Billionaires’ Boats

A few weeks ago, in the heart of the pandemic, the tail end of one of the many Atlantic hurricanes brought high winds and gale warnings all along the coast of Maine. There was almost no maritime traffic for forty-eight hours. But in the evening before the wildest night, with gusts up to 50 miles per hour, I looked out across Penobscot Bay from my deck and was amazed to see the massed lights of what appeared to be a full-size cruise ship, the kind of oceangoing tourist vessel very unfamiliar to mid-coast Maine. The big ship was anchored in the lee of Islesboro, off the north end of the big island where John Travolta, among other Hollywood types, is known to own a home.

In the morning newspaper, the mystery ship was explained. Reporters had been following the coastal progress of Rising Sun, a 453-foot motor yacht belonging to billionaire media mogul David Geffen, before it sought shelter from the storm off Islesboro. The Rising Sun is smaller than a cruise ship, but its five decks and eighty-two rooms require a crew of forty-five, and its sale price, according to wire reports, was $590 million. Celebrity guests often arrive by helicopter, and the helicopter pad doubles as a basketball court. The yacht was originally built for Larry Ellison of Oracle, the A-list tech billionaire who is worth $70 billion to Geffen’s mere 8. It’s one of the half-dozen largest private vessels in the world, and it is, of course, one of the most flagrant symbols of wretched excess that capitalism ever spawned.

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