Class of 2016: Tom Perkins

Published on October 25th, 2016

Nine new members of the US National Sailing Hall of Fame will be inducted at a ceremony on October 29-30 in San Francisco, CA. Roger Vaughan provides this report on Tom Perkins, the innovator behind the modern square rigged superyacht The Maltese Falcon, and one of the members of the 2016 induction class:

When he was in his twenties, armed with degrees from MIT and Harvard, the late Tom Perkins went to work for a couple Stanford graduates named Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Perkins met the famous duo in the 1950s, when Palo Alto, California, was just beginning to boom.

‘Silicon Valley’ wasn’t coined until 1971, but the game associated with that name – marathon startups in search of ‘the next big thing’ – was in full play. And Tom Perkins was an all-star. He did a laser equipment startup in his spare time that was acquired for a pretty penny by Spectra Physics. That was just the beginning. Perkins’ extraordinary success put him in the venture capitalist hall of fame.

“I got to know Tom through sailing when we were both 29,” says Knud Wibroe, a consulting engineer. “We both lived in Sausalito. I raced an 8 Meter, Tom raced an International Canoe. I had the bigger boat in the beginning, but that certainly changed.”

The yachting community knows Perkins by Maltese Falcon, one of the largest sailboats ever built (LOA 289’). That Perkins would build such a vessel didn’t surprise Wibroe, or others who knew him. His new-business philosophy emphasized big on all counts: “Take big risks…carefully,” he advocated. “[The new business] should make a contribution 10 times greater than what’s out there…100 times greater would be better.” His yachting philosophy followed suit.

Wibroe says that no one believed in the modern square rigger concept besides Tom Perkins and the designer. Perkins was in Turkey frequently during construction of Maltese Falcon. He had the yard build a full-scale prototype of a mast that was 200 feet tall, four feet in diameter. He immersed himself in the details, working out problems with the push-button, unstayed rig, one at a time.

“Tom was a fantastic sailor,” Wibroe says. “I saw him back into a slip in St. Tropez with six inch clearance on either side. He had a professional skipper, but he always ran the boat when he was on board.” He was amazingly generous. He championed Leukemia Cup Regattas by providing leadership gifts. Well-known advocates he recruited to speak at those events included Al Gore, Rupert Murdock, Ted Turner, Joe Lacob, and Sir Ben Ainsle.

“Maltese Falcon was a very big risk,” Wibroe says, “but Perkins won with flying colors. He got that huge square rigger to point with 12 Meters, and once we hit 22.5 knots.”

For a complete list of inductees… click here.

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