NEWBURYPORT — The Prince of Whales, the popular whale-watching boat that has brought almost 10,000 tourists to the waterfront each summer, has been sold and has motored out of port.
George Hilton, veteran waterfront businessman who was a part-owner of the 100-foot craft used for Newburyport Whale Watch tours, said the Prince of Whales was purchased by a company in Fort Myers, Fla.
He said he and his co-owners are interested in obtaining another vessel that could be ready to cruise by summer.
“We still own the (whale watch) business and we have a lease with a year to go,” said Hilton, who launched the enterprise in 1982. “We’re talking to people now to see about a replacement.”
The Prince of Whales’ final departure came less than a week after the craft tied up to a small, portable float adjacent to the municipal boardwalk to ride out Hurricane Sandy.
The boat banged up against the light wooden pier, owned by the company, and sustained minor damage to the exterior paint job. The municipal boardwalk was not damaged, according to city officials.
The decision to tie up the Prince of Whales there was criticized by some city officials and boating veterans. But Hilton said there was no connection between the rough night at sea and the sale.
“The boat already had been sold,” said Hilton, who declined to provide the sale price.
Neither does it appear Newburyport Whale Watch’s business activity played a role in the decision. Hilton said that the past season was the most successful since 2005 and the business annually makes a profit.
Hilton is a part-owner in the Newburyport Whale Watch business, which is also owned by Newburyport Development, part of New England Development owned by businessman Stephen Karp; and Bill Neelon, who serves as captain. Neither party could be reached for comment.