The Riviera's Veteran Yachts

The Old-Timers

2007 – year of the bi-annual Monaco Classic Week (12-16 September, just before the Monaco Yacht Show).  Which new veteran yachts will be attracted to Monte-Carlo for this wonderful event, organised since 1994 by the Yacht Club de Monaco?  My own boat won two prizes there in the early days but is no longer allowed to enter – “Not old enough” the YCM says, adding charmingly: “And nor are you, Commandant!”   They are right, because my boat Akka is only 42 years old, and some entries are over 100. YCM’s own flagship Tuiga  was built in 1909, and Akka can never catch up!  So there is no solution, except to be the Press Boat. 

And from the Alpha to the Omega – from Akka to Zaca, one of three other worthy yachts already home-ported in Monaco, to be admired every day except when absent cruising.  The  118-foot schooner Zaca, built in 1930 in Sausalito, San Francisco, is berthed (once back from refit in Genoa early April) below the Palace in Fontvieille Harbour where her owner Roberto Memmo owns most of the berths.  She was the famous yacht of Australian actor Errol Flynn (1909-1959), who was actually married in Monaco (like me) on 23 October 1950 – to his third wife Patrice Wymore.  He acquired Zaca in 1946 after she had served in the US Navy; he used her for several films (“Robin Hood”, Captain Blood” etc) made in California, Mexico, Jamaica and later in the Mediterranean, until his early death in 1959 after over 60 films.  She was detained by the Voisin shipyard in Villefranche against unpaid bills, but contrary to rumours in the last two Reporters, Zaca was never scrapped though she  sometimes sank at her moorings when the bilge-pumps failed, rising again when power was restored.   There seemed no future for her until Mr Memmo took her over in 1990 and sent her for refit near Toulon; and she has had all the care she needs ever since, often competing in the St Tropez Nioulargue and other regattas.  With the renewed interest worldwide in classic yachts, she can continue to star and give enjoyment for decades to come.  As for the ghost (Reporter 118), Captain Bruno confirms a “presence” who is more a comfort than a threat; it must have either approved of Zaca’s new owner or else been well exorcised by the late Canon Brian Matthews.

Snugly berthed at the Tee-Pier in Monaco Port is the 142-foot three-masted schooner Xarifa, built in the Isle of Wight in 1927 for Franklin Singer, whose sister Winnaretta Singer (20th child of  the American inventor of the sewing machine) married into the Polignac/Grimaldi family; and later owned by Lord Iliffe and the Baron Empain.  From 1951 to 1960 Xarifa was the research ship of the famous Austrian marine biologist Hans Hass (now 88), whose first taste of diving was off Antibes in 1937.  Even before Cousteau & Gagnan with their compressed-air Aqualung of 1943, Hass developed a closed-circuit oxygen re-breathing apparatus which, together with the newly invented swim-fins, allowed a diver to manoeuvre underwater like a fish, and without the bubbles which scare off underwater life.   This new swim-diving instantly replaced the stand-up lead-boots diving of yore, and millions of people have benefited -  though compressed-air sets are far safer than oxygen.   Xarifa carried Hans and Lotte Hass on scientific expeditions all over the world, until sponsor-money ran out; and enabled them to make wonderful underwater films and TV documentaries, and write over 25 books.   Her present owner bought her in Singapore 47 years ago (yes!),  and keeps her in superb condition with no expense spared. 

Finally – not just a motor-yacht, but a 258-foot steam-yacht: S.S. Delphine, built in Detroit in 1921 for car-magnate Horace Dodge (who sadly died before she was launched) and cruised by his widow Anna in American waters for 45 years.  In 1942 as USS Dauntless she became the flagship of Fleet Admiral Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations, and from 1966-86 was a training ship for merchant seamen.   Her only Atlantic crossing was in 1990, to Malta and then for lay-up in Marseille where her new Belgian owners bought her in 1997.   After a faithful five-year restoration in Bruges, Delphine arrived in Monaco in September 2003 to commence her new career as a successful charter yacht, able to accommodate 26 guests at €50,000 per day for the 2007 summer season.  The world’s only surviving steam-powered super-yacht, whose two unique quadruple-expansion engines were designed by Horace Dodge himself.  Horace would have been pleased to see her today, and to congratulate the second talented lady owner devoted to his yacht Delphine.

From Riviera Reporter 120, April/May 2007