A luxury yacht charter so often conjures up images of sleek, sexy, speedy and sophisticated superyachts with more gadgets and toys one could ever imagine, but what about the old classics? Yachts from a bygone era, the glamour and elegance of when life took a slightly more graceful pace. This article looks at the history behind a few of the top classic yachts and reminds us that a chance to set foot on board, really is to become part of something very special……
Perhaps the most legendary yacht afloat today, CHRISTINA O boasts a history brimming with high society life, scandal, politics and romance. First launched in 1943 by Canadian Vickers in Montreal, the yacht was to play a part in World War II as part of the Canadian fleet but later sat dormant for many years as a surplus frigate. Luckily for this incredible vessel, she was discovered in 1954 by the legendary Aristotle Onassis who purchased her and set out to convert her into one of the world’s most luxurious yachts. Spending the equivalent of $45m in today’s money, he created a floating palace which was to be the venue for some of the most important events and parties throughout the next thirty years.
Named originally as just CHRISTINA, after Onassis’s daughter, the family enjoyed life on board and all the wonderful destinations they visited during their extended cruises. In 1956 Prince Rainier of Monaco married actress Grace Kelly after they met at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, the couple and guests spent time on board CHRISTINA during the wedding celebrations. In the years to come, Onassis played host to some of the world’s most famous names including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, John F Kennedy and Winston Churchill, these two political heavy weights meeting for the first time on board CHRISTINA.
In later years the turbulent, passionate affair between Onassis and the opera diva Maria Callas was played out on board the yacht, with the couple travelling to the most luxurious destinations in the Mediterranean, often accompanied by more famous names including Bette Davis and Greta Garbo. After the abrupt end to this affair, the history of CHRISTINA moved into a new political phase, upon the marriage of Onassis to the widowed first lady of the USA Jackie Kennedy, who was to be reborn as the iconic Jackie O – who can forget the sunglasses! The yacht then entertained more political dignitaries from both the US and European nations and members of the Kennedy family until the sad death of Aristotle Onassis in 1975. His beloved yacht was willed to her namesake Christina Onassis, who as a mark of respect to her father, bestowed the vessel to the Greek government in order that she could continue her life as a distinguished venue in her role as presidential yacht.
It wasn’t until 2001 that this legendary yacht was purchased by a private consortium and carefully and lovingly restored to her former glory. She was once again brought into the public domain and this time as charter yacht CHRISTINA O. Charter guests can enjoy a dip in the famous mosaic pool, carefully returned to its’ original glory, or sip a cocktail in Ari’s bar, perched on bar stools whose pale covering is derived from a specialist leather produced from whale foreskin!! These precious stools are for obvious reasons kept covered most of the time to protect the delicate fabric. Or enjoy a song or two around the grand piano in the Callas lounge.
Throughout 2015 another major refurbishment has taken place and CHRISTINA O is now proudly back to her luxurious best and looking forward to welcoming the next generation of guests on board. This true superyacht is still in the top 50 largest yachts in the world at 99m in length. She can accommodate 34 guests sleeping in 17 elegant cabins. For large events – a CHRISTINA O speciality – she can host up to 250 guests in port and can cruise with an incredible 157 guests so is just perfect for those extra special occasions…….as she always has been.
Designed by Charles E Nicholson in 1929 for Sir Thomas Lipton (Lipton Tea) for his fifth and final challenge of the Americas Cup. This majestic 37m superyacht was the first British built vessel to comply with the J Class Rules and remains the only wooden J Class in the world. She was constructed and launched by the Camper & Nicholson shipyard in Gosport in 1930. After an initial summer spent competing in home regattas, winning 15 of the 22 entered, she headed across the Atlantic to challenge for the Americas Cup representing the Royal Ulster Yacht Club. Competing against ENTERPRISE representing the New York Yacht Club, SHAMROCK V and her race crew are sadly defeated. Unfortunately Thomas Lipton died the following year and so began the turbulent life of SHAMROCK V.
Her next Owner Sir Thomas Sopwith campaigned the yacht in the Big Boat Class circuit educating himself in every detail of the J Class and then, having ended the season as overall winning yacht, Sir Thomas went on to build another famous J Class – ENDEAVOUR, selling on SHAMROCK V to a friend Sir Richard Fairey. Sir Richard also competed successfully in the Big Boat Class, but encountered defeat to another legendary J Class VELSHEDA. Finally in the King George V campaign, SHAMROCK V was successful against ENDEAVOUR.
SHAMROCK V moved to Italy just before WWII and entered a strange period of hibernation under her new Italian name QUADRIFOGLIO (meaning four leaves, so the Italians tried to keep her name as close as possible to the original, but as is customary in Italy she needed to take on an Italian name). Her concerned and careful owner concealed her in a hay barn for the duration of the war to save her from being broken up and her metal components used in the war effort. Finally in 1948 she was refitted and used as a family vessel before once again slipping into disrepair, until she was rescued again by another Italian who eventually returned the yacht to Gosport for a comprehensive refit.
Several years later in 1985, the yacht was purchased by the Lipton Tea Company and so was returned to the company of her original owner and was donated to the Museum of Yachting in Newport, Rhode Island. Finally after almost 50 years since her Italian Owner changed her name and hid her in a hay barn, the yacht was once again renamed SHAMROCK V. She underwent an extensive refit in the US returning her fully to her former glory. Later she raced ENDEAVOUR who had survived her own turbulent life in a widely anticipated meeting over the original Americas Cup course in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
SHAMROCK V was purchased again in 1998 and it was here where the return of the J Class really began, almost 70 years after she first set sail to compete in the New York Yacht Club hosted Americas Cup. For the first time in 50 years, 3 J Class yachts competed against each other in Antigua Class Yacht Regatta and this time SHAMROCK V beat both ENDEAVOUR and VELSHEDA, and her proud Owner was well and truly hooked on this captivating J Class yacht. After a further complete refurbishment in order to comply with current J Class rules and both the American and British shipping safety standards, the yacht was relaunched and returned to the UK to compete against ENDEAVOUR and VALSHEDA in the Lymington Cup Regatta, in what was the first J Class event held in British waters in over 65 years!
Since then SHAMROCK V has continued to compete in all classic events on both sides of the Atlantic and even travelled to New Zealand as an honouree (by ship) when the America’s Cup was held there in 2003. She came home to the Mediterranean under her own sail, quite an achievement for an elderly lady! She competes today in the classic regattas in Cannes and St Tropez and cruises extensively throughout the west and east Mediterranean throughout the summer.
This legendary yacht is perhaps the most loved yacht I have ever set foot on, her interior is simply stunning and I have never met such a passionate crew, who care for her with the diligence and respect such a fabulous vessel deserves. SHAMROCK V has been available to charter for several years for both regattas, where she can race with up to 34 people on board – 18 race crew plus 16 guests, and for regular charters, where she can cruise with up to 12 guests plus her regular crew of 9. She can accommodate 8 guests in 4 beautifully appointed cabins. This glorious yacht is once again looking for a new owner to love and care for her, and continue her long and colourful life, but for now she remains on the charter market until a new owner is found. We hope that when found, her new owner continues to share her with a few lucky clients – to race the only wooden J Class in the world at the grand age of 85, surely must be the chance of a lifetime!!
Another legendary yacht with historical pedigree, TALITHA is a stunning classic carefully restored and maintained by her current owner to leave her in possibly the best condition she has been in since her launch in 1930. Designed by the leading naval architects of the time Cox & Stevens, the yacht was constructed in Germany in the yard of Frederich Krupp in Kiel. This stunning 80m yacht was launched as M/Y REVELER and enjoyed briefly by Russell Alger Jnr, the son of Senator Russell A Alger of Michigan and President at the time of the Packard Car Company based in Detroit. Sadly the yacht’s first owner died in the same year and the vessel sat in the UK for a year until she sold for the first of many times throughout her life becoming CHALENA in 1931 when purchased by Charles McCann. McCann was the high living son-in-law to Frank Woolthworth, the incredible entrepreneur and Woolworth founder. McCann kept the yacht until 1939 when she was sold on again to another American retail tycoon Leon Mandel. Mandel renamed the yacht CAROLA after his wife and they enjoyed a lengthy tour of the Galapagos Islands welcoming many museum researchers on board. Details of this important historic trip were noted down by Mantel are still available to purchase today.
The next chapter for this busy, but by now proven as strong and stable vessel was when she was purchased by the US Navy and enlisted into WWII where she became PG60 (Patrol Gunboat) U.S.S. BEAUMONT and was stationed from 1942 in Pearl Harbour. She carried a full armoury along with 110 sailors who were stationed on board during the war – a tight squeeze for a vessel built as a luxury yacht at 80m! She was successful throughout this period of the war and made it to the end unscathed. She was decommissioned in 1946 and laid up once again and due for dismantle before Norman B Woolworth of the Woolworth empire purchased the vessel in 1949. In tribute to his family, he gave the vessel a full refit in the Bath Iron Works yard in Maine before relaunching her as ELPETAL. Her name an acronym of Woolworths closest friends – his neighbour and stockbroker, an artist and teacher and not surprisingly his lawyer. Enjoyed for perhaps the lengthiest time with a single owner at this stage in her life, the yacht remained a treasure to Woolworth until he sold her to Greek businessman Marias Embiricos in 1957. Embiricos owned ELPETAL for an even longer 26 years, although during this time she did fall into disrepair.
The next stage in the life of this by now well travelled yacht was in the hands of Australian film and music producer Robert Satinwood who purchased the yacht in 1983 and renamed her JEZEBEL. Stigwood had emigrated to the UK in the late fifties and following a successful start in his new country, he became one of Britain’s first independent record producers.
“He was in every way the first British music business tycoon, involved in every aspect of the music scene, and setting a precedent that as to become the blueprint of success for all future pop entrepreneurs” Simon Napier-Bell
So the very first Simon Cowell!! Stigwood also went on to be a prolific producer of musicals, producing the likes of Grease, Saturday Night Fever and later Starlight Express.
Stigwood enjoyed the yacht immensely. He had spent time in the Australian navy and loved the sea and also held a passion for restoration. He took time out from producing musicals and took two years and “many millions” of dollars to restore her closer to her original Cox & Stevens lines than she’d been for some time. He lavishly furnished her with French antiques, Italian marble, oriental rugs and a grand piano and then set about thoroughly enjoying her. He hosted lavish parties on board whilst mooring in the most glamorous ports in the world. Stigwood had glossy brochures printed and picture postcards boasting that JEZEBEL was “the most luxurious classic motor yacht afloat”. She cruised with 26 crew and could, and still can, accommodate 12 guests in 6 cabins.
JEZEBEL was eventually sold in 1993 to John Paul Getty II. He undertook yet further restoration, renamed her TALITHA G and the yacht headed back to the yard, this time to Devonport in Plymouth UK to be totally restored. A complete interior refit, a task entrusted to Jon Bannenberg who brought her elegance back to life in true style. Today she remains the treasured yacht of the Getty family and has continued to undergo painstaking restorations to ensure she remains in perfect condition. Thankfully the family have always made her available to charter and thereby opened up this magnificent vessel to be enjoyed by a few more lucky souls fortunate enough to be able to charter her!
Proud owner and prolific London lawyer, member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Thames Yacht Club, Charles Plumtree Johnson had a passion for sailing! He commissioned the first yachts in the MOONBEAM series in 1858, MOONBEAM I was delivered to a very happy owner by William Fife. Johnson cruised with his MOONBEAM successfully for 8 years, and falling more in love with sailing, commissioned architect Frédéric Shepard to design the 17m cutter rigged MOONBEAM II which was built and launched by White Brothers in the south of England in 1864. Johnson had a successful run in various regattas, winning several, but the yacht was not designed specifically to race and Johnson, who’s passion was fuelled further by the wins they did achieve, decided to head back to the drawing board, back north to the Clyde and build again with William Fife.
In 1903 MOONBEAM III was launched from the Scottish yard. Built to accommodate Johnson’s desire to compete under new RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) tonnage rules, and his wish to cruise more widely, MOONBEAM III was therefore fitted out with a full interior making her not just an exciting racing yacht but also a magnificent cruiser. One which has stood the test of time perhaps more than any other yacht and is still active today enjoying both regattas and cruising from her home port in St Tropez. Her hull is constructed of elm and teak with oak frames, with teak and oak used to lay the decks and a strong oak superstructure, her interior is designed in beautiful mahogany. MOONBEAM III is a gaff cutter (although originally designed as a yawl) and with her large sail area and sleek hull and superstructure, this supremely elegant yacht has been successful in regattas throughout her staggering 115 years afloat!
In 1920 MOONBEAM III was sold to Parisian businessman Fernand Maroni, who relocated her to Cannes and continued to race her on the Mediterranean circuit winning the “Course Croisière Méditerranée” in both 1927 and 1928. He was also responsible for fitting her with her first petrol engine to aid manoeuvres in port. MOONBEAM III was sold again in 1930 to another Frenchman Raymond Philippe who continued to race her and to keep her in Cannes. The yacht has remained predominately under French ownership throughout her life, perhaps the most famous being Félix Amiot, an aviation pioneer who owned the yacht for 24 years – sadly most of that time in dry dock in his yard. MOONBEAM III was eventually owned by another Frenchman who thankfully sent her to Camper and Nicolsons yard in Southampton, where she remained for almost 10 years undergoing a total rebuild.
The yacht was sold again at auction in both 1988 and 1989 and returned once again to the south of France and to St Tropez where she was sold on yet again in 2001 but where she still remains. Her new owner Didier Waechter loved his new yacht and enjoyed every moment on board, restoring her in two lengthy yard periods to her original glory. Sadly Waechter died too early and did not get to enjoy MOONBEAM as he had hoped. Thankfully his daughter ensured that the vessel remained in the family and she has overseen, along with her captain the splendid upkeep of this magnificent yacht so she may continue to charter, cruise and race. She is however due to change hands again and will be auctioned on 5 February 2016 if a new owner can not be found before. We hope sincerely that whoever does become the new custodian of such a splendid and successful racing yacht continues to honour this yacht’s legacy and keep her in the luxury such an elegant lady deserves.
MOONBEAM IV was commissioned by Charles Plumtree Johnson in 1914, work stopped during to the war and the yacht was finally launched in 1920 (coinciding with the sale of MOONBEAM III) by William Fife. For her passionate owner, MOONBEAM IV was a resounding success, going on to win the King’s Cup at Cowes in both 1920 and 1923.
MOONBEAM IV changed hands in 1926 and was sold to fellow Royal Yacht Squadron member Henry Sutton. Under Sutton’s guardianship, MOONBEAM IV was fitted with the huge Marconi designed rig, keeping her competitive and in line with the re-established “Big Boat” classes, she was competing up until the 1930s with the likes of BRITANNIA & LULWORTH, and holding her own very well until the J-Class yachts came in and just won everything! The onset of WWII led to the first quiet period for MOONBEAM, she was refitted as a cruising yacht and headed as many of her peers also did to the Mediterranean to enjoy a slower pace of life for a while.
It was long after war had passed and life was becoming once again for living and enjoying, that Prince Rainier of Monaco came upon this wonderful sailing yacht of elegant design and huge racing pedigree. He purchased her and renamed her DEO JUVANTE – the Grimaldi family motto meaning “With God’s help”. Prince Rainier enjoyed many happy years cruising and competing with his beloved yacht. In 1955, perhaps the most glamorous part of her history, this glorious yacht was to take the newlyweds Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco on their Honeymoon.
Eventually DEO JUVANTE was sold in in the 1960s to an Italian Count, Hannibal Scotti who was responsible for installing two Rolls Royce engines to better cruise throughout the Mediterranean and he also restored her original name. Here began a period of heavy chartering with no real regard to the upkeep of such a vessel. She was thankfully picked up in 1995 by another French couple John and Françoise Murray who, after initially competing and cruising with her with no restorative care, did eventually take on fully the responsibility of such an historic yacht and enter a lengthy period of restoration. This involved taking her to where the much needed teak is actually grown! Cruising to Burma from Antibes took a staggering 3 months, but MOONBEAM IV arrived unscathed for what was to become an epic refit. The yacht was totally dismantled, being held together during her process in such a way that was acceptable to Lloyds, who along with the refit team were staggered to see how well the inner structure of the yacht had held up over the years. She was refitted to the original plans with the inclusion of the Marconi rig with some permitted modern safety techniques. The interior was restored to its’ sombre but beautifully elegant original William Fife design. However the Rolls Royce engines were not kept they were replaced by a single modern engine.
The yacht made an incredible come back and although she has remained on the charter market, her current owners take a lot more care over this valuable old lady now!! This year she made a spectacular entrance into the Centenary racing circuit, and although the strong winds and huge seas this year at the Voiles de St Topez meant that most of the racing was called off, there is an increasing excitement brewing as MOONBEAM IV prepares to race her older sister MOONBEAM III during the coming season – let’s hope both of these stunning yachts remain available to select charter clients for many years to come!
This article was written by Rachel Coles. Rachel is a charter broker at Bespoke Yacht Charter and passionate about classic yachts, both motor and sail. Bespoke Yacht Charter are a London and south of France based company offering luxury yacht charters on the French Riviera, throughout the Mediterranean and worldwide.