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SUPERYACHT #7
Winter 2006

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


MELTEMI, A GENTLEMEN'S YACHT

Meltemi belongs to that fortunate category of yachts where good design is not necessarily connected with a period and the years do not mortify the original insights. This is the category of beautiful vessels - whether sail or, as in this case, motor does not matter - where the important thing is that the adjective "beautiful" be understood in its accepted marine sense. Not merely aesthetically pleasuring but a grouping of characteristics which converge in the one serious purpose for which a boat comes into being: seaworthiness.

 

TECHNICAL DATA
Shipyard: J. Samuel White & Co Ltd, Cowes, England
Year of construction: 1931
LOA: 37.5 metres
Waterline length: 36 metres
Beam: 5.7 metres
Draft: 2.4 metres
Displacement: 240 tons
Engines: 2 x Caterpillar 480 HP
Speed: 12 knots cruising, 14 knots maximum

 
Built in 1931 by J. Samuel White & Co., an important shipyard in Cowes, for a certain captain George Paxton, at the time it bore the name Braemar. Braemar is a Scottish village where the United Kingdom's best sea captains are said to have been born, a sort of Celtic Camogli, and this was Paxton's third Braemar. Though it came into being as a yacht in the middle of the Edwardian age - and therefore with a light flavour of snobbism - the very clear ideas of the first owner with regard to putting to sea resulted in a vessel that to all effects was a small ship. A 37 metre hull in 8 millimetre naval steel, a fairly straight prow, five watertight bulkheads, two ballast tanks for trim, an enviable keel design and, initially, two 255 HP MAN that sent her along at 13 knots, one more than the 12 stipulated in the building contract. Equipment was the most advanced offered by the technology of the day: electric pumps, hydraulically operated rudder, a Barr & Stroud rangefinder and electric lighting, power being supplied by an 18 Kw generator unit with a Gardner diesel and an 11Kw Maudsley dynamo. The battery unit had 95 cells of 225 AH each and probably generated the 110V direct current for lighting and services, typical of pre-war English boats. Originally it did not have the high covered deck which was added subsequently. This can be clearly seen in a 1931 photo by Beken as you go down to the owner's quarters. After being launched the vessel sailed all over and it seems to have made a circumnavigation as well as several Atlantic crossings before the tragic years of the Second World War when it was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and transformed first into a patrol vessel and then into a hospital ship. For the Braemar, which in the meantime had become Clorinda II, it was a dark period: she was sunk and then salvaged, restored and modified. There followed further voyages, including ocean crossings and another round the world trip between 1981 and 1983, taking in the Americas, Australia, Hawaii, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Suez, until she was finally used as a luxury charter yacht, now with the name of Meltemi. With the current owner the yacht has begun a second childhood: the layout and furnishings are as close as possible to the original, the solid panelling in mahogany and oak, the flooring in spruce, the furniture, the capitonné leather of the sofas and armchairs and the heavy brocade of the curtains. The layout of the spaces, restored to the original plan, is classic and rational: the main deck, completely protected by a bulwark and the projection of the flying bridge above, includes an external dinette, a dining area when required, and the aft wheelhouse which, through direct drive on the shaft, also functions as emergency steering. The technical area forward houses the hydraulic winch for the two anchors and the entrance to the crew's quarters. The access door from the aft deck to the interior is emblematic of Meltemi's building criteria: double, watertight and with further protection below should she ship a sea. "...Meltemi had to sail all seas in all climates," the captain explained. Still on the main deck, the so called music room, originally the smoking room, welcomes the visitor into a slightly strange and démodé atmosphere: so it is no surprise that in the 1980's a certain Reginald Kenneth Dwight, also known as Elton John, found it irreplaceable for creating his music on its upright piano. A short corridor leads to the main saloon, with sofas and damasks, which overlooks the dining salon below. Few stairs: here too time has stopped and not even the precious clock-astrolabe can convince us otherwise. There are model ships, paintings of ships on the walls and six privileged places around the oval table. Forward there are five double cabins for the crew (bosun, engineer, two sailors, hostess, cook) and the skipper, plus the crew mess and a professional galley equipped for all requirements. There is even a wine cellar, but the great coal- burning Kooksjoie and the refrigerated cells of 1931 have been replaced with more practical items. The night zone is aft of the engine room, centrally positioned to optimise trim and balance: two double guest cabins with twin beds and private bathroom, where the furnishings are practically the original ones in Austrian oak, and the owner's cabin which stretches the full beam and has a large bathroom. Here the meticulous work of philological recovery of the spaces is yet to be completed. The wheelhouse on the flying bridge is equipped with all modern navigational instruments, but on the chart table there is a sextant and its panoply of charts, compasses and setsquares. The engine commands are communicated to the engineer by the engine telegraph, the most archetypal marine mechanism. With the 1980's upgrade the two 326 HP DAF engines were replaced by two tough 480 HP Caterpillars that produce a cruising speed of 12 knots and a maximum of 14. The range is considerable: 6.000 miles with 32.000 litres of diesel. Externally the upper deck has a vast sundeck and also houses the yacht's various tenders: an inflatable service dinghy, a 12 foot sailing dinghy and a replica of the now extinct Riva Turismo Extra of 1946. On a clear September evening, over a glass of cool white wine, Meltemi's current skipper Fabio Vespa of La Spezia tells me what he knows about the boat. Meltemi is moored at the long pier in Porto Maurizio, near the statue of the Cape Horners, having taken part in the meet held at the other Imperia dock. Vespa too, with his three circumnavigations, would have been a Cape Horner if only his sailboats had been transporting goods instead of dreams...The yacht will be leaving for its home port the following day: a chance to get some photos of her under way and to see, as she casts off, the now out of date "....port... slow ahead..". Shortly afterwards the sight of Meltemi taken silently to 12 knots, with a bow wave of rare elegance, somewhat brings back the question of the gap separating today's superyachts from those of 75 years ago...