Reminiscing on the Devine Decadence effect
Some colourful characters have traipsed across the pages of our newspapers and magazines over the decades.
One such person of interest popped back into conversation over a Friday beer down at No.1 The Strand and I thought the story was worth revisiting.
Those who have been around the Tauranga marine sector for a few years may have noted the passing of American yachtie Walker Inman (57). His death sparked a series of conversations around the waterfront, from which we’ve patched together this story. No doubt, there’s more we haven’t heard!
Walker and his yacht, Devine Decadence, an 80 foot aluminium ketch, achieved notoriety in the summer of 1988 when the boat arrived in Tauranga for a refit. The glimpse into the lifestyle of the rich was an interesting insight for some locals, and even had some ‘domestic repercussions’.
Many local marine tradesmen were involved in the refit, and probably more memorable, the legendary partying and spending that accompanied the yacht’s crew and its flamboyant owner.
Stories abound, in fact get better by the year, of the antics that set the marine fraternity alight during the months that Devine Decadence was in port. The fact that the spelling of the yacht’s name was slightly questionable was soon dispelled by the fact that, when you have as many millions in the bank as Walker Inman, you can spell anything any way you want.
And rich was probably an understatement. The local paper in his home of Georgetown County, South Carolina, reports Duke Power, Duke University, the American Tobacco Co, the Duke Endowment and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation are among the family interests.
In a document from April 2009, the Wyoming Supreme Court heard arguments about an ongoing custody and visitation dispute that Inman had with one of his former wives, Daisha Loraine Williams (Inman). A statement in that document says, “The record also demonstrates that the children are wealthy in their own right, being the beneficiaries of a trust that Father (Walker P. Inman Jr.) estimated would be valued at $1 billion by the time they reach age 21.”
Walker, the only heir to the Duke fortune, inherited Aunt Doris’s massive wealth, built mostly on American tobacco and energy interests.
Aunt Doris is a story in herself, infamous for her ownership of a private 747 airliner which is said to have been used to extract Imelda Marcos, a close personal friend of Doris, from the Philippines at the end of the Marcos era.
Walker told the story of how Aunt Doris had the top floor of the airliner customised with bar, bedrooms and Jacuzzi. She couldn’t decide how best to have the rest of the plane decorated, so it was furnished with beanbags.
Decadence first shocked the sleepy seaside town of Tauranga when its onboard arsenal was handed over to the Tauranga police for safe keeping while in port. This reportedly included a 50mm deck-mounted machine gun and a rocket propelled grenade launcher – among other weapons. They weren’t so much for self protection, apparently, than amusement while at sea.
Legend has it that the local police station’s armoury at the time was barely capable of containing the weaponry and ammunition.
An avid gun, knife, sword and steam engine collector, Walker is purported to have spent some of his early inheritance on an arms manufacturing company. It’s said that one of his most successful products was an item more akin to a James Bond movie – an exploding door handle, which went off if you didn’t turn it the right way. He said it was popular with his clients who included the CIA. Walker’s uncle, Admiral Bobby Inman, was former deputy director of the CIA.
Stories of wild parties and debauchery abound the local Tauranga marine industry. One example is a party at the Charthouse Restaurant, which apparently went a bit crazy. Worried about the cost of breakages and repairs, the owner’s fears were allayed when Walker pulled a huge roll of banknotes from his pocket, started peeling out hundred dollar bills and casually told the owner to “tell me when that’s enough”.
Another party in the Bureta vicinity one night involved the exploding of a device, possibly a tuna bomb, which shook most of Otumoetai and had police on high alert. Details of this incident are still sketchy and shrouded in urban myth, but believed to involve Devine Decadence’s crew and some locals who are keeping “mum”.
Walker held a party at the racecourse on conclusion of the Decadence refit. Most of the Tauranga boatbuilding fraternity were invited.
The Filthy Few provided security, since Walker had an interest in Harley Davidson motorcycles.
A couple of the best local rock bands were hired, along with the best stripper team act in NZ at the time, brought in especially for the event from K Road.
A male stripper, organised for Walker’s third wife Helena’s birthday, jumped out of a massive plywood “cake” made by Tauranga boatbuilder Alistair Hutcheson.
When some enthusiastic members of the local yachting fraternity started ripping off their clothes and joining in, there followed a “memorable” fracas between strippers, spectators and some of their not-so-impressed spouses.
Some local yachties say that despite their “convivial state” and the subsequent passing of a couple of decades – the image of flailing handbags of disgusted wives is as clear as yesterday.
Devine Decadence is understood to still be in New Zealand; home port Tutukaka, in the care of its full time skipper.