In 1954 Aristotle Socrates Onassis created the greatest yacht of all, Christina. Named after his beloved daughter, she was a sleek, 325-foot, shimmering-white masterpiece proudly displaying the Onassis signature, the yellow funnel. While the ship had begun life in 1943 as the Canadian naval frigate Stormont, a convoy escort, Onassis purchased her in 1948 for just $34,000 and converted her during the early 1950’s into the most sumptuous private yacht that the world had ever seen, at the cost of more than $4 million.
|Tina Onassis near the pool of the Christina|
The yacht’s library was packed with works by Greek classical authors and other leather-bound books. In the dining room, two paintings depicted Tina Onassis in ice-skates in one and Alexander and Christina having a picnic on the grass in the other. The bar stools were covered with white whale skin. The pool bottom rose to deck level, instantly becoming a dance floor, inlaid with mosaics portraying scenes from Greek mythology. The sense of affluence was enhanced by the lapis lazuli mantel of the fireplace, the bar handholds ornately carved with themes from the Iliad and Odyssey, and the staircase with the marble handrail.
For himself, Onassis had reserved a 4 bedroom suite with a bath of blue Sienna marble, a replica of a bathroom from a Minoan palace. On the walls hung Venetian mirrors. There were nine more suites, each named after a Greek island. The “Ithaki” suite always accommodated the finest of guests, among whom were Greta Garbo, Jackie Kennedy, Maria Callas, Winston Churchill, Umberto Agnelli of the FIAT Group, John Paul Getty and many Hollywood stars.
It is rumoured that Richard Burton had once said “I am positive that there is no man or woman that will not be seduced by this yacht”. This yacht was where Onassis’s fabled romances evolved, first with Maria Callas and then with Kennedy’s widow.
The yacht featured the last word in technology with systems highly innovative for the time: radar, communications, air-conditioning, electronic temperature control for the pool water, and much more.
The yacht was usually docked either at Skorpios or in Monte Carlo, and Onassis used her frequently for cruises to Venice, the Ionian islands, Piraeus, Delos, Mikonos, Lesvos, Athos, Istanbul, Smyrna, Crete, while he even went as far as the Caribbean. His amphibian aircraft, Piaggio, later to prove fatal for his son, always escorted him on his trips and was at the service of his guests. “Aboard Christina, Onassis combined work with pleasure”, states Pavlos Ioannidis. “It was more of a home. He loved pampering his guests, he adored the sea just as he did every part of his business. Stelios Papadimitriou asked him once ‘What will happen afterwards, Mr. Onassis?’ ‘You will keep my business alive’ answered Onassis, ‘I am the business’.”
At the time of Onassis’ death in 1975, the ship was turned over to his daughter and only heir, Christina. She donated the vessel to the Greek government for use as the presidential yacht in 1978. Sadly, the Argo (as the Greek government renamed her) was little used and eventually fell into despair.
Pavlos Ioannidis explains that “In 1999, the Greek government announced its decision to sell the yacht to the Greek ship-owner, Yiannis-Pavlos Papanicolaou, who transformed her into a modern high-quality charter boat. The yacht underwent complete refurbishment and was fitted with new engines; the old engines were removed and one of them was salvaged thanks to Constantine Philippou’s initiative and the sponsorship from the Onassis Foundation.
Following this action, as trustees of Christina’s estate, we agreed to the the Greek government’s decision with the inviolable condition that we should remove all furniture and personal objects from Aristotle Onassis’s cabin. Then, the Greek government would have the right to keep as many of the objects aboard the yacht as it deemed necessary, while the rest would be bought by the Onassis Foundation. Amongst these objects was Onassis’ collection of model navy ships from the Napoleonic era, which we donated, apart from two pieces, to the Hellenic Maritime Museum. The rest of the objects were packed and sent to Skorpios island, where they are stored, probably still even today, for Athina Onassis. Some of the items purchased by the Onassis Foundation are displayed in the neoclassical building on Amalias Avenue. Amongst them is the dining table from the yacht, the piano Maria Callas used, some of Onassis’s weapons, small furniture items, decorative objects and paintings” (see photographs).
Her maintenance costs were extremely high: many hundreds thousands of dollars annually. In 1978, Christina Onassis presented the yacht to the Greek government to be used by the incumbent President of the Republic..
Pavlos Ioannidis states that “As trustees of the estate of Christina Onassis, before delivering the yacht, we made sure that all equipment aboard was recorded in detail.”
The Greek government didn't look after the ship and the ship was stripped of everything that had value then was sold to a scrapyard. It was absolutely astonishing that not even the Onassis Foundation stepped in to save the yacht ignoring the huge importance that this Yacht in history.
Then the ship was left rusting as you can see in the below pictures. You can see on the pictures evidence of the looting before it was bought back by Mr Papanicolaou.
All was not lost, however. In 1998 John Paul Papanicolaou, a Greek national in the shipping business and an old friend of the Onassis family who had cruised aboard the yacht as a child, secured the yacht at a new government-sponsored auction. He made it his goal to rebuild Christina in a way that would have awed Onassis himself, renaming her Christina O as a tribute.
The Christina being renovated at Croatian shipyard
|The young Christina Onassis on the Christina O|
A major priority was enhancing the physical integrity of the yacht and repowering her. Upgrading systems and reconfiguring her interior were also key. The initial survey showed that 65 tons of steel in the hull needed to be replaced. When she was put in dry dock, it actually turned out to be 560 tons. Fifty-six miles of new wiring and 140 tons of pipe work were replaced. This large task, along with the refurbishment and redecoration of gathering spaces, was stunningly accomplished in only 16 months, with more than 1.2 million man-hours and at a cost of more than $50 million. Now she was ready for charter and cruises for an exclusive worldwide clientele.On the technical front, to improve her efficiency, the original 1943 steam engines and boilers were removed. Two new MAN diesel engines and three MAN gensets were installed. She now has a cruising speed of 18 knots and a top speed of 22—not bad, considering Onassis cruised at 14 knots and could rev her up to 24.
Alongside the dining hall is a raised music room with grand piano and a pair of conversation areas. It contains a collection of Maria Callas memorabilia, including the only Gold Record that was ever awarded to her. On the main deck there is a new gym, and for guests in need of a bit more pampering, there is a new massage room and beauty salon.
The Italian master Renzo Romagnoli created the new Sports Lounge, featuring Onassis’ original sextant wall lamps and gaming tables with large, comfortable seating. New guest and service elevators were installed for efficient circulation onboard.
Spanning her massive stern is the open pool deck where opera diva Maria Callas loved to relax during her tumultuous relationship with Onassis. Its centerpiece is the bronze-bordered pool inlaid with mosaic frescos of ancient Crete. To the delight of the guests, at the push of a button, the bottom raises to the deck level, becoming an instant dance floor. The area has been freshened with glistening varnished handrails and treatments over rich teak decks.“Ari’s Bar,” undoubtedly the most famous spot on the yacht, has been retained. This is where Onassis presented the young John F. Kennedy to Sir Winston Churchill, who was a frequent guest throughout his retirement. Covered by a glass top over a lighted replica of the sea, it has tiny models that display the development of ships and shipping throughout history. On the wall is the original map that showed the daily position of the Onassis fleet.
The circular bar was adorned with footrests and handholds of ornately carved and polished whales’ teeth collected by Onassis’ whalers. The stools were covered with the foreskin of a whale, which led to Onassis’ favorite ditty, “Excuse me, Madame, did you know you are sitting on the world’s largest….!” The stools have been recovered in fine leather.
The Lapis Lounge remains a central gathering point. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton loved to relax in the sitting room in front of the fireplace, whose mantle was covered in deep-blue lapis lazuli. Its oak and iroko paneling is living with original works of Renoir, Le Corbusier, and de Chirico. Forward on the same deck, past the central atrium and spiral staircase, the original guest staterooms, which Marilyn Monroe, Eva Peron, Greta Garbo, and John Wayne once occupied, have been reconfigured. With Jesurum of Venice, America’s JR Scott, and the UK’s house of Mulberry, the renowned Italian house of Imart oversaw the redesign. Each air-conditioned and soundproofed suite now has a large seating area, bureau, walk-in closet, twin or double beds, and large portholes. The original bathing salons have been replaced with luxurious en-suite marble bathrooms with showers. Each suite is equipped with a full entertainment system with TV, DVD, and CD players. In addition, on the lower aft deck, eight elegant new staterooms have been fitted out, offering the same style and elegance of the original suites.
Up on the main deck, a new central gathering point was created. Forward of the atrium and concierge office, the original semicircular dining room, where Onassis once brokered blockbuster deals with industrial titans such as J. Paul Getty, King Faud, and the Saudi Royals has been converted into an elegant library. Forward, the reception hall that hosted some of the the 20th century’s most famed wedding receptions—Princess Grace and Prince Rainer of Monaco in 1954 and Onassis’ 1968 marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy—has been elegantly updated with sofas, armchairs, cocktail tables, and accent pieces by Giorgettio. It also converts into a state-of-the-art cinema.
Topping the yacht, the huge sundeck is now fitted out with teak sun lounges and a wet bar. On the bow are two specially designed RIBs and PWC, plus a service crane. Aft on the bridge deck are two glistening Hacker tenders and two lifeboats.Christina O lives up to her legendary past in modern splendor. Somehow, one can’t help but wonder if there is a smile in the heavens from “an old Greek sailor,” satisfied that his legend lives...
Built/Refitted: Christina O was originally built in 1943 as a Canadian Convoy Escort. Bought & refitted as a yacht by Aristotle Onassis in 1954, Christina O was restored & extensively refitted in 1999-2001.
The Yacht sleeps 36 guests in:
- Onassis suite (bridge deck) with Jacuzzi bathroom & private lounge en suite
- 10 guest cabins forward on the main deck
- 8 guest cabins aft on the cabin (sea) deck
- All but one guest cabin are convertible from twin to double
- All cabins with en suite shower room, TV/DVD/CD/Stereo
Compass Deck: Galaxy Bar, Sun Lounges