If you’ve been to the top of Mount Battie anytime in the last week, you might have noticed something resembling a monstrous hybrid between a skyscraper, an aircraft carrier and an oil platform erupting out Penobscot Bay just outside of Northeast Point. Incidentally, what you are seeing happens to be just that, in a sense, although it would be more accurate to classify Le Grand Bleu as a private pleasure yacht — that is, if your idea of pleasure is being regaled in the lap of absolute luxury whilst ignoring the fact that the decisions you’ve made have directly contributed to the melting of the ice caps, the probable destruction of the earth as a habitable planet for future generations, and the general impoverishment and immiseration of billions of people worldwide.

She (and in keeping with maritime tradition I will refer to the boat using feminine pronouns, the political correctness of which is a different albeit very interesting discussion to have at another time) is a skyscraper in the sense that the vessel boasts mirrored windows that tower eight stories above the sea, and she probably has elevators inside her hull to facilitate the transportation of crew and equipment.

At 371 feet long, three to four times the length of the Vinalhaven ferry, it is barely hyperbole to call her a fully functioning aircraft carrier. She has not one but two fully operable helipads — one presumably for the vessel’s resident helicopter and another for visiting helicopters belonging to fellow billionaires, foreign dignitaries and other heads of state. Not only does she have helicopters capable of flight, she has at least two other full-sized yachts that are visible onboard: a 70-foot motor yacht one can only presume is named Le Petite Bleu, and another 80-foot sailboat dry-docked on the stern for good measure (Bleu Away maybe?). She probably has an armada of other vessels that aren’t visible, ranging from kayaks to Jet Skis to nuclear-powered submarines.

She is an oil platform in the sense that by any reasonable estimate she carries between 60,000 and 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel — taking a whole separate diesel tanker to fill the vessel with fuel in some cases. Anyone can do the math on what those costs could amount to: in certain summers it could take nearly half of a million dollars to fill her up on fuel once, giving the boat a range of 5,000 to 10,000 nautical miles, meaning that she burns 90 to 150 gallons of precious diesel fuel per hour to travel anywhere between 15 and 30 nautical miles. To give you an idea of how much fuel that is, an average fully loaded tractor-trailer getting six miles a gallon could circumnavigate the Earth 14 times on 60,000 gallons; this vessel would be lucky to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

She is also an oil platform in the sense that she is owned by a Russian oil tycoon and oligarch (an oil-garch, if you will?), one Eugene Shvidler. Shvidler was given the boat as a gift by one Roman Abramovich — a man who pillaged his billions off the commons by assuming the reins of many of the formerly state-owned oil assets of the Soviet Union when the country dissolved in 1991. It is not currently known whether or not Shvidler, Abramovich, or Le Grand Bleu herself were present in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. during that now infamous meeting with the untold scores of other Russians on that fateful night last October.

 


To backtrack a few years, it was in the summer of 2003 that I first saw Le Grand Bleu from the parking lot of the Waterfront Restaurant when I was working as a cook there. She was anchored to the southwest of Curtis Island, presumably because she couldn’t fit into the harbor, although she was fully visible from shore at the time (I can only assume she anchored outside of Northeast Point this year to avoid the scrutiny of the public eye; now one has to travel by boat, plane, or to the top of the aforementioned Mount Battie to catch a glance of her). My late father, Leonard Lookner, was half-owner of that restaurant, and during those years he was probably in the top 10 percent of income earners in America, making my family comfortably upper-middle-class, although I was toiling over the hot grills just like all the other cooks for $10 an hour. To be upper-middle-class in midcoast Maine at that time was to be considered rich by many of my less fortunate classmates. One of those preppy “Camden kids” who didn’t have to ride the bus for 45 minutes to get to school every morning. I was about to be introduced to a scale of wealth I had never previously imagined. 

Seeing Le Grand Bleu was an epiphany for me all those years ago. Something akin to what the First Peoples of America must’ve experienced when they saw Columbus’s fleet appear on the horizon. It was something so foreign to see that mass of glass, aluminum and antennas loom above that body of water I’d been looking at my entire life. The thoughts circulated in my head: “How many starving orphans in Africa could be fed for the price of that boat? How many classmates of mine could be sent to college? How many solar panels could be installed on how many roofs? How many of humanity’s pressing humanitarian crises could be alleviated, all for the cost of that friggin’ yacht?” I had always known there was something wrong with the economic system we inhabited, but there was proof, floating out on the harbor. I kept most of these thoughts to myself, knowing that to voice them would be to invite condemnation as a socialist. “Yeah, but he earned it,” they would say, or “That’s his right to do with his money as he wants.” Arguments I understand, but do not accept, knowing that the ends rarely justify the means. 

It wouldn’t be until 12 years later, when Bernie Sanders ran for President and gave a voice to what I had been thinking since I saw Le Grand Bleu for the first time. Sanders made it acceptable to criticize wealth and income inequality without being lambasted as pinko agitator or a communist sympathizer. There is a certain irony that oligarchs from the former USSR travelled to the states and planted the seeds of class disillusionment with their extravagant symbols of wealth. I only wish some of the people in the the deep red states could see Le Grand Bleu and feel the same disillusionment I did. Alas, they have no coastline.