Icons & Innovators: Perini Navi: Enlisting the Navi

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Ettore Bugatti continues to be considered one of the world’s great engineering artists. His technical innovations are legendary, but above all, his automobiles were beautiful. Those that remain today continue to command the highest prices of all classic cars. A similar passion for engineering excellence and design flair and style is embodied by the yachts of Fabio Perini.

Just as Bugatti did, Perini has followed his instincts, and he has, virtually single-handedly, created a new and thriving market for automated sailing yachts. Perini had the idea, in the early 1980s, that automation could eliminate the need for the huge crews that traditional sailing yachts required. This was not the idle thought of a dreamer. As the founder of the world’s leading manufacturer of machines for processing bathroom and kitchen paper products, Perini had the engineering and technical background to create working devices that incorporated his ideas. And like Bugatti’s automobiles, the yachts that carry these innovations are magnificent.


I first met Fabio Perini in the mid-1980s, just after he had launched the first of his series of yachting successes. Being technically inclined myself (OK, I’m a geek from MIT and something of an inventor, too), we hit it off immediately, and my first big yacht, the 141-foot Andromeda, became a wonderful reality in 1985 thanks to his effort. About five years later, after I had made much happy use of Andromeda, Fabio joined me on board during a Mediterranean cruise and came up with the idea for a new style of larger yacht. We discussed his concept, and when we returned to Perini Navi’s headquarters in Viareggio, he asked me for “cinque minuti”—five minutes—to discuss my becoming the first customer for the new design. Some hours later, I agreed to commission Andromeda la Dea, the 154-foot yacht that my wife and I would sail around the world in the early 1990s and treasure for more than a decade.

As I write this, I am about to launch my third Perini Navi boat, Maltese Falcon. With a length of nearly 300 feet, this will be the largest sailing yacht in the world, but more significantly, it will be the most innovative in terms of the rig. She will be an automated square-rigger, the first clipper yacht, and the first sailboat to use the DynaRig, which the German government developed in the 1960s. The naval architect is Gerry Dijkstra, famous for designing big, fast boats (Maltese Falcon will be able to achieve a maximum speed of 25 knots under sail, perhaps even faster), but the sail-handling systems have been developed—personally—by Fabio Perini. Needless to say, they are beautiful. Theoretically, they will enable the boat, despite its size, to be sailed by a crew of one. I will be able to open or close all of the sails, which will be mated to three freestanding, rotating masts, in a total of six minutes, from a deck that will be free of sheets, winches, and cleats.


Given the enormous challenge that this yacht represents, I am very happy that I have entrusted it to Perini Navi. In fact, I would not even consider building Maltese Falcon at any other yard.


Tom Perkins’ Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has financed such companies as Genentech, Amazon, America Online, and Google. For most of his life he has sailed and raced, first aboard a 17-foot Teak Lady on San Francisco Bay, and soon aboard the 289-foot Maltese Falcon.

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