Peter Munk’s yacht, Golden Eagle, is an impressive piece of glimmering nautical hardware. It is 43-metres long – qualifying it as a superyacht – has three decks and a crew of seven to cater to the guests’ every whim. But it is a mere dinghy compared to the floating gin palaces that surround it like condo towers. “The combined value of all these yachts is bigger than the GDP of Montenegro,” Mr. Munk says, beaming.
Mr. Munk is not gloating about the wealth of the superyacht owners, some of whom are his friends; he is gloating about the ability of his marina and resort development, Porto Montenegro, to attract rich visitors who are boosting the economy. The development, which has cost Mr. Munk and his co-investors, among them the Russian oligarch Oleg Derispaska, €287-million ($410-million) so far, has created 550 direct jobs in a country with 12-per-cent unemployment and is acting as a magnet for other seaside developments.
The gross domestic product of tiny Montenegro, the former Yugoslavian republic squeezed between Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, is about $4.4-billion (U.S.). The Porto Montenegro investment is worth a hefty 6.5 per cent of GDP, a figure that could easily double as piers are extended, hotels and condos are shaped like sand castles on a beach, and goodies for the rich and pampered, such as a helipad and a golf course, are added to the opulent mix. This year, the yachties got a treat when the marina opened a 67-metre horizon pool, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Mr. Munk is almost 87. He took on the Porto Montenegro project in 2007 when the site was a defunct, rusting Serbian navy base. “I thought at age 80 I needed this place like a hole in the head,” he says. “But now look at it. It’s beautiful. I wanted to create a transformational investment out of nothing. I’m very proud of it. Every day, it gets more and more on the international tourist map.”
Welcome to the new world of Peter Munk, founder of Barrick Gold, the world’s biggest gold company. He reluctantly stepped down as vice-chairman in April – he’s now chairman emeritus, which gives him no vote on the board – and misses the company desperately. “Barrick is still me; it’s my life,” he says in a voice that booms one minute, and fades to nothing a minute later as he becomes introspective or tired (he has heart problems). “How can you do something day and night for 32 years and stop caring about it?”
He especially hated leaving Barrick when its shares were in the tank. The fall of gold prices and the monstrous cost overruns at the high-altitude Pascua Lama project in the Andes conspired to cut the share price in half. Since then, Barrick has appointed a new chairman, ex-Goldman-Sachs banker John Thornton, and sent chief executive officer Jamie Sokalsky packing, replacing him with two co-presidents (Barrick no longer has a CEO).
Porto Montenegro is no consolation prize, but it is keeping Mr. Munk busy – he says he’ll keep working as long as he draws breath – and he has an enormous amount of his personal wealth tied up in it. At last count, his personal investment in the project had reached almost $100-million. That’s more than twice the value of his two million Barrick shares.
Mr. Munk is sitting in the salon of the Golden Eagle, facing the stern. To his right is the new $60-million Regent Porto Montenegro, the five-star hotel whose opening bash was held Wednesday night. Gleaming white yachts dominate the rest of the view on the Bay of Kotor, the fjord-like natural harbour that the English poet Lord Byron called “the most beautiful encounter between the land and the sea.”
Parked on the same pier as the Golden Eagle is the 76-metre Ocean Victory, a five-storey behemoth that is thought to be owned by Vladimir Potanin, the Russian nickel oligarch whose wealth is estimated by Forbes at $12.7-billion (his ownership has never been confirmed and superyachts tend to change owners frequently as their outsized egos push them to trade up to ever bigger yachts). It features a beach club, a helipad, a cinema and hull doors that open like wings to expose a mini-marina stuffed with nautical toys like Sea-Doos.