The owner wasn't trying to make waves. Just the opposite, even if he did recently cruise into the Inner Harbor for a two-month stay on an eye-popping 120-foot yacht that cost $10 million.
The man wanted to keep a low profile, a crewman said.
"He's here to have a good time," explained ship's mate Paul Victor, part of a five-member crew that keeps Patti Lou humming. "People bother him a lot."
Who was this mystery man Victor referred to as "the owner"? Some tycoon? Obscure royalty? A celebrity? It's a question that passed the lips of curious water taxi riders and weekend captains of lesser vessels.
A brief glimpse showed him to be older, with gray hair, but he wasn't talking. As for his identity, learning that would require phone calls to a tiny Caribbean country, e-mail to Monaco and a wire transfer to a Swiss bank. More on that later, but suffice to say it's not chicken feed he's rolling in.
One thing was certain. The owner belonged to an elite club of wealthy people whose floating toys eclipse 80 feet and therefore rank as "megayachts," according to experts. (Some say real megayachts start at 100 feet; either way, Patti Lou qualifies.)
Those who track this well-keeled set for a living say it's not unusual for an owner to berth his yacht where thousands can gawk, while lying low behind tinted windows under the crew's attentive care.
It's a rarefied world where extravagant showiness and extreme privacy mix, said Reg Potterton, editor of Yachts International magazine. "You very rarely find out who those people are. I would say one out of 10 welcome publicity."
Go to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., or New York's harbor, and it's easy to spot yachts like this - and plenty that are bigger, including some with helicopters. In Baltimore, they stand out. In a typical year, local marina managers say, two dozen or so will glide up the Patapsco River past the tugs and freighters.
But few linger as long as Patti Lou, which may occasionally leave the harbor on excursions. Surrounded by boats less than half its size, the sleek vessel is a whale among porpoises at the Inner Harbor Marina, between the Rusty Scupper restaurant and Maryland Science Center.
Even owners of some pretty hefty yachts seem to lust after Patti Lou. While dismissing its size as "overkill," John Negri, whose company sells business telephone systems, gazed at it and said, "You see that, you say, 'Someday.'"
This from a man who just bought his 59-foot Kiss N' Tel for $900,000, more than he paid for his home in New Jersey.
Big private yachts are nothing new. J.P. Morgan had one. So did the Vanderbilts. But thanks partly to the 1990s boom, boats have gotten bigger at every level, experts say. The weekend boater once content with a 30-footer is now likely to pilot a 40-footer. And of the world's 100 largest yachts, 37 were delivered in the past decade, says Power & Motoryacht magazine.
Megayacht owners, when they go aboard, often take with them a taste for living as large as their yachts. In June, the 152-foot Northern Light docked at Inner Harbor East Marina. One night the owner threw a lavish party and bought big bouquets of orchids and birds of paradise.
"At the end of the week, $3,500 worth of flowers went into the Dumpster or to whoever wanted them," said general manager Bill Flohr with a chuckle. "That's how rich folks live."
Who was the owner?
"He lived in Sweden is all he told us," Flohr said, adding that he didn't ask too many questions. Since the captains often deal with the marinas, the owners can bask in anonymity.
Not all shun attention. Sausage titan Jimmy Dean has a yacht of around 120 feet that has visited. He flies a flag that says "JD," as if to remind everyone who's captain.
"He's not too shy," Flohr said. "A good ol' boy."
Megayachts follow the seasons. In spring, they migrate north from Florida and the Caribbean to Newport, R.I., Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and the like, and some head to the Mediterranean. Come fall, they go back to warmer climes. In between they may duck in to Baltimore, though some have local ties that keep them here longer.
For example, Jack Antwerpen of the Antwerpen car dealerships recently kept his 116-foot Avante, once owned by the Forbes family, at HarborView Marina & Yacht Club for six weeks.
It's a nice boat, said marina general manager Richard Feiner, "if you like gold-plated faucets and marble floors."
He paused. "I don't want to give out too much information. I like to keep my slip-holders' privacy."
Such discretion is typical. A 200-footer stopped not long ago at Inner Harbor Marina.
"I can't remember whose it was, and if I did I wouldn't mention it," said general manager Stephen McBride.
Money is the only limit to a vessel's size, and those that call on Baltimore are not especially big in a relative sense. The world's largest yacht not maintained for a head of state, according to Power and Motoryacht, is the Savarona, longer than a football field at 408 feet. It boasts a Turkish bath with marble fountains - fitting since Turkish President Kemal Ataturk bought it in 1938.
Of those owned domestically, No. 1 is Le Grand Bleu, 354 feet (and 3 inches) long. It is so big it can carry a 72-foot sailboat. The magazine didn't name the owner but coyly said he is "a Seattle native" with "business interests in a few professional sports teams."
The magazine, like Yachts International, depends on access to the ships and seems disinclined to pry into who is aboard. The owner of the 142-foot Paraffin, for example, is listed cryptically as a "gentleman in the candle-making business."
There is an unmistakable undercurrent of one-upmanship among megayacht owners, a sense that they revel in gloating that their boat is bigger than the next multimillionaire's, with more and fancier gadgets. It can get pretty silly. Entrepreneur II is a 122-foot yacht that, according to Power & Motoryacht, "cruises around New York Harbor, toting a faux helicopter."
Big as it is, the 120-foot Patti Lou would rank about No. 200 among American-owned yachts. By way of comparison, the Pride of Baltimore II is 109 feet long and USS Constellation's hull is 200 feet.
Built last year by Crescent Custom Yachts in Canada, Patti Lou has four staterooms - ship lingo for bedrooms - plus crew's quarters, according to International Yacht. Staterooms have marble-tiled bathrooms and cedar-lined wardrobes.
"A polished ebony crystal cabinet presides in the dining room." Its salon is a blend of "Asian decor with a subtle touch of the Thirties," with sapele burl, ebony and mahogany wood. A Bosch stove and central island with granite top grace the "country-style kitchen." Crescent's Web site said there is also a six-person hot tub and a barbecue grilling station.
Picturing exactly what it looks like requires some imagination.
"I'm sorry, I hate to be rude, but I can't let you come on board," said Victor, the mate, to a visitor who rang the boat's doorbell one evening.
Even so, Victor, a 27-year-old South African wearing shorts and a polo shirt emblazoned with "Patti Lou," spoke politely about the ship. How its twin engines produce 3,800 horsepower and burn 45 gallons of diesel an hour. How the tank holds 8,000 gallons - roughly $9,000 for a full tank.
He smiled while describing the desalination machine that makes sea water drinkable. (They've been drinking bottled stuff in the Inner Harbor.)
"This water is too dirty," Victor said. "The filters would get clogged up."
As for why the owner and his wife would spend two months in Baltimore - after cruising in the Bahamas and before heading to the New England coast - Victor gave a simple answer: Their daughter lives nearby. And the owner likes this area. Victor expects to leave town in a couple of weeks.
As Victor spoke, a shout came. It was the owner summoning him. End of discussion.
But who is the elusive owner? Patti Lou is registered in Kingstown, capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean nation twice the size of the District of Columbia that has tax laws yacht owners like.
But if you call its government to find out a boat's owner, no one can say, not at the Port Authority or at Customs. For that you have to call the country's Maritime Administration in Switzerland. Officials there said they could consult the registry book - for $100.
It did not take long to wire the money to a Swiss account, but there was no reply. A phone call was placed to Geneva, and the person who answered said the Monaco office had the information.
E-mail messages were exchanged with Monaco, and finally came the answer to the $100 question. The owner is listed as Michael A. "Alan" Guerrieri, 71, trustee of a revocable trust and husband of Patricia "Patti Lou" Guerrieri.
And who is Mr. Guerrieri? A former chicken magnate from the Eastern Shore.
For decades, the Guerrieris owned Showell Farms, at one time the country's 10th largest poultry operation, processing nearly 3 million chickens a week. Its roasters sold under the Cookin' Good brand name.
In 1995, Perdue Farms bought out its smaller rival. The price was never disclosed, but that sale likely helped turn a chicken farmer into a megayachtsman.