PORTLAND — City officials say an astronomical low tide likely prompted a cruise ship captain to depart from Portland’s new “megaberth” about three hours ahead of schedule Tuesday afternoon.

The captain’s decision to move out into Portland Harbor – he was uncomfortable with how shallow the water was getting at the berth – left an undetermined number of passengers on shore, said Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman. Passengers eventually were ferried to the Caribbean Princess in motorboats.

The cruise ship made its maiden call to Portland on Tuesday morning, docking at the Ocean Gateway Pier II, which was built with a $6 million state bond and opened this month.

Low tide in Portland Harbor was 5:25 p.m., said James Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. The cruise ship left its berth around 2:30 p.m.

“The captain had the option of remaining in port and leaving a few hours later,” Clegg said. “He made the decision to leave early.”

Brown confirmed there were astronomical low and high tides Tuesday due to a new moon.

City officials denied that the design of the deepwater pier is flawed, noting that the astronomical low tide and the need to dredge a small area at the eastern end of the pier may have contributed to the captain’s decision.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, who also is the operations manager for Casco Bay Lines, said he presented the ship’s captain with a plaque and several lobsters on Tuesday morning, welcoming him and his crew to the city.

They talked about the new berth and the captain told Mavodones that “he was perfectly comfortable” with it.

The Caribbean Princess is one of the larger cruise ships scheduled to visit Portland this week, with more than 3,000 passengers. Its draft is 26 feet, according to the Princess Cruises website.

“He made a fundamental decision (to leave early), given the draft of his vessel,” Mavodones said.

Mavodones said the city has identified the need to dredge a small area below the new pier, at its eastern end, where the Bath Iron Works dry dock was located. Officials have been discussing funding options with the Maine Department of Transportation. That project, cost unknown, probably would not be done until next year, Mavodones said.

Ocean Gateway Pier II has served as a berth to several major cruise ships. No problems have been reported.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com