Published in: The Boston Globe
AHOY! KENNETH WEISS DIDN'T WANT JUST A BOAT, HE WANTED A HOME
Author(s): Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff
Date: August 2, 2001
Section: Life At Home
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Company
PROVINCETOWN - To address the obvious question first, Kenneth Weiss gestures at the cockpit of his 118-foot yacht Gitana, built in 1989 by Perini Navi of Italy and owned by Weiss, a wealthy entrepreneur from Gloucester, since March of last year.
The massive oval cockpit, made entirely of teak, contains a circular seating area with cushioned divan and lounge chairs, an L-shaped wet bar with built-in electric grill and refrigerator, a dining area that can accommodate six, and a control panel that would not look out of place on an AWAC reconnaissance plane. What lies below deck is, if anything, even more impressive. So, what possesses a man to buy - and then expensively modify - a sailboat fit for a Gates or Trump? Is it vanity? A case of having way too much money? Or is it equivalent to owning a vacation home in, say, Newport or Nantucket, with the added advantage of being able to sail it anywhere in the world?
Maybe the answer is, all of the above.
"It's an extravagance, sure," says Weiss, 56, relaxing on deck as Gitana bobs gently in Provincetown harbor one recent afternoon. "It doesn't make economic sense to own a boat like this. You need a passion for it.
"Why not just charter a boat?" he continues, sipping a Coke while savoring a panoramic view of the P-town waterfront. "I could spend a tenth of what I spend on Gitana and charter any boat I want to, anywhere in the world. But it wouldn't have the safety features this has. Or, frankly, the class. It wouldn't have my stuff aboard it. My artwork. It wouldn't be my home."
Boats, adds Weiss, who made a fortune in the computer security business, are no different from houses in that regard.
"Practically anyone who owns a second home could do better renting or even stay in a five-star hotel," he observes. "But it wouldn't be home. That's the difference."
As the French say, vive la difference. What Weiss spends annually on the ultimate in waterfront vacation homes - about $2 million, or 10 percent of the yacht's $20 million value - is secondary in value to the time he spends on board, or so Weiss contends. A lifelong sailor, he grew up in Swampscott and worked as a launch boy at the Boston Harbor Yacht Club in Marblehead for many summers. By 18, he had his captain's license and a burning desire to someday own a sailboat worthy of the BHYC fleet. Gitana fulfills that yearning, and then some.
Weiss is a former head of the psychology department at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who later invented a computer access security card. According to a Boston Globe article on his former company, Security Dynamics Inc., he had stock holdings estimated at $130 million.
Retired since 1996, Weiss started looking at yachts in earnest five years ago. Aided by his business manager, Arthur Hagopian, he drew up a list of criteria. The boat had to have twin engines, power-generation capability, a classically sloped transom, autosail features, bow thrusters, and be at least 90 feet long. The more he thought about spending time on such a vessel, the more Weiss decided it also ought to be truly homelike, with a roomy master suite and elegant guest quarters. "A sizable owner's cabin but no disco," as Hagopian says.
Weiss contacted brokers and attended yacht shows, but nothing truly appealed to him, he says. He considered building his own boat, too, but was discouraged by the three- to four-year wait he faced. Identifying about a dozen boats worth seeing, Weiss set off on a round-the-world trip in late 1999. Gitana, then berthed in Cannes, interested Weiss because of its Perini lineage. Perini is known as a pioneer in computerized sail technology and the Rolls Royce of megayacht builders.
"As soon as I stepped aboard, I said that if this boat meets all my other requirements, it's the one," recalls Weiss. "It had the best of both worlds: the luxuries of a megayacht and the classic lines of a true sailing yacht. I fell in love."
Love has its demands as well as its rewards. Weiss, who is not married, now employs a full-time crew of four to keep Gitana shipshape. **He does not charter out the boat commercially yet makes it available for fund-raisers and to entertain a wide circle of friends. So far this year, Weiss himself has spent about half his days on the boat - including a long cruise last winter from Florida to the Bahamas to the Caribbean.
After getting outfitted in Savannah with a new radar system (Weiss had added $250,000 in electronics gear alone since buying the boat), Gitana sailed on to Bermuda, its flag port, and then home to Eastern Point in Gloucester. As the only registered megayacht berthed in Massachusetts waters, Gitana tends to turn heads wherever it sails (powered by more than 6,000 square feet of canvas) in local waters, as it did on its July cruise from Gloucester to Provincetown.
Later this month, the boat will cross the Atlantic and then chart a course from the Azores to the Mediterranean. Cruising through the Balearic Islands, Aegean, and Adriatic, it will wind up back in Italy for scheduled maintenance and a fresh paint job. Weiss plans to be on board for much of the trip.
"Let's go below and look around," he suggests.
Descending a carpeted stairway, Weiss reaches the bridge.
"No flowers allowed here," he says, rubbing his hands on the suede-covered console. The bridge's control panel, which Weiss also added, features color radar, sonar, global positioning system, gyrocompass, Internet-linked computer, satellite TV system, and enough other gadgets to populate a James Bond movie.
But that, as they say, is merely the beginning. Down another flight of stairs is a 20-by-25-foot lounge area, complete with marble-topped bar and wide-screen TV. The custom-built coffee table was rescued by Weiss from Gitana's previous owner, who had stored the table in a Denmark warehouse. Two double-bunk crew quarters are forward of the lounge. The spacious galley has all the bells and whistles: nine freezers and refrigeration compartments, plus wall ovens, microwave, dishwasher, even a washing machine. In June, Weiss says, he hosted a party for 64 guests. The caterer who cooked on board made lobster Newburg, tenderloin au poivre, and fresh asparagus. Not exactly canned spaghetti and a ration of rum, eh?
Elsewhere are two guest rooms with both double and single beds and private bath. The even more commodious captain's quarters sits further aft. Built originally as two separate suites, it has been combined into one master suite with two bathrooms, a queen-sized bed, built-in desk, sofa, recessed lighting, and a ceiling padded with Italian Alcantara fabric.
"I didn't want it to be nautical," says Weiss of the decor. "I wanted it to be homelike."
Some home. All the wood is teak. The wool carpeting was custom-loomed in Italy. The fabrics used in accenting the interior are blends of silk, chenille, and mohair. Lalique light sconces were installed throughout by Weiss, replacing the swing-arm lamps favored by Gitana's previous owner. Every room is bathed in a soft, warm glow.
Hagopian helped design the interior, Weiss says, "and did a magnificent job in a short period of time."
Back on deck, the wind is blowing over 20 knots. Gitana barely stirs on its mooring. Orders are taken, drinks poured. Provincetown has never looked more scenic.
A guy could get used to this.
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
**[Gitana is now available for charter].