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September 2004

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news



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Article by
Lino Pastorelli

The Michigan steamship

"Lady" of steel launched in 1921 for Horace Dodge, "Delphine" is now resident in the Principally of Monaco where, after a rigorous "facelift", she was revealed to our cameras. Viewed from above, from the gardens of Avenue d'Ostende, moored with the Show Boats megayachts at the quay in Monaco, Delphine looks like an old lady slightly indignant about all this shameless modernity, but she is nonetheless in control of the situation: next to her Mirabella V doesn't feel so gigantic!

Her presence on the elegant quay of the Principality is only the most recent chapter in a history that began in America in the 1920's. The depression was still far off. Financial empires and capital moved between the Great Lakes and the East Coast, and to display such riches on the catwalk of the Hudson meant stepping into the elite of the powerful.


LOA: 78.6 metres
Beam: 10.8 metres
Draft: 4.45 metres
Displacement: 1961 t.
Maximum speed: 12 knots
Cruising speed: 8-9 knots
Cruising range: 2000 miles
Diesel consumption: 1000 l/h cruising, 120 l/h in port (generators)

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What better means for such a purpose, Horace Dodge must have asked himself, than a steam-yacht? An even bigger steam-yacht, the biggest in the world, named after his beloved daughter Delphine. Bypassing the more famous shipyards on the coast, he chose one in Detroit where the Dodge Brothers' Company had its headquarters. At that time it was the leading USA automobile manufacturer and the company founders lived there. The distance and the magnate's state of health would not have permitted the frequent visits he wanted to make while the vessel was under construction, and this not only for personal reasons: Horace Dodge was no newcomer to the nautical sector and his various experiences had resulted in the establishment of the Dodge Marine Division which adapted their car engines to be used on boats. For example, he himself designed Delphine's power system. The Dodge brothers however did not live to see the steam-yacht completed: they both died shortly before it was finished. Only Horace's wife and his sister-in-law were present on the Great Lakes Engineering Works quay on 2nd April 1921 for the launching of this Pharaonic 258 footer. Apart from the owner's suite there were nine guest cabins, three lounges, a smoking room, a games room, a music salon and covered decks. And everywhere a profusion of lights, air- conditioning and servants. A minimum crew of 55 for 20 guests! Delphine sailed mainly in the Great Lakes to follow the motorboat races that Horace Dodge Jr. was so keen on - a painting in the Delphine Lounge shows the Dodge heir's racer with the ship in the background - or was used for high society cocktail parties. It rarely ventured into the Atlantic: with a four and a half metre draft and a length of almost eighty metres she was pretty complicated to sail down the St Lawrence river or between the locks of the Welland Canal. In 1926 one of these voyages nearly proved fatal for the yacht: a fire sent her to the bottom of the Hudson River but she was salvaged. Restored at a New York yard under the supervision of the original designer H.J. Gielow, Delphine resumed her gilded life right up to the 1940's, perhaps crossing routes with J.P.Morgan's Corsair or Cornelius Vanderbilt's North Star. Shipwreck on a rocky bank of the Great Lakes in 1940 was far less disastrous than the one of 1926, but by this time America, like the rest of the world, was feeling the winds of war. With the new martial name of U.S.S. Dauntless, she was used by the US Navy as a base for admiral E. King, commander in chief of the American fleet. It appears that the fates of men and battles were sometimes decided aboard her, with meetings between the allies - Churchill, Molotov, Roosevelt and King himself - though these facts have always been surrounded by a certain secrecy. When the vessel was acquired by Anna Dodge after the war, another restoration was carried out and the funnel now displayed nine gilded braids, one for every six months of service to the country, but Delphine's "golden age" was temporarily suspended. Donated to a charity foundation which just a year later passed on the encumbering gift to the Lundeberg Maryland Seamanship School, she was used for twenty years - under her old wartime name - for the training of Merchant Marine captains and officers. Though subsequently purchased by a couple of companies, one in America and one in Singapore, she never achieved the much craved "final restoration", but she did make her first Atlantic crossing to the Mediterranean. The vessel remained in Malta and Marseilles for about four years before the decisive owner appeared, a Belgian businessman. Having had Delphine towed to Bruges in western Flanders, he did not contact a shipyard but built one, bringing in a series of small businesses coordinated by his daughter Ineke Bruynooghe and with the help of naval engineer Antoine Wille. The ship was brought back to life under a precise programme: very safe and luxurious charters, therefore observation of all SOLAS regulations for fire prevention, HACCP for galleys and associated apparatus and MARPOL for non- pollution. All this however without betraying Horace Dodge's initial spirit of an elitist yacht. Five years of work with patient research on plans, paintings and photos in order to faithfully reconstruct the original style, though today's materials are all fireproof, plus a series of comforts that not even Dodge had envisaged. Delphine was thrice in dry dock in Belgium and Holland, but her steel hull had suffered little from the ravages of time. Then at last, after a long cruise on the Atlantic coasts of France, Portugal, the Balearics and the Riviera, she arrived in August 2003 at her home port, Port Hercule in the Principality of Monaco. A visit aboard this vintage megayacht is something of a journey back through time and through the vessel's strong personality. For example the many plausible reasons behind the decision to retain steam engines rather than replace them with two diesels: they're the originals, they don't vibrate, they're silent and fascinating. The truth is that the real spirit of Delphine, her status of veteran Steam Ship, quite indifferent to changes in styles, furnishings and owners, lies in that incredible engine room. Laid out on no less than three levels it houses two monumental 1500 HP quadruple expansion vertical cylinder engines: already a gem at a time when the most evolved engines were triple expansion. Maximum speed of 12 knots at 155 rpm, but for the moment they are being run in and do not exceed 80 revs. The plate on the manometer panel states that they were built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works-Detroit-Michigan in 1921, serial number 578, and it is in this room that the calendar has really been stopped at eighty years ago. In a meandering of levers, tubes, manometers and valves - with back lighting and foreshortenings borrowed from the best Fritz Lang - I looked on as some of the ship's six engineers dismantled for maintenance a con-rod bush from the gigantic, uncovered engine shaft while others prepared the lubricants for an imminent departure. When under way the engineers live here, two at a time in continuous shifts, 24 hours a day: the great wind sleeves on the wheelhouse have the purpose of sending forced air to cool this place which otherwise would be unliveable in. Delphine has direct drive, which means there is no kind of inverter, so when the boilers are under pressure and steam passes into the cylinders the vessel gets under way. It also means something else: to go astern the rotation of the engines must be inverted, a delicate operation carried out manually by the engineers at a very precise point in the cycle, on receiving the "full astern" command over the engine-room telegraph. Madame Bruynooghe spoke of a recent test in which this command was given with Delphine under way at cruising speed: "in thirty seconds almost twenty tons of steel had come to a complete stop. but," the owner admitted, "we don't do this often." Though the guest staterooms and the two owner's (now VIP) suites have been maintained on the original plans of spectacular size and furnishings, the need to offer a level of "five star luxury" led to the installation of a fully equipped gym, a hairdresser's salon, a sick bay with physician and a hamam, a Turkish bath that accommodates six persons. Another recent addition is the mosaic swimming pool on the upper deck while the ample space (1000 square metres) of the promenade deck offers the possibilities of lazy sunbathing on chaises longues, jogging or the simple pleasure of strolling around and watching the sunset. Technology and atmosphere cohabit on board: for example in the smoking room, amid teak and capitonne leather, you can smoke the last cigar of the evening or hook up to the Internet on a wireless network. Social life such as cocktail parties, soirées etc. are held in the lounge bar with its imposing Steinway grand or, for more intimate gatherings, in one of the other two saloons. Of course on-board music also follows less traditional channels and each stateroom has independent Hi-Fi systems which can be interconnected for parties. Private phone and independent satellite TV, not to mention a minibar and elegant bathroom, should suffice to satisfy the most demanding charter party. There are usually twenty-four guests aboard, sometimes twenty-eight if the spare cabin is used, served by a crew of twenty-six: captain, 1st and 2nd Mate, able seamen, engineers, stewards, cooks, hairdresser, doctor and (optional) pianist. All that is needed to recreate the luxurious and somewhat démodé atmosphere in which Delphine is so much at her ease. Before the end of my visit I met Oliviér, the young French captain: ".command of a steamship is not a trifling affair. You have to keep an eye on her reaction times: for example you need an hour and a half between getting the boilers going and casting off, something that must be taken into consideration on a coastal cruise. On the other hand there's the fascination of this command, with its unparalleled "vintage" and modern problems."