Some billionaires want to propel the world forward by going into space. Cryptocurrency king Brock Pierce is more interested in preserving maritime history down here on Earth.

While the rest of the cruise industry struggles to shake off its Covid crash, resurrecting the world’s oldest cruiseships has become his newest passion.

A former Hollywood child star — TW+ readers may recognise him as playing a young Gordon Bombay in the Mighty Ducks movies — Pierce quit acting at 17 and jumped into the game.

After dabbling in online entertainment platforms, he became an early proponent of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, helping to found and fund dozens of crypto companies.

These investments have made the 40-year-old far wealthier than a career in acting would have. In 2018, he rated ninth on Forbes’ list of richest people in cryptocurrency, his net worth estimated at more than $1bn.

Most of that wealth has been used for philanthropic purposes. Seeking out unique historic properties and restoring them to their former glory is what he likes doing best.

He began in 2019 with a 17th-century chapel in Amsterdam. He then purchased El Monasterio, a former Masonic temple and hotel in Puerto Rico, where he now lives.

“I believe in preserving historic things, preserving the things that matter,” Pierce tells TW+. “Commercialism and transactionalism are destroying our history. We need to preserve our story.”

‘We need to preserve our story’

The Funchal is undergoing an extensive refit in preparation for its new career as a boutique hotel. Photo: Christopher Willson

In April, he became a shipowner when he bought a historic Portuguese cruiseship at auction.

Built in Denmark in 1961 to operate between Lisbon and Portuguese islands deep in the Atlantic, the 9,600-gt Funchal was considered shipshape enough to serve as Portugal’s presidential yacht on occasion.

After a long career as a cruiseship ended with the 2015 bankruptcy of its last operator, Portuscale Cruises, the vessel was sold to UK-based hospitality group Signature Living, which wanted to turn it into a garishly decorated floating beach club off the Mediterranean playground of Ibiza.

That plan was ditched after Signature Living realised the full cost of restoring and operating a cruiseship.

The iconic ship, which has been described as a Portuguese national treasure, would probably have been sold for scrap had Pierce not appeared as its white knight when it was put up for auction.

Bought on a whim

The Funchal spent most of its active cruising career with Lisbon-based Classic International Cruises. Photo: Jonathan Boonzaier

The entrepreneur says he was made aware of the Funchal’s plight by friend Christopher Willson, who is restoring the German-built 2,563-gt cruiseship Aurora (built 1955) in Stockton, California.

“I did it on whim,” Pierce says of his decision to become a shipowner. “Because of Covid restrictions I bought the ship sight unseen.”

The Funchal has been undergoing an extensive refit at Navalrocha Shipyard in Portugal.

Pierce intends to use it as a boutique hotel in Lisbon, where he claims it will be accessible to all strata of society. His plans for a five-star hotel involve 160 rooms, three restaurants and five bars with options to suit all wallets.

“Using the Funchal as a hotel will be of more value to the Portuguese people — the people for whom the ship matters the most,” he says.

After buying the Funchal, Pierce was reported in the local media as having bought the 16,100-gt Astoria (built 1948) to operate cruises. The oldest oceangoing cruiseship was laid up after the collapse of Cruises & Maritime Voyages in early 2020.

Pierce is not ready to make public his plans for the Astoria, only that he wants a ship that moves.

“With global warming, you never know when you are going to need an ark,” he jokes.