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Cruise control

It is impossible for even a mega-yacht to accomodate all those essentials needed for a luxurious cruise. Tom Gonzales, himself an owner of 400 cars, airplanes, helicopters and even a submarine, found the solution. Tim Falconer reports …

Storage space for all your essentials is at a premium on even the largest of yachts. And trying to fit in jet skis, cars, runabouts and a helicopter can be next to impossible. The lack of space inevitably means that some, or all, of your equipment can't make the trip with you. Former e-commerce entrepreneur Tom Gonzales spotted this problem back in 2005. Fed up with his own yacht being cluttered up with boys toys, he took a new look at the concept of a shadow boat – a vessel that follows, or tracks, a luxury yacht. The result was Shadow Marine, a company he founded with his wife, Kimberly. Shadow Marine repurposes decommissioned oil rig service vessels, converting them so that they can carry any number of provisions such as submarines, sport fish boats or even a helicopter, as well as provisions and additional fuel for en-route refueling.

Although Gonzales is considered somewhat of a visionary within the luxury yacht space, Shadow Marine is not a pioneer when it comes to shadow boat construction – previous models have been made to order by numerous vessel makers. It is, however, the only firm so far to make a full time business out of it. And Gonzales has taken it to a whole new level.

At the 2005 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Shadow Marine showcased the Paladin Shadow, rebuilt from the props at Houma Fabricators in Louisiana. A main feature of the boat was its enormous helipad – a prime feature of all of Shadow Marine's vessels. Removing the helicopter landing zone from the main yacht to the relative flatness of a shadow boat is safer, because fewer obstructions means safer transport.

Building on the success of the firm's initial offerings, the company launched its latest vessel – the Shadow Allure – in October 2007. At 220-feet in length and with engines that generate 1,225 horsepower and can produce a top speed of 12 knots, the Allure certainly stands out from what passed as a shadow boat before.

It is also much more than a simple "toy hauler". The Allure features six staterooms (each with balconies), a gym, a 28-foot swimming pool, a climate-controlled hangar bay, and a 50'x34' helipad. It can carry up to 100,000 gallons of fuel, which gives it a sailing range of more than 10,000 nautical miles, and can store large quantities of diesel and aviation fuel, as well as petrol for land vehicles.

"We're constantly evolving and looking for ways to build bigger and faster boats," says Shadow Marine's CEO Gary Slatkow. Next on the drawing board is the 310-foot Voyager model, which can haul and carry a yacht up to 91 foot on deck using computer-controlled lifting slings. And with a 10,000-mile range, an owner can meet his yacht anywhere, anytime.

Shadow fans
Shadow boats already have their admirers. Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and a regular fixture on billionaire rich lists, is reportedly a fan, along with the Sultan of Oman. A number of Greek and Norwegian shipping line owners as well as Russian oligarchs have also apparently taken a liking to the shadow boat.

But coming in at a cost anywhere between $8 million and $35 million, potential customers of Shadow Marine may need convincing of their usefulness. "The appeal of the shadow boat is its ability to go anywhere in the world and in any kind of conditions due to the strength of its hulls," explains Slatkow.

Meanwhile, Gonzales says there are economic reasons for purchasing a shadow boat. "In a bang for your buck scenario, it's cheaper to own a 150-foot boat and a 150-foot shadow boat than one mega-yacht. Immeasurably cheaper."

Gonzales explains that shadow boats bring privacy and security benefits as well. He says that rather than keeping the full complement of your personal security team on your main vessel, you can have them stationed on the shadow boat, where they are inconspicuous to your family and guests. All munitions and weaponry can be housed away from the main vessel, adding to greater safety.

The shadow boat's presence alone can act as a deterrent in hostile waters, causing potential threats to "think twice" and providing a protective perimeter for the main vessel. And with a much flatter hull than most mega-yachts, the shadow boat can take the lead in shallower waters, plotting a course for the luxury yacht to follow.

Slatkow says the company sold a total of two shadow boats in 2007 and is in the process of closing a "couple" more deals so far in 2008. He is upbeat about future sales of the firm's products, a view that seems to be borne out by the rise of luxury yacht ownership across the world.

According to Sunseeker London, a UK-based global seller of luxury yachts, sales in 2007 far outstripped 2006, and 2008 is shaping up as another successful year. There are currently an estimated 8,000 motor yachts over 80-foot long in use globally, which is up from about 4,000 about a decade ago.

"The outlook is extremely positive with a great deal of interest in yachts comprising more than 80 foot," says Gary Cleaverly, a senior sales broker at Sunseeker London. Slatkow agrees. "Our customers tend to be more global and are more immune to prevailing economic trends," he says.

The company looks poised to quickly claim its territory in international waters, with a strong leadership and plenty of business acumen. As founder and CEO of Commerce One, Gonzales oversaw one of the most successful initial public offering of shares in NASDAQ history with the company's valuation peaking at about $21 billion.

He has also racked up years of experience in the technology, real estate and hospitality sectors. "He is the brains and the vision behind it all," enthuses Slatkow.

This spells good news for the future of the shadow boat, and the Shadow Marine team is certainly hoping that with Gonzales at the helm, potential rivals will be kept well and truly in the shade.

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