A Grand Ambition?

Grand_AmbitionGrand Ambition, a new book by G. Bruce Knecht was reviewed by Patrick Cooke in an article that appeared March 16, 2013, on page C9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Hole in the Water You Fill With Money. I’m quoting Mr. Cooke’s review verbatim and following each quote with some additional facts. Draw your own conclusions.


“Grand Ambition” follows the boat-owning adventures of Doug Von Allmen, a self-made tycoon, and his wife, Linda.

  • As they conceived it a few years ago, their 187-foot dreamboat—to be built at Trinity Yachts in Gulfport, Miss.—would weigh 400 tons and be propelled by two 3,384-horsepower Caterpillar engines costing $2 million each.
  • Lady Linda would have four lavish decks, 10 bathrooms and 2½ miles of pipes and would cost $40 million.
  •  As Mr. Knecht writes of the boat’s living space: “With wood harvested from Eastern Europe and cabinetry designed in London and built in Australia before it was shipped to Mississippi, Lady Linda‘s interior was a global enterprise.”

Poverty_HungerAccording to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted.

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

Lady-LindaFrom the living room of his $18.5 million duplex in New York’s Time Warner Center, Mr. Von Allmen and his wife alternately cajole and torment Lady Linda’s patient yacht designer, Evan Marshall, with questions that may strike the reader as strictly the problems of the idle rich.

  • Should the yacht have built into it one garage or two for storing smaller craft? (Securing speedboats and wave runners on deck is viewed by the yachting community as déclassé and a sign that the owner can’t afford a garage.)
  • How will guests in the sky lounge be able to view underwater scenes sent from video cameras mounted beneath the yacht’s hull?
  • And what is the best way to air-condition the outdoor decks during those sweltering Mediterranean cruises?

Poverty_Hunger_2Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities

Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three living on less than $1 a day.


Lady-Linda-main-deck-barThe Von Allmens were fortunate to have their other yacht to use while construction of Lady Linda was under way, the 197-foot Linda Lu.

  • They boarded her to attend conclaves of mega-yacht owners in Monaco and at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show.
  • If a word could describe the yachts that skim into harbor at these events it might be “glimmering”: pearlescent hulls, onyx floors and marble staircases, exotic woods varnished to a fare-thee-well.

Poverty_Shelter_2Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhea

The loss of 443 million school days each year from water-related illness.

1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity:

Lady-Linda-bridge-deck-cinemaMr. Knecht, without being in any way judgmental, catalogs the jaw-dropping excesses.

  • One owner has a room onboard that makes snow.
  • Another built a concert hall large enough to fit a 50-member orchestra.
  • Yet another has an onboard runway where models show off the newest fashions in a room with only two seats.
  • Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s 414-foot Octopus boasts a basketball court and a commercial-quality recording studio.

Poverty_1The UN estimates that 16,000 adults die each day from hunger or preventable diseases with poverty-related causes.

Of the roughly 1 billion living on less than $1 a day, 162 million live on less than $0.50 a day. These are what the International Food Policy Research Institute calls the ‘ultra poor’.

67.5 million children are out of school around the world, a figure equivalent to the entire primary school-aged population in Europe and North America.

Women in developing countries travel an average of almost four miles each day to collect water.

Lady-Linda-master1One wonders how Doug Von Allmen, who began life in poverty, working as a window washer and factory grunt.

  • Became a man intolerant of any “creaking” on his yacht,
  •  irritated by the slightest whooshing of the air-conditioning system
  • and concerned with the placement of gold-plated toilet-paper dispensers.

Poverty in Afghanistan
Total Number of Children that live without adequate shelter: 640 million (1 in 3)

Total Number of Children with no access to Health Services: 270 million (1 in 7)

Total Number of Children who die annually from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation: 1.4 million

There is a scene toward the end of “Grand Ambition” where the author accompanies Mr. Von Allmen on a tour of Lady Linda. The owner is in a rotten mood. As he glumly surveys each luxurious deck, “there was not a flicker of excitement.”


Categories: Life in the Spirit

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