Wealth Blog

Christina O – a fitting ambassador for Greece

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:12pm

Perhaps the most famous luxury yacht after Brittanie, the Christina O, went on the market a couple of weeks ago, but so far, no takers. If the 325 foot vessel, built by Canadian Vickers in 1943 and designed by Caesar Pinnau could talk, it would be a best seller. Present at the D-Day landings, the yacht was later converted into one of the most opulent of its time by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who spent the equivalent of £30 million (HK$355 million) fitting it out with some of the most over-the-top interiors imaginable.

On the market with specialist agent Edmiston, she has18 staterooms, onyx pillars, bar handles made from whale teeth, an original Renoir, a spa, and a helipad. No one ever accused Onassis of having too much taste.

After his lavish conversion, he hosted the world’s A list celebrities of the late 1950s on board, throwing legendary parties. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, John Paul Getty and Eva Peron all stayed on the yacht.

John F Kennedy famously first met Winston Churchill on the Christina O, then Onassis married his widow Jackie. And in 1956, the fairytale wedding reception of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco was held on board.

It was also the stage for many of the dramas of Onassis’s tempestuous romance with Maria Callas, as the Christina O cruised around Europe. He left the boat to his unhappy daughter Christina, who in turn passed it to the Greek government as a Presidential yacht. The last official owner was the late businessman Pavlos Papanikolaou.

Since then the Christina O has been searching for a role. It has recently been moored in London’s Canary Wharf, in the South Quay, where visitors could dine in the restaurant or use it for business meetings at £500 (HK$5,913) a time, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Edmiston claims she can still accommodate 36 guests in 18 "staterooms". There's the Onassis suite, complete with a Renoir, and original Baccarat crystal light fittings. The swimming pool can be raised up to become a dance floor.

Onassis famously stored live lobsters in the pool for his exclusive dinners.

Nicholas Edmiston, Edmiston chairman, said: "Aristotle Onassis saw Christina O as a powerful symbol of his growing business empire.

"It really was the last word in opulence and many personalities were attracted by its ability to offer them some privacy, not just by its magnificence."

But there’s no word on a buyer for the Christina O yet. It could take months as there is a very limited market for this kind of ship. “I have a mate who did stay on her and it is spectacular, but the operating costs are probably crippling,” said a well-connected former shipbroker. “As you can imagine, the major buyers for a yacht this size are going to be mainly Russian and Chinese and they tend to want 'new', so it really needs someone who appreciates its history.”

But sadly, he added, the Greek government doesn’t have enough money to empty the bins, let alone buy it as a symbol of Greece's domination of the sea and one of the more interesting chapters in its modern history. “Ari Onassis was probably the most famous Greek in the world, even if his fleet was only a tenth of the size of YK Pao's!”

While it would be nice to see the Christina O in Asia, its rightful place would seem to be Greece. The Greeks usually object loudly to their historic treasures ending up in foreign hands. Wouldn't the best option be for the Onassis Foundation or the Greek Shipowners’ Association to buy it back and use it to travel the world promoting Greek heritage, culture, exports and tourism?