This majestic yacht started off life in one of the most glamorous eras. She was commissioned under the name ‘Shenandoah’ by Charles Fahnestock, one of the richest bankers in America who saw her as the ultimate retirement luxury. He planned to sail Shenandoah around the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. for both his enjoyment and for her to be admired by onlookers.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht Theodore Ferris GATownsend & Downey Shipyard c1902

Shenandoah was built 1902 by US builder Townsend & Downey near Staten Island, New York with maritime designer Theodore Ferris. She was one of Ferris’s biggest achievements and is the only one of his designs that remains sailing to this day. He was inspired by a similar yacht being built at the docks at the time, Meteor III. She was an exceptionally fast ship that belonged to the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht owners Mr & Mrs FahnstockShenandoah of Sark yacht interior

Shenandoah continued to turn heads even in 1905 when her owner, Charles Fahnestock retired and fulfilled his ambition to sail to and around the Mediterranean. She hosted many glamorous parties along France’s Cote D’Azur and the Amalfi coast in Italy and for the next seven years, the Mediterranean became her home.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht owner Walter Von BruiningShenandoah of Sark yacht cruising

Shenandoah was next owned by German Aristocrat Landrat Walter Von Bruining who saw her as a status symbol. He renamed her Lasca II and gave her a small revamp before berthing her in Kiel, Germany alongside Kaiser Wilhelm II’s ship Meteor III. For a number of summers her owner sailed her to the Isle of Wight for some summers.

She once again changed ownership in 1914 with the advent of the First World War. Like many large vessels, Shenandoah was appropriated by the British Navy. She then became the property of one of Britain’s greatest shipbuilders, Sir John Esplen who appreciated her unique beauty. Esplen reinstated her name, Shenandoah, before installing two gas engines. With her 12-man crew, chief steward, two cooks and two stewards she became one of the most admired and photographed vessels on the South Coast.

 Shenandoah of Sark yacht in Portofino in the 1920s

Shenandoah was briefly owned by Godfrey Williams who sold her to Ludovico Potenziani, a flamboyant Italian Prince. Once again she was renamed, this time to Atlantide, and even more opulence was added to the interior. Atlantide even saw immaculate hand-carved wood panelling installed onboard.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht owner Prince Ludovico Potenziani

Her owner, Ludovico Potenziani, was the Mayor of Rome for a short time, but his open defiance of Mussolini during the rise of fascism in Italy saw him forced into exile. While berthed in Naples, Italy in 1929 a guest was received onboard and within minutes had declared he would buy the ship, along with the crew.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht owner Viggo Jarl

The wealthy Danish yachtsman, philanthropist and renowned sculptor, Count Viggo Jarl purchased Shenandoah and spent a fortune maintaining her upkeep. He installed brand-new diesel engines as well as the introduction of electricity throughout for the first time. During most of this period she was based in Cannes before she embarked on a series of adventures.

Shenandoah yacht preparing for North America

Atlantide cruised the length and breadth of the Mediterranean as well as the Greek Islands, the Red Sea, the West Indies, Columbia, the Panama Canal, Hawaii and South America. Count Viggo Jarl even sailed her 500 miles up the Amazon until he found that the jungle closed in on the decks and that all the waters were teeming with crocodiles and snakes. 

Atlantide yacht cruising

During the Second World War he hid the boat in Northern Europe before removing both the engines and the mast to render her useless to the Nazi’s. This also meant she was out of grasp of sailing enthusiast Hermann Goering who was rumoured to be interested in ‘acquiring’ a yacht of his own.

After the War, her engines and masts were stepped back into place for her adventures to continue. She then set about on an eleven-month expedition up the Congo and Niger rivers of Africa. It was also here that her rigging was changed and her top sails were taken down, changing her from a three-masted topsail schooner to a Bermuda rig.

 Shenandoah of Sark yacht owner Viggo Jarl and Mme Gruss; Countess Knuth Queen Alexandrine of Denmark Count Knuth The Danish Consul in Cannes

Over the years she welcomed many guests onboard, with members of the European aristocracy being frequent visitors. King Christian and Queen Alexandrine of Denmark went onboard as well as King Umberto of Italy, Baudouin, the young King of Belgium, and his father Ex-King Leopold and even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The Duke, who had abdicated the throne some years before, was so impressed with her that he said to Count Viggo Jarl at a lavish party “I wish I could afford to buy this boat.” She was even seen in Monte Carlo on the night Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht rigging

However, Count Viggo Jarl was left in a difficult financial position after the post-war economic crisis and had to sell the yacht, leaving the history of her ownership a mystery for a short while. Apparently, at one point a company in Honduras owned her, after that she was owned by a secretive businessman in Cincinnati, known as Julius Fleischman. There are even rumours that she was used to smuggle guns, drugs and all sorts of illegal cargo throughout the Americas and Caribbean, although this has never been proved.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht in the South of France

She once again made her way back to Cannes where in the 1950s a banker named Travers was often to be found holding court on board. At this time though she was rumoured to have been owned by the proprietor of a very large publishing house.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht owner Baron Marcel Bich

In 1962, the rumours of her ownership were settled when the French government seized her as part of an unpaid tax scandal. For the next 10 years Atlantide sat slowly decaying until she was saved by a wealthy industrialist. The inventor of the Bic ballpoint, lighters and other gadgets, Baron Marcel Bich saved her permanent neglect. After decades had passed he fell in love with her and negotiated for two years with the French government to secure her ownership.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht Captain Joe

Baron Marcel Bich changed her name back to Shenandoah before the contract had even been signed. He believed that once you name a yacht, that name should remain forever. She underwent a full renovation under the guidance of a Corsican ‘Old Salt’ called Captain Joe where she was restored according to the original plans of the ship’s designer Theodore Ferris.

 Shenandoah of Sark yacht cruising

Her hull was stripped, bilges and bulkheads painted and her below-deck panelling was taken down and varnished. Shenandoah’s hull was then lined with cork for insulation and the topsides were painted blue. She was also returned to her original rigging though the top masts and mizzen boom were shortened. She also received new Dacron sails and new diesel engines were installed. Shenandoah remained in the Bich family for 14 years before eventually being run as a charter yacht by Marcel’s son, Francois.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht Vogue Magazine

Baron Marcel Bich also organised and supported the French challenge to the America’s Cup, first in 1970 and then again in 1974. It was here that he made the decision to return Shenandoah to her original home of Newport on Rhode Island. This was the first time she returned home since 1905 and the trip was deliberately kept low-key.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht Vogue Magazine

Unlike some of her previous owners, Bich preferred to hide away from the limelight of ostentatious parties. He instead hosted only small gatherings during the races which were attended by the likes of Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former US president, John F. Kennedy, as well as ambassadors and close family.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht Vogue Magazine

Shenandoah became the location for a Vogue magazine shoot in the eighties as well as the backdrop for Rod Stewart’s “What Am I Gonna Do” while she was resting in Cannes. It must be the first and only occasion she has sailed under the Scottish flag!

 Shenandoah of Sark yacht owner Philip Bommer

She then moved to the warmer waters of Thailand and East Asia where she was available for charter. Her new owner Philip Bommer took her on many adventures through the Caribbean which is where he also based her. Bommer first saw Shenandoah when he was 13 and spent the next 20 years dreaming of owning her. He fulfilled that dream in 1986 and immediately organised an attentive refit; her teak decks were restored and scrubbed clean, the mahogany was brightened to its original hue and the brass polished as if it had been newly installed.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht dining

Her former captain Jean Paul Charpentier kept a detailed scrapbook of the many thank you notes guests left between the 1970s and 1980s. One of those guests said; “The Shenandoah was like a five-star hotel”. Another said “We can see from the daily routines that you still keep the brass like in the old days.” 

While in Guadeloupe, another guest, Stephane Desjonquers wrote “This is professionalism at its best. You forget completely that you are with people who are responsible for the ship. The crew are always available for our own personal needs and you almost forget that they are sailing the ship as well!”

Shenandoah of Sark yacht guests

Shenandoah was often highly praised, with Park Avenue, New York residents Bonnie and Clive Chajet writing; “If we could fit you in a museum we would put you in it – because as many people as possible should appreciate you.”

Shenandoah of Sark yacht exterior detail

But these golden days were short lived and Shenandoah entered the last decade of the 20th Century in disarray. The once beautiful yacht was in a state of disrepair until a German owner made her his own. She arrived in New Zealand battered, badly leaking and barely afloat with the owner deciding that the only logical solution was to abandon her. Thankfully the owner relented and once again she was brought back to life.

 Shenandoah of Sark yacht wheelhouse

Her refit was carried out by McMullen and Wing who restored Shenandoah back to a vibrant life. After thousands of hours of craftsmanship, the owner’s commitments were rewarded and she returned to the water once again. Her hull and acres of teak were varnished and her name was branded across her transom in gold. 

Her intimate detachable deck cockpit was designed by Martin Francis to allow Shenandoah to show the clean lines of an all time classic. Shenandoah’s restoration effort was recognised by ShowBoats International where she won the 1996 award for Best Classic Yacht Restoration.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht in The Millennium Cup

The owner achieved his dream of rescuing the boat and returning to New Zealand for the America’s Cup Regatta in 2000. She even competed in the Millennium Cup Superyacht Regatta where she certainly turned heads amongst the latest and greatest superyachts in the world fleet.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht at The America's Cup Jubilee

Her German owner then put her up for sale where she was bought by her current Italian owner. Speaking highly of her he said, “her historic grace and timeless class gives me great pleasure and it is this unique aspect of Shenandoah that I have endeavoured to preserve.”

Shenandoah of Sark yacht at The America's Cup Jubilee

The crew mess of Shenandoah has a map of the world mounted on the wall. The map shows multiple trails across the world’s oceans that represent the various voyages she has made. They amount to almost five circumnavigations since her 1996 refit!

Shenandoah of Sark yacht refit

In 2005, a much needed refurbishment was made to the crew mess entrance to allow access while at sea. The deck now offers three points of access to the interior and the accommodations are more luxurious than when she was first launched! Her living quarters are also how her original owner wanted them.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht cruising Shenandoah of Sark yacht cruising

Over the years her Italian owner has not scrimped on a single detail, making sure she has art-deco light fittings and even brass handles on her antique dressing table. Most importantly though, he funded a thorough refit of Shenandoah’s mechanics and rig in 2008/09 bringing her back up to the flawless standards that she deserves. He has also installed a state-of-the-art entertainment system as well as a plethora of toys including windsurfers, water skiing equipment, diving and fishing gear.

Shenandoah of Sark yacht crew

Shenandoah of Sark yacht cruising

Shenandoah of Sark continues to make waves and welcome guests onboard 120 years later!

Above article courtesy of the SUPERYACHT TIMES


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