Monday, October 13, 2008

What do you call rich?

The next time somebody calls me rich, I think I am going to fall over and laugh until I need oxygen supplementation to breathe!

I am the first to admit I am comfortably well off, by both American and South African standards. Back in Silicon Valley, a costly place to live by anyone’s standards, and I saw my fair share of Mercedes and BMWs gracing the highways and byways of the Valley. Godiva choccies in every Macy’s, a Macy’s in every mall…Silicon Valley was definitely not a low rent kind of place to live.

Here in South Africa I hadn’t expected a higher standard of living for the average person, so I was downright astounded to see so many Beemers and Benzes crowding the parking lots outside the malls and jamming the roads. Not many Bentleys or Ferraris, I’ll admit, but then I rarely saw those back in California. A maid and a garden service are the middle class norm here, and the stay-at-home-mother is very much in evidence (and she has a maid and often a nanny as well). I have achieved the socioeconomic status I longed for back in my twenties…I don’t have to work, I have a maid, I drive a Mercedes, and I have enough money to pay for everything I need and quite a bit of what I want.

That being said, it is important to note that my needs and wants aren’t that grand. My second hand Mercedes is a joy to me: she’s eight years old and I love her to bits. I don’t want a cook: I just want someone to clean up the kitchen after me when I’m done cooking. I have a platinum credit card and a charge card for my favourite dress shop and when I say “I’m out of cash,” my husband’s only response is “How much do you want?” Life is good.

If that sounds rich to you, then you’ve got a shock coming because this weekend I got a look at the truly, extravagantly, obscenely, gaggingly rich. Hubby and I had brunch at our favourite quayside restaurant yesterday morning and moored across the inlet from us was a yacht. OK, it was a big boat from where we were sitting, but not that big…or so we thought. As we sat their munching our fresh croissants, a Chinese squid seiner lumbered into port, nudged along by a couple of scrappy little tugs. It was a big old rust bucket, and took its sweet time getting moored…right in front of the yacht. It was then that I noticed the yacht seemed pretty close to the Chinese ship in size…and while it was no super tanker, the squid ship wasn’t exactly your little eight man fishing boat, either!

After brunch we took a walk over to its mooring point and just gawked. It was tied alongside the pier so we were able to walk the entire length of the port side. It was huge. Inscribed around a porthole were the words “Tatoosh” and “George Town,” and on the stern “Tatoosh” and “Cayman Islands.”

“Maybe Bill Gates is in town?” Hubby opined, staring unabashed at the gleaming while-hulled monstrosity.

“Nah,” I shook my head. “He lives in Seattle…that’s an awfully long way to sail a boat, even one this big!”

We continued walking and gawking. In the course of our stroll we discovered a ketch stowed on the port side, two (two!) helicopters on separate helipads, and two motor launches. When we got back home I got on the internet and discovered that Hubby was more right than I was. The yacht belongs to Paul G. Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft. And it was a whole lot more boat that I had bargained for.

First of all, it is 303 feet (92.4m) long. Do you have any idea how long that is? A regulation American football field is 360 feet long! The thing is 49 feet (14.9m) wide and it cost $100million in 2001.

In addition to the amenities we could see from the dock, we discovered that the boat has:
Five decks
A spa
A master suite, a saloon and other rooms on the top deck;
A saloon with a French limestone fireplace, a dining area, staterooms and a ladies' powder room on the main deck
A lobster tank
A shaded six-foot (1.8m) deep swimming pool, located aft on the main deck beneath a full overhang
A movie theater
A big crane to transport two helicopters on the top two decks
A custom Hinckley powerboat (about a 40 footer (12m))
A Hinckley sailboat of about 40 feet (12m)

Mother Jones gives a few more details:” The 300-foot Tatoosh carries a 30-person crew, two helicopters, a swimming pool, a spa, a private movie theater, six other surface boats (including a separate 54-foot racing yacht and two Hobie catamarans) and a submarine.”

A submarine, for crying out loud!! A submarine!

But wait! It gets better…or worse, depending on your point of view. This ostentatious monstrosity is only his second best of three yachts! Allen also owns the Octopus which, according to Mother Jones “is 413 feet long, with seven decks, a 60-person crew including several former Navy SEALs, seven other on-board boats, a basketball court, the obligatory movie theater and swimming pool (just one?), and two submarines, one of which can stay two weeks on the ocean floor. Allen also owns a third megayacht it turns out, plus two personal Boeing 757's, in case one is in the shop.”

Before you get up on your “Greedy Americans” high horse, though, you have to know that Tatoosh is only the 26th largest yacht in the world, the largest presently owned by the Sheikh of Dubai. It’s called “Dubai” and is just two inches shy of being 525 feet long (160m). That makes it almost 1 ½ football fields in length. I can see where a sheikh might need a vessel of this size to keep all the wives and children in comfort, but what is Paul Allen’s excuse?

This is conspicuous consumption of the most obscene order. The man has three yachts…how many can you skipper at a time? This man is rich beyond even my imagination (and mine is pretty good!) and what he does with it is buy more yachts? Yah, yah, I know he has a foundation and does good works, but this is ridiculous.

If I had those three yachts I’d decide which one I liked best, then I’d sell the other two and sink the money into something meaningful, like free education for all of South Africa’s children…or free university educations for every American high school senior who could get accepted into college. Or fund some hospitals in places where the medical care is scarce…or establish a safety net for those millions of my fellow Americans who work but have no health coverage…the ones too rich for government assisted health care, but too poor to buy their own.

I am sure the sale of a couple of $100million yachts could fund all kinds of good works…I’ll bet old Paul could peel off a couple of hundred million more without even putting the tiniest of dents in his lifestyle (he’s worth $42Billion, after all). It boggles me to think of all of the good this man could do with all that money without reducing the quality of his life one jot.

It’s obscene, I tell you, the conspicuous flaunting of that kind of wealth. And the next time somebody dares to call my middle-class self wealthy, “Tatoosh” is the first word that will roll off my lips!


  1. Simple - he can write them all off as Business expenses.

    But let's not forget that both Allen and Gates have made and still make significant contributions to Philanthropy - especially towards health and human services.

    I really don't like to obsess about them rich but it's nice to know where and how they spend their money.

  2. $42 billion - hats ALOT of flowers!

    Dropped in to give you some good news - you've been awarded a flower smeller badge over at GO! Smell the flowers.....

    Feel free to drop over, accept and post it..

    Well done from all at GSTF - you're our first flower smeller based in SA.....

  3. My heart bleeds for you--obviously suffering the tortures of the damned in a 3rd world country.

  4. Ah, Jack...only parts of South Africa are third world. The part I live in is one of the playgrounds of the rich and famous, complete with five star restaurants and hotels, and pieds-a-terre boasting obscene luxury for the privileged few.

    Why else do you think Tatoosh is tied up here?

  5. Yet another example of the rich flaunting their wealth with unnecessary trappings of their money and stature. Being comfortable isn't a bad thing.


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