Tom Perkins became a household name for his contributions to the creation of Silicon Valley. But the American businessman, who died on June 7 at the age of 84, became a household name in yachting, too. Over about 25 years, Perkins owned five megayachts, four of them being sailing yachts. Arguably the most famous: Maltese Falcon.
Perkins grew up in White Plains, New York. He sailed occasionally during his childhood, indulging in a love of the water that never waned throughout his life. Also never waning was a fascination with technology. He earned double degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1950s. After working for the navigation-equipment manufacturer Sperry Gyroscope Company, he joined Hewlett Packard in the 1960s. In 1972, Perkins started a venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins, later called Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. The firm invested in small computer and biotech businesses at a time when “venture capital” and “Silicon Valley” were phrases no one used together. The company funded businesses like Netscape, Google, and Amazon before essentially anyone other than their founders had heard their names.
Perkins’ life wasn’t all about business, though. His passion for yachting remained strong. In the 1960s, he purchased a 48-foot (14.6-meter) wooden yacht aptly named Teak Lady. She was one of the few sailboats built by Cheoy Lee. Perkins entered, and won, regatta after regatta with Teak Lady through the mid-1970s.
His first step into superyacht ownership came in 1987. Perkins had heard about an Italian engineer named Fabio Perini who had entered the yacht-building business. Intrigued, he met with Perini. The 141-foot (43-meter) Andromeda la Dea was the result. She was Perini Navi’s second sailing yacht, too (and still around, now known as Paz). Three years later came another Andromeda la Dea, also built by Perini Navi. She was 154 feet (47 meters), featuring a lower deckhouse. To say Perkins cruised extensively aboard this Andromeda la Dea is like saying Picasso liked to paint. He completed a circumnavigation, which included rounding Cape Horn and visiting Antarctica. Andromeda la Dea transited the Atlantic Ocean seven times.
Perkins’ competitive spirit stirred, though. He found Mariette, a Hereshoff-designed schooner from 1915. The 110-footer (33.5-meter) needed significant work, which didn’t dissuade Perkins. He obtained her original drawings to ensure she’d be painstakingly restored. Mariette went on to enter regattas through the mid-1990s. “She is to yachting what Raquel Welch used to be to bathing suits,” writes David Kaplan in his book about Perkins, Mine’s Bigger: Tom Perkins and the Making of the Greatest Sailing Machine Ever Built. Tragedy occurred in 1995, when Mariette collided with another yacht during a race in St. Tropez, killing one of that yacht’s crewmembers. Perkins and the other boat’s skipper were each convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 1996.
Perkins was shaken from the experience, and stepped away from Mariette for some time. Yachting remained a passion, and he turned his attention to restoring the 1930 classic motoryacht Atlantide in 1998. An unfinished hull sitting in Perini Navi’s Turkish yard caught his attention in time, too. She was for a 289-footer (88-meter). The hull became the DynaRig-equipped Maltese Falcon. In his above-mentioned book, Kaplan wrote:
Now, at seventy-four, Perkins was setting out to transform the art of sailing. His 130-million-dollar yacht, anchored a few hundred yards out front of the palace, was the Maltese Falcon, a twenty-first century clipper ship that was bigger, faster, higher-tech, more expensive and riskier than any private sailing craft in the world. The Falcon was as long as a football field, forty-two feet wide, twenty feet deep, with three masts each soaring nearly twenty stories toward the heavens. On each mast were six horizontal yards—ranging from forty feet to seventy-four feet in width—to support the sails. The size of the Falcon was utterly out of scale with anything nearby—the ramshackle fishing boats, the tourist ferries traversing the Bosphorus, even the palace. If the ship were anchored in New York Harbor, she’d reach up to the level of the tablet carried in the arm of the Statute of Liberty. The exterior had teak decks, a varnished cap rail, stainless-steel fixtures and exquisitely finished surfaces-—attributes of a classic ship-—yet the overall look was sleek, metallic and ultramodern to the point of seeming foreboding. If Darth Vader had an intergalactic yacht built for himself, this is what it would look like.
Maltese Falcon turned heads wherever she went. She also became an in-demand charter yacht. Perkins sold her in 2009, though he kept one of her toys. It was a DeepFlight Super Falcon personal submarine. Perkins loved the sub about as much as he loved his yachts. He later toted the Super Falcon aboard a motoryacht he had converted from a fisheries training ship that was originally built in 1995. Dr. No, as Perkins christened the expedition yacht in 2011, measured 121 feet (37 meters). Her LOA was a far cry from that of Maltese Falcon or the two Andromeda la Dea yachts, but no less treasured, or cruised upon. Perkins took Dr. No, and the Super Falcon, to as regions as far away as Papua New Guinea and Tonga.