EASTPORT, Maine — Given its long and rich nautical history, Eastport has seen countless thousands of ships, large and small, tie up on its waterfront pier, but never anything quite like The World.
At 644 feet long, the 12-deck behemoth loomed Tuesday over the Washington County community’s Water Street historic commercial district, docked for the day to allow those aboard what’s billed as the world’s largest yacht to take in the sights and visit local shops, galleries and restaurants. The Eastport Port Authority offered special tours for those among the 88 residents who came ashore, and shopkeepers welcomed the visitors — and their credit cards — with genuine enthusiasm.
Those going ashore are not “passengers” in the cruise ship industry’s sense of the word. They are “residents” in that The World is a beyond-opulent floating city. The ship’s 165 condominium accommodations and the six-star, every-deck, spare-no-expense facilities, ranging from an on-board marina that houses sailboats, dive boats and jet skis to four world-class restaurants, are owned by the 130 families from 19 countries who call The World home. There’s also a theater, a chapel, a library, a casino, a golf simulator, two pools, a tennis court, pricey gift shops and a billiard room with a pool table equipped with a gyroscope that keeps the table perfectly level despite sea conditions outside the portholes.
On Tuesday, word spread among local visitors aboard that there is one vacant residence available for purchase at a price of more than $2 million. Owners also pay an annual “maintenance fee” of $260,000.
One owner from Switzerland, who asked not to be identified, said he and his spouse have been residents for five years and spend 10 months a year enjoying their home on the sea. This year the couple has been enjoying much of an ambitious itinerary that is bringing The World and its residents and crew to 31 countries.
Rick Jaynes and his wife, Cecily, of San Diego went ashore Tuesday for a self-guided walking tour of Eastport’s historic homes. The couple live aboard three months a year, a schedule that he said “took some getting used to.”
“I noticed two things in Eastport, which is a beautiful city,” he said. “There are a lot of ‘for sale’ signs, and there are also many houses that are being worked on or are being repainted. There’s a lot of activity here.”
Chris Gardner, who runs the Eastport Port Authority and is chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, was among a contingent of 15 local dignitaries and tourism boosters who came aboard for a 30-minute champagne reception with the ship’s captain, Erik Bredhe, and an hourlong tour of the ship’s endless amenities. Gardner said visits such as Tuesday’s docking of The World not only have an immediate economic effect on merchants — one local lobsterman sold 250 live lobsters and 100 pounds of lobster meat to the ship — but also bring to Eastport people who never knew it existed.
“There’s economic activity not only in bringing these people to town,” he said of the residents aboard. “It’s also bringing other people to town to see this unique ship. We see people today coming to town from both directions: not only those coming ashore to experience Eastport as an attraction, but those coming to town to see the ship as an attraction. And the economic activity we are experiencing will go beyond today. We already have people who arrived here this summer on previous cruise ships reaching back, making B&B reservations for future visits. We believe in our little town, and we’re excited.”
Bredhe, a Swede who has been a senior crew member since The World was built in Scandinavia more than 10 years ago, said residents enjoy small, out-of-the-way, lesser-known ports of call.
“I don’t think that ports that can accommodate a ship like this can get much smaller,” Bredhe said, referring to Eastport. “Then again, we’ve been to places that aren’t even on the map.”
The World’s next stop is Bar Harbor, which Bredhe said will not be the same experience as Eastport.
“Our residents enjoy the solitude and the personal attention that they get in a community like Eastport,” he said. “Maybe you could get that in Bar Harbor 10 years ago, but not now.”
The ship made its way to Maine down the North Atlantic coast from Canada’s Northwest Passage. It arrived in Eastport after stays in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. Andrews, New Brunswick.
“It was very nice, but there was no ice,” Bredhe said of the Northwest Passage. “We didn’t see ice until we came to Greenland.”
After its brief stays in Bar Harbor, Rockland and Portland, The World will head to Boston. From there it heads to Bermuda, before reversing course and docking in New York City. From there it continues to Florida by way of the Bahamas.
Among the local shops that saw The World’s visit light up their revenues was Raye’s Mustard, an Eastport landmark that still uses a stone grinding process for fabricating a wide array of the spicy condiment. Owner Karen Raye was among those who toured the ship before she headed back to meet and greet those from the ship who came into her store and toured its production facility.
“The people I’ve seen have been pretty enthusiastic and seem to be enjoying Eastport,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s been good for our business. Most people don’t buy a lot, but we get their names and addresses and can follow up with them. There was one couple off the ship in here today from San Francisco, and I was able to tell them where they could find Raye’s Mustard there.”
The World was the last of seven visits this tourist season by passenger ships. Raye said she expects the arrival of visitors by sea will expand.
“I think Eastport is evolving into the cruise market, but not in a big way,” she said, adding that the effort has been mostly volunteer. “Those behind this locally — people like Chris Brown and Tessa Ftorek — are being very careful about how they go about it. We’re not Bar Harbor.”