lose an owner like Mr. Allen, Prado, now with D’Angelo Marine in Fort Lauderdale, didn’t miss a beat.
“Oh my God, he was a dream guy for us,” Prado said. “He promoted yachting, but perhaps more importantly, he promoted saving our seas. … Nobody can fill his shoes.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Triton Publisher Lucy Chabot Reed contributed to this report. Comments are welcome below.
ORIGINAL POST Oct 16, 2018, 10:53 am
Co-founder of Microsoft and large yacht owner Paul Allen died yesterday from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He was well-known in the yacht industry for his expeditions and ownership of many notable vessels. His largest yacht was M/Y Octopus, a 413-foot Lurssen, known for scientific explorations. The yacht was built with two helipads and an internal submarine docking area for a sub up to 65 feet in length.
During expeditions this year, several World War II military vessels were found underwater, including the USS Juneau and the USS Lexington, one of the United States’ first aircraft carriers. He also owned M/Y Tatoosh, a 303-foot Nobiskrug.
Mr. Allen previously owned Feadships M/Y Meduse at 197 feet and M/Y Charade at 164 feet.