It may well be Seattle’s most expensive used boat deal ever—a 308-foot former government research vessel that’s being transformed into a luxury yacht for a mysterious Italian buyer.
Total cost: more than $50 million.
Stabbert Yacht & Ship in Ballard recently completed the sale of the former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel Saraha, which will undergo an extensive remodel expected to take 12 to 18 months. The 60-year-old family business has converted more than 30 boats since its inception. But Marketing and Project Manager Daniel Stabbert said the Sahara is the biggest to date.
“This will be the largest yacht conversion we’ll have ever done,” he said.
Stabbert said the buyer is an Italian man in his 30s, but declined to provide further information about him. Approached through Stabbert, the man turned down a request for an interview. Stabbert was also tight-lipped about plans for the vessel, saying only that the details are still under discussion.
“They haven’t decided necessarily what they’re going to do or how they’re going to do it,” he said. “It’s still at the development stage.”
The sale caught the attention of yacht brokers around the Northwest and the world. In the down economy, sales of luxury yachts—especially those requiring such a massive retrofit—are slowing, said Alan Powell, president of the 300-member Northwest Yacht Brokers Association.
“In the Northwest, this has the distinction of probably being the biggest used boat sale,” said Powell, owner of Capital City Yacht Sales in Olympia. “Anyone who can get a $50 million sale today gets my highest respect. It is not an easy deal.”
The deal took four months to close, Stabbert said, largely due to the buyer’s stipulation that the ship be operational first. After the ship was decommissioned around 1990, its electrical system was gutted during an environmental remediation process to remove asbestos and PCBs used in the insulation. Stabbert Yacht & Ship workers rewired the vessel, then dismantled half a dozen engines purchased specifically for the retrofit and rebuilt the ship’s four 20-foot-long, 15-foot-high engines.
“That in itself was an enormous task,” Stabbert said.
The yacht conversion will create about 250 jobs, with up to 100 of those Stabbert Yacht & Ship employees and the remainder tradespeople brought in at various stages.
“That’s something the Ballard waterfront could use right now,” Stabbert said.
The Sahara is expected to travel to exotic locales with its new owner, but it already has a storied past. It was originally commissioned in 1966 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, a precursor to NOAA, and was among the largest ships built by the U.S. government for oceanographic research.
Powell speculates that the new owner plans to take the ship off the beaten path.
“I would think (the buyer’s) attraction is the rugged nature of the boat,” he said. “Italian boatyards make a lot of low, sleek and fast designs—Ferraris on the water,” Powell said. “He wanted something different than what the yards in his country are known for.”
Daniel Stabbert’s uncle, Don Stabbert, owner of the Kirkland Yacht Club Marina, purchased Saraha in the 1990s and parked it in front of the marina to serve as a temporary breakwater to protect smaller boats.
The vessel, which Don Stabbert ironically dubbed Protector, remained there for eight years while plans to build a permanent breakwater and enlarge the marina underwent an approval process. Some residents complained that the ship was a view-obscuring eyesore, but others came to appreciate Kirkland’s infamous landmark.
Now, it seems the boat has found its more ardent fan in its new owner, who, upon purchasing it, eschewed a more comfortable stay in a Seattle hotel in favor of its aging steel walls.
“He’s in love with the boat,” Daniel Stabbert said. “Apparently he slept on it the first night he bought it.”