By: Scott Way
A recent story from CBC News Atlantic revealed that Evel Knievel's custom 70's yacht has turned up in Canada. It is a saga that gleefully taps into our affinity for #weirdboats, so naturally we dug into the strange story behind a floating shrine to an iconic stuntman.
The boat was purchased new by Knievel in 1976 for $650,000, but the 75 foot classic-style cruiser has origins as dicey as the stuntman's chosen profession. It was initially commissioned for the owner of Broward Marine, but Knievel caught wind of the half-complete vessel and somehow managed to swoop in and purchase it for himself. With dubious origins before even leaving drydock, Knievel named the boat Evel Eye 1. It was outfitted with a helicopter pad on the aft deck and painted in his signature Americana with star-spangled accents. The name would become a theme for his toys, which also included a private jet and a jet motorcycle, as each was adorned with the 'Evil Eye' nameplate and a sequential number to coincide with its entrance to his horsepower-laden collection.
Knievel did not keep the boat long, however, and the manner in which he lost it seems perfectly reasonable when considering the ethos of a professional risk taker: an ill-fated wager in the back room of a Las Vegas casino. Knievel had a serious penchant for high stakes gambling, with both his life and the money he made from risking it, and his new yacht invariably became a wagerable game chip.
"He lost it in a poker game. He was an avid gambler. Apparently the owner of Caesars Palace owned the boat after Evel, and then the gentlemen I bought it from bought it from him. So I'm the fourth owner," says new owner and Halifax businessman Robert Steele, head of the Steele Auto Group, a dealership conglomerate based in Eastern Canada.
Knievel famously crashed jumping over the fountains in front of Caesars Palace in 1967, then inconceivably lost the boat in a back room at the same establishment sometime in the early 80's. Whatever happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas, minus the boat, and the ownership landed in the hands of Caesars Palace owner Jay Sarno. After keeping the boat for an unknown period of time (the Nevada desert perhaps playing a role in its usability), Sarno sold it to a Florida businessman who ran it for 30 years with a full staff aboard, keeping the stately vessel in tidy shape.
As for how the boat ended up in Canada, Steele discovered it while in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, its classic lines making it stand out from the typical sleek superyachts and high-octane powerboats. In an interview with The Chronicle Herald, Steele confirmed the vessel was listed at $349,000 US but wouldn’t divulge what he paid for it, “I can say I think it was a fantastic buy." (Fun Fact- you can still see the boat's recent sale listing and the original nameplate for the yacht, 'Evel Eye 1' is for sale on eBay).
"You can get a nice big fancy yacht, but this has so much character. The Evel Knievel connection just made it that much more appealing."
The boat is now adorned with memorabilia spanning Knievel's legendary career and serves as floating shrine to his high-octane exploits. The walls of the cabin are replete with collectibles from Knievel's life's work, including everything from old credit cards to hospital wristbands to the daredevil's own art. "A lot of people don't know this, but Evel Knievel was an artist. My intent is to frame (some of his art) and put it on the boat."
The yacht has also undergone several name changes. Originally Evel Eye 1, the boat was renamed Bottom Line, either by Caesars Palace owner Jay Sarno, or by the Florida businessman who last owned it. Under the ownership of Steele, the boat now carries the title Viva Knievel, named after the 1977 movie of the same name in which Knievel played the lead. While his movie career did not take off the way his Harley did, his legend lives on through pop culture iconism, and strangely, his affinity for nice boats.
The video below showcases the new shrine-centric layout.
"He had sort of an Elvis vibe," Steele says. "He used to wear the white leather suits with the stars and the stripes."
Viva Las Vegas. And Viva Knievel.