On January 28, 2017 a world record was broken. The World Residences at Sea — the globe’s largest private residential yacht — travelled the furthest south of any ship in history, pushing deep into the Antarctic waters of the Ross Sea. With the ship soon to dock in Auckland, I contacted the team to ask if I might take a look at this incredible vessel while it was in port. To my delight, I was invited aboard for lunch and given the opportunity to meet some of the residents in person.
Following the requisite security checks, I arrived at the ship’s lobby on deck five to be struck by something: silence. The lobby’s eerie quiet was punctuated only by the murmurings of a small group of gentlemen who were conversing in hushed tones in one corner. After whispering my name to the receptionist I turned around and was immediately greeted by a man wearing a luminous smile and an exquisite three-piece, dove-grey suit.
Eddie Wong introduced himself as the ship’s Residential Director, a title, he quickly revealed, he had been awarded only two days earlier. Eddie faced the monumental task of immediately learning the names of each resident on board, as well as their preferred choice of greeting. Aboard The World, etiquette is everything.
The 644-foot long ship was designed by the Norwegian shipping magnate Knut U. Kloster to be a small, highly prestigious luxury cruise liner. However, in 2003 after costs had significantly overrun, the project was opened up to investors. Those investors bought themselves apartments on board what would become the world’s largest privately owned yacht. As Eddie explained, this was no cruise ship — it was in fact, the very opposite. “Rather than one boss, I have 165 bosses,” he joked. “The residents own the ship. My role is purely to provide management, as the ship is non-commercial, essentially a non-profit entity. I’m here to ensure the residents are always happy.”
The ship comprises 165 residences ranging from one-bedroom studios to spacious three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartments and a six-bedroom penthouse. Craftsmanship and innovation of design is evident in every room. For example, the dining area of Marina restaurant — one of six eating establishments on board — doubles as an entertaining area, as the swimming pool can be covered to form an al fresco dining and dancing area. Al fresco, yes, because the exterior wall of the ship is retractable, from where residents’ ‘sea toys’ as Eddie calls them can be launched.
Gliding through the recently refurbished Quantum bar, with its elegant, caramel-coloured marble bar top, I am shown the brand new Pilates studio, which was formerly an underused card room. “It’s like a house,” explains Eddie. “If a space or a room isn’t being used, the residents get together and decide to turn it into something else.” Up on the top deck I see the glamorous Bali beds, the glamping-style, outdoor beds where residents can enjoy al fresco dining and sleep under the stars. Looking lengthways down the ship I see the full-size tennis court, the only one to be found at sea.
Only a handful of residents live continuously on board, with The World as their full-time residence. Many jump on for two or three months of the year — although still paying the significant annual ownership fees — and have the option of making their residence available to friends and family, or to qualified potential residents, so that they might sample the lifestyle on board.
One of Eddie’s roles is to assist with this Guest Stay Program, which sees him welcoming the families and friends of residents onboard but also courting new potential residents. I was interested to understand that prospective residents must be vouched for by at least one current resident before they are permitted to purchase an apartment on board. The World‘s resident group is part housing committee, part members-only club.
We enter Tides, the Mediterranean restaurant, to meet our two resident hosts. “Doctor O’Bryan, lovely to see you,” says Eddie to a well-dressed man in his seventies, before turning to a lady of the same age wearing a smart avocado-green skirt suit. “And you too, Doctor O’Bryan.” Doctor Maureen O’Bryan informs me that the staff’s courtesy of using residents’ titles — never first names — brings her and her husband a smile on a daily basis. “We love being known as ‘The Doctors’,” she says, with a twinkle.
Doctors Ken and Mo O’Bryan boarded The World in early 2011 to join, as Mo puts it, “a community of likeminded people.” Both are highly accomplished PhD academics, and former resident professors at the University of Toronto, who have lived around the world. Amidst engaging conversation we enjoy a light first course of crab, which tastes wonderful with the crisp Spanish white suggested by our Swedish-born sommelier Mia Martensson.
I take the opportunity to learn more about the service on board The World. “Oh they have profiles on all of us, you know,” says Ken, conspiratorially. “When I arrive at the restaurant, I know where I’ll be sitting as they’ll have already placed my cushion on the seat.” Ken explains that he finds it more comfortable to dine with a little extra height. Attentive service is everything.
The doctors are cruising veterans, having spent decades sailing on cruise ships, starting with the Royal Viking line back in the 1970s. “The World is about voyages, not about cruises,” Mo tells me. “We don’t go on cruises, because this is our home.” Was it strange to make a new home with this small but elite group of people, I ask? “We didn’t go out of our way to befriend other residents, it all happened very naturally, over time,” explains Mo. “We are all very respectful of each other’s privacy. I would say it took about six months for us to make friends with others who are now firm friends for life.”
I ask Mo what has been her most memorable voyage to date. “Oh, the Ross Sea, absolutely,” she says enthusiastically. “Why? Well you’re there, just metres away from the ice caps. It makes one feel incredibly privileged to experience such a thing.” Her and Ken both adore the polar voyages. “We’ve had four wedding anniversaries in Antarctica — can you believe it?” exclaims Mo. “Surely it must be a world record,” winks Ken.
As conversation continues, I soon realise that I am dining with two remarkable people. In 1988, Mo conceived the idea for the World Corporate Games. “Sport should be for everyone,” she explained, “regardless of age.” Together with her husband, they founded the first World Masters Games, which was held in Toronto in 1985 and is now a global multi-sport event, which sees around 20,000 athletes from 100 countries competing every four years.
Sport continues to be a passion for them both, with Mo leading The World’s resident cricket team. I am informed that crew always call residents by their surnames, except for when playing cricket together on the top deck — the only occasion where the fastidious Mo insists on a deviation from standard etiquette — there everyone is on a first name basis. Ken explains that a modified tennis ball is used in place of a real cricket ball, and that the game takes place within the confines of the tennis court. “Boundaries are defined by the walls. If the ball goes out to sea, the person either has to swim after it or forfeit 20 runs,” he chuckles.
Keen to show me their quarters before I depart, Mo steers me by the elbow along several corridors towards her and Ken’s apartment. Their residence is marvellous, with evidence of their adventurous lives on every wall.
Explorers like Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott have always been driven to explore the furthest boundaries. However, not many people get to travel to the end of the earth in their own home.
CAPTAIN DAG H. SAEVIK, THE WORLD
“Have you seen the control room? she asks me. I reply that I haven’t. “This is top secret stuff but… follow me,” she says. “We’ll be quick. Don’t touch anything!” Mo opens the door to the control centre and is greeted by the friendly captain, who graciously tells us that he is always happy to receive visitors. I marvel at the rows of blinking lights before following Mo back down the hallway.
As Eddie escorts me amiably towards the lobby, I remark on my surprise that The World was so different to what I thought it would be. What I expected to be an impersonal and formal cruise ship was, at heart, a floating community, a group of people with similar interests — self-made entrepreneurs, high-profile academics and the occasional celebrity — living in quiet harmony together. There are friendships; there is privacy. Eddie laughs, saying that I seem to have found myself quite at home here. And it’s true, I have.
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