When Onassis bought the yacht in 1954, he converted the yacht at an expense of over $4 million, into the largest, most modern and most exalted yacht of her era. CHRISTINA O became his floating mansion and headquarters for over two decades until his death in 1975. Onassis’ guests on board the yacht were some of the most famous and influential people of the time. At night, CHRISTINA O served as the stage for Onassis’ celebrated social life, as he played host to Presidents and Prime Ministers, royalty and film stars.
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.
In keeping with all good Greek tragedies, a new administration tried to sell the yacht in the early 1990’s, for upwards of $16 million. Interested parties emerged, but it seemed no one was willing to pay that sum for what would obviously end up costing much more during the refit stage. The Greek administration gradually lowered the price throughout the decade, and it finally appeared that all was well for Christina in 1996 when she was sold to an American, Alexander Blastos, for $2.2 million. But the Greek government revoked his ownership a few months later—although the government wouldn’t elaborate, the Associated Press reported that Blastos’ $220,000 deposit check bounced—and the yacht continued to languish. (Blastos was later imprisoned for wire fraud relating to his attempts to purchase the yacht.)
This change opened up a cavernous space in the middle of the yacht the size of a three-story New York brownstone. New accommodations were added. The middle deck now houses a banquet-size, split-level, formal dining room that seats up to 40 guests. Its Baccarat wall lamps are original. As with Onassis, only the best is available: The porcelain service is by Bernardaud of Limoges, Waterford crystal by Rochas, and silverware by Ercuis and St. Hilaire of Paris.
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.
Much of the splendor Onassis created has been retained. 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.
Aft, 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.
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…