The $15 Million Floating FSBO

Glorious wtrfrnt vu for the price of 15 Belltown penthouses. And we do mean water.


It appeared on the Seattle waterfront about three weeks ago, with one of those garish yellow signs you generally associate with used car lots in Spanaway. Only this is no oil-leaking old Camaro with Bondo-filled body panels and fuzzy dice dangling from the mirror. It's a 124-foot luxury yacht that one briny old salt at Bell Harbour Marina told me might sell for $15 million. The Aerie is flagged out of Las Vegas, so what's it doing here? Mega yachts often carry the flag where the ownership trust or LLC is registered--which can have no connection to the secretive owner's actual residence. Curious about the seller--Gates? Allen? one of the McCaws?--and the boat, I called the Florida phone number on the banner and reached the vessel's captain onboard. He's perfectly friendly, but explained that only qualified potential buyers get to tour the yacht before submitting a bid to a Chicago law firm representing the seller's estate. Meaning no looky-lous allowed, even though you and I might fantasize about living aboard the yacht (the moorage runs about $1,800 a month, not unreasonable for the neighborhood).

Still, I was determined to see what my $15 million might get me, and whose "estate sale" is being advertised on the banner. Particularly since the yacht does have strong local connections.

For starters, the Aerie was tricked out by Seattle designer by Jonathan Quinn Barnett and built just up the Duwamish by Delta Marine, whose Web site offers its specs and photos, and describes posh features like an "entrance foyer aft [that] features a magnificent floor inlay of two eagles circling in flight, a mosaic constructed of thin, feather grained slices of petrified wood, tiger's eye and fossilized ivory, set in a circular field of Crema Delicato marble and Costa Smeralda quartzite." Classy! Launched in 2001, the Aerie was commissioned by Gordon Nordlund, a retired Omaha executive who made his fortune with the Kiewit Corporation (a mining-construction behemoth that built some of our own state highways). He named the boat for his premium-view "Eagle's Nest" summer home up north in La Conner. (Eagles, like the entrance foyer--get it?) But he sadly died after only six months' use of the craft, which then sold to new owners who also soon died (hence the current estate sale), which makes one wonder if the ship doesn't carry a deadly curse, Pirates of the Carribean-style.

And now it could be yours (or mine), depending on this week's lottery numbers. In a write-up in the Robb Report (a kind of floating shelter mag for Trump wanna-bes), the Aerie is described as "a floating entertainment palace, with three main surround-sound systems, eight digital satellite system (DSS) receivers, and an audio system with a 700-disc CD library that can be enjoyed in 15 locations, including the dining area, galley, pilothouse, flybridge, boat decks, and even the crew quarters. There are five flat-panel plasma screens, two LCD screens, and six touch panel remote controllers." Perfect for gizmo-loving bachelors looking to take their lady friends on romantic sunset cocktail cruises. Or just play with the gold-plated XBox.

For now, the yacht's return to its old waters has produced wistful feelings for its designer, Jon Barnett told me. Since his client roster includes big-money buyers like Paul Allen's Vulcan who cruise the world, "Our boats aren't seen often in the Northwest." His Belltown firm, founded in 1995, is a stone's throw from the marina, and he doesn't like the way his old baby is now being presented to the public--like a tag-sale heirloom rudely pushed onto the muddy front lawn. "It's really horrible," he says. (And, in his defense, the inlay eagles were probably the original client's idea, perhaps inspired by a mural on the side of a van.)

Oh, and who's seeking to unload the boat? The LLC that owns it is represented by a trustee of the estate left by Las Vegas hotel-casino tycoon William G. Bennett. He died in 2003--buyer beware the curse of the Aerie!--and his widow last December. Like their other joint holdings, including the Sahara, the yacht is but one in a series of assets now being sold off in a rush. Which means there may be room to haggle about including the sheets and towels. Plus anything left in the frig.

And if the boat doesn't sell soon, there's always eBay. Meanwhile, the Aerie's captain told me there have already been four serious local inquiries (Gates? Allen? one of the McCaws?), some from parties who knew the original owner. It's been on the market since January, he says. Maybe a bigger yellow sign would help. Or throw in a used Camaro to help sweeten the deal.

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