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Private Air - November 2008 - The Detail Man

By Bill Ando

Private Air

Westport Yacht's favorite hands-on mutli-millionaire puts out the gangway.

In the vast assortment of Chart Houses, Charlie's Crabs, Salt Grasses and 39 other brands and 200 establishments that make up Landry's Restaurants, CEO Tilman Fertitta is known to be slightly obsessive. Whether he's picking out the Italian marble for the foyer of the downtown Houston Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse, selecting a new carpet pattern for the Golden Nugget Casino or helping to conceive the 30-foot live volcano atop the Galveston Rainforest Cafe, he is not a man to delegate aesthetic decisions. "I feel like I know what my customers want, "Fertitta says. "I like to be creative. It keeps things interesting."

So you can imagine how involved Fertitta (who once also owned a share of the Houston Texans and whose cousins, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, own the Ultimate Fighting Championship) gets in the design of his yacht. Phil Purcell, vice president of Westport Yachts, even has a name for these flourishes. "I call them 'Tilmanisms," Purcell says. "He works extremely closely with our design team, and the changes add a level of informal elegance that people really seem to appreciate."

Fertitta's involvement with Westport started in 2002 with a 112-foot-long motor yacht christened the Boardwalk - named after the popular Kemah Boardwalk amusement complex opened by Fertitta on Houston's Clear Lake in 1999. Then, in 2006, he upgraded to a Westport 130, also named Boardwalk. On the 130, his touches include lighting over the aft deck, stainless-steel handrails on the transom and additional safety bars between the forward railings. Another Tilmanism - removing the main entrance foyer to open up the country kitchen - has been such a hit; it's now an option on all Westport 130-footers.

That feature will, no doubt, be a convivial gathering spot on October 30, when Private Air throws an exclusive party on Boardwalk dockside at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. The soiree, co hosted by Santosha, a new luxury residence resort in Golfito, Costa Rica, will offer upwards of 75 lucky readers the chance to get a sneak peek at one of the next great yachting and jet-set destinations - and admire Fertitta's inspiration firsthand. Guests will be free to poke their head into the owner's suite and four below-deck guest cabins; lounge on the generous indoor and outdoor common areas; note the pair of fighting chairs mounted on the swimming platform (your clue that the owner likes to fish) and the compressor and eight air tanks in the lazarette (your clue that he's an avid diver); and even dip a toe into the alfresco hot tub.

Fertitta had a busy summer; seizing on the sinking stock market to once again take Landry's private in a $1.3 billion deal that, as of press time, was on track to close right around the time of the party. Still, he says he "spent about three weeks onboard with the family down in Caribbean. And a bunch of other long weekends." With a 26-knot top speed, Boardwalk can cover some serious nautical miles, and Fertitta occasionally settles in for the ride from his Houston home. Otherwise, he uses his Challenger 604, arranged for 12 passengers, to get him and his clients or wife and four children to the boat. "I was type-rated in a Citatin, but in the Challenger, I fly right-seat only," he says. An Augusta 109 helicopter (which technically makes this feature "Three if by Sea," but who's counting?) stands ready to make shorter hops usually from the roof of his downtown office.

As thoroughly Tilmanized as the 130 is, however, it isn't Fertitta's idea of the ultimate watercraft. He recently ordered a Westport 164 - the largest the company builds. "I wanted one I could land my helicopter on," he explains. He'll take delivery in February 2010. In the meantime, that's yet another reason to RSVP now for the October 30 party. Just be sure to bring your bank statement; Westport personnel at the party, available to answer questions about the 130, will entertain offers starting at $14 million.