FIT FOR A KING

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 12:24

The presence of H.M.S. Achilles in August 1977 emphasized the emptiness of the Solent. Cowes Week – and not a single big yacht lay at anchor where, in the old days, a fleet of them stretched from Prince’s Green to Old Castle Point. This set me wondering what had become of the many fine vessels we knew and admired between the First and Second World Wars.

Equipped with a list drawn up from the Lloyd’s Register of Yachts for 1928, I went to the Cowes library where I discovered that the disappearance of some of the yachts could be accounted for, i.e. those destroyed by enemy action. Commander M. Grahame-White’s Alacrity (formerly Marguarita) was sunk while on active service; and in 1944 Lord Fairhaven’s Sapphire, serving as a submarine tender called H.M.S. Breda, sank after being in a collision. Regarding Sir Walter Runciman’s Sunbeam I encountered what appeared to be conflicting evidence. One book told me the yacht was torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay, but in Frank Beken’s The Beauty of Sail it said she remained British until 1946 when she was bought by the Abraham Rydberg Foundation for use as a training ship for cadets. I presume the torpedoing was not fatal.

Also in The Beauty of Sail I learnt that the picturesque auxiliary barque Fantome II which, until his death, was owned by the Hon. A. E. Guinness, left Cowes in 1951 to become an Italian training ship named Giorgio Cini.

Referring to a smaller and different type of yacht, but of interest to those who enjoyed watching the Britannia and her competitors, was information concerning the fate of the schooner Westward – a fate similar to that of King George the Fifth’s racing yacht. To prevent her falling into the wrong hands, the owner, Mr T. B. F. Davis, requested that after his death she should be scuttled.

Post-war economics, of course, were responsible for many yachts going out of service. According to Dixon Kemp’s Manual of Yacht and Boat Sailing and Architecture, in 1913 a steam yacht of 1,000 tons could be bought for £50,000 to £55,000, and kept in commission with a crew of forty for about £200 a week. At today’s rates the wages alone would be many times that amount.

Old age is another factor to be considered, although thirty years afloat would not seem an unduly long life for Lady Houston’s Liberty, which was broken up in 1938. One recalls Mrs Hickman-Morgan’s Boadicea (launched in 1882) which lasted longer.

I found with regret that the gilded black splendour of the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert had been scrapped in 1955. Built in the Royal Dockyard at Pembroke in 1899, this vessel, one would think, might have been dry-docked and opened to the public.

Not long ago I heard that the seventy-four ton auxiliary schooner Amphitrite, formerly owned by Lieutenant Colonel M. B. Gage, had been seen recently in the Mediterranean. I could find no evidence of her being in existence, and I wondered if a steel vessel of the same name owned by the Mediterranean Navigation Company had been mistaken for the wooden yacht built by Camper and Nicholson in 1887.

Reference to The Steam Yachts by Erik Hofman informed me that the Duke of Sutherland’s Sans Peur (formerly Restless) was sold in 1939 to the Government of Iraq, who named her Faisal 1 and converted her into a lighthouse tender, and as such I traced her until 1968. An enquiry to confirm her present whereabouts made to that country’s Embassy elicited no reply.

Among these records of scrapping and sinking, it was gratifying to find two of the most magnificent yachts we ever saw still in commission. From Royal Yachts of Europe by Reginald Crabtree I obtained knowledge of S.Y. Nahlin in which King Edward the Eighth and Mrs Simpson were exploring the Dalmatian coast when the news of their romance was given to the British public. The Nahlin, a beautiful white yacht with a yellow funnel, was built in 1930 by Messrs John Brown. Her owner, Lady Yule, used her to sail the seven seas. The yacht, designed by G. L. Watson, is 250 ft long, with 36 ft beam, and 14.8 ft draught. Her Thames Measurement is 1,574 tons, and she is powered by geared turbines that develop 4,000 BHP and propel her by means of twin screws at 17.4 knots.

Nahlin was purchased by the Romanian government in 1937 for the sum of £120,000. The yacht was renamed Luceafarul (The Evening Star) by King Carol who also had the vessel’s  gymnasium replaced by a stateroom. King Carol, apparently, used her for only one Aegean cruise. Following King Carol’s abdication she remained the property of the Romanian Government and survived the years of Communist rule serving as a passenger ship and latterly as a restaurant on the River Danube. She was renamed Libertatea (Freedom) in 1948. In the latter part of 1999 the yacht was shipped to the UK aboard the Dockwise Heavy Lift Ship Swift.

When Libertatea arrived in the UK she was laid up at DML’s Devonport Dockyard and remained there until the end of April 2000. She was brought to Liverpool and arrived on May 3rd, 2003 being berthed at the then Cammell Laird-owned Clarence Dry Docks adjacent to Stanley Dock where she was expected to undergo the initial phase of what was expected to be a $35million dollar restoration.

In October 2000 G. L. Watson & Company, the yacht’s original designers were appointed as special consultants to the restoration being supervised by Yachtworks Ltd. Libertatea was removed from the Clarence Dry Docks around July 23, 2001 to a berth elsewhere in the Liverpool dock system. Since her arrival G.L. Watson’s sister company, Yachtworks, have removed over 450 tonnes of asbestos insulation, heavy fuel oil and debris and the interior surveyed. The ship has now regained her original name Nahlin and port of registry – Glasgow.

The second yacht, subsequently called the Norge and possessed by King Olaf of Norway, was launched as the M.Y. Philante and reputed to be the largest motor yacht to come from a British shipyard. Built at Southampton in 1937 by Camper and Nicholson for Mr T. O. M. Sopwith, Philante is 240 ft long, with 38 ft beam, and 14.5 ft draught. Her Thames Measurement tonnage is 1,611. Two MAN 8-cylinder diesels produce 3,000 BHP and give a cruising speed of 14 knots with a range of 7,000 miles.

By referring to some notes I made from an early yachting magazine, it is easy to see that Norge has all the qualifications required for a Royal Yacht. Six watertight bulkheads provide a safety factor. As originally planned, there was lower deck accommodation for sixteen men and cabins for eighteen junior officers and stewards, five cabins for guests, and three for maids. Special pillars were installed to reduce vibration, and there were 1,220 cubic feet of cold-storage space. There were eight staterooms, four dayrooms (one being 35 ft by 25 ft) and a smoking-room 30 ft by 20 ft. Other items indicating disregard for the cost were an Adam-style dining-room and the old Spanish door of Mr Sopwith’s stateroom, which included rough simulated-stone walls and leather-covered doors complete with wrought-iron hinges and handles.

Such yachts, undoubtedly, are fit for a king.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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