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ORION: A CENTURY, A LEGEND
It was 1910 when the Camper & Nicholson boatyard launched "Sulvana" in Gosport (UK), a schooner destined to make history. At that time yachting was in its infancy, but the class and elegance of this lovely schooner made it stand out immediately. Built for the Spanish Royal family, it was later bought by Colonel Courteney C.E. Morgan, registered at the port of Portsmouth and obviously sailed under the British flag. Subsequently "Sulvana" was transferred to Brest and sold to another owner, who in turn resold it until it was transferred to Argentina, where remained for a long while.
Since the schooner left the launching slipway in the Gosport in England with the name "Sulvana" on the transom, it has experienced moments of splendour and abandon, finally returned to its former glory and earning the nickname of "pearl of the Mediterranean". Another fundamental moment in the history of "Orion" was the work it underwent in 1998-99, when the original schooner fore-and-aft rigging was reinstated. To give our readers a better version of the adventures and characteristics of "Orion" we contacted Captain Renzo Castagna, who skippered the schooner until 2003, when "Orion" was bought by a Swiss-German owner.
Captain, can you give us a brief summary of your story on board "Orion" and your impressions of this beautiful boat?
Like all the men who have worked on board "Orion" during its long history, I feel nostalgia and affection for this boat that are difficult to put into words. I can tell you that all those that worked on her were struck by this boat, no ordinary boat, not simply a vintage boat, but one with special appeal. Her present owner has understood this and wants to restore her to exactly how she was in the beginning. Years ago the original drawings were obtained in England and the rigging was restored, because they realised that the rigging introduced during restoration in the seventies was decidedly less efficient than the original. In particular it compromised her manoeuvrability, tacking was not as easy, above all with a light wind, and for this reason we participated in meets but not in the more difficult regattas. The previous rigging had a shorter bowsprit and was a mixture of fore- and-aft and Latin rigging. This was fine for strong winds but made everything more difficult when manoeuvring with a light wind. She needed canvas up high, only in this way could she become more competitive. Over recent years, instead of only taking part in show regattas, "Orion" has participated in far more competitive regattas, in which she duelled for example with "Mariette", with many of the crew that had previously been on "Orion" on the latter boat. This situation always created great rivalry - healthy sporting rivalry. Both "Mariette" and "Orion" belonged to Italian owners and this fact increased competition too. Since last year "Orion" has been the property of a Swiss-German owner, who has taken her to a boatyard near Marseilles specially set up to renovate this schooner. Her current owner has decided to completely rebuild her based on original documentation, in the past he completed restored the famous "Rolly Go", he is a lover of this kind of work and does it very well. Even if it must be considered that in 2002 the boat was awarded a prize during a meet in Montecarlo, by old Mr. Nicholson, who said: "This is my boat, the boat my father built, I recognise her as she is now". I am sure that her current owner will manage to restore her to the splendour of 1910, the day she was launched. "Orion" is a boat that manages to cast a spell on you, those who have crewed on her talk about her always, because her seaworthiness and sailing virtues are really difficult to find elsewhere. She sails well and above all has no fear, neither from a structure nor from a waterline point of view, in fact a fully developed sea is her ideal environment. This is also due to her weight, was substantially increased after restoration with the installation of previously inexistent systems and special systems such as the steel tanks, but nevertheless it is still a very competitive boat. Even the deck plan is unique; for example the crew has the whole of the forward quarters at their disposal while the remaining three quarters of the boat are dedicated to the owner and his guests. The interiors are spacious and divided up well, large rooms where the crew does not interfere with the owner's privacy.
Captain Castagna talked to us about "Orion" with lively enthusiasm, the enthusiasm that means a lot with men of the sea, but as he himself says is difficult to explain. Those who have had the pleasure of sailing on board a ship or a yacht capable of evoking love and strong emotions know only too well how much nostalgia there is in the memory, above all if that ship has been laid up, abandoned in a corner of a port and forgotten by those who still yearn for life at sea. Luckily "Orion's" story has a happy ending and soon she will sail the Mediterranean once again, ready to welcome and other sailors and make them fall in love with her.