|The Rebirth of Christina O|
The legend of the famed Onassis yacht lives on, after perhaps the most expensive refit in history.
By John Lassiter — August 2002
His hospitality was legendary, his charm mythical, his prowess unstoppable, his power formidable, his fortune unsurpassed. In 1954 Aristotle Socrates Onassis created the greatest yacht of all, Christina. Named after his beloved daughter, she was a sleek, 325-foot, shimmering-white masterpiece proudly displaying the Onassis signature, the yellow funnel. While the ship had begun life in 1943 as the Canadian naval frigate Stormont, a convoy escort, Onassis purchased her in 1948 for just $34,000 and converted her during the early 1950's into the most sumptuous private yacht that the world had ever seen, at the cost of more than $4 million.
Whether he was in Monaco or at Skorpios, his private Greek island, Onassis' real home was Christina. His first wife, shipping heiress Tina Livanos, said, "The yacht is his real passion. He is like a housewife fussing over it, constantly looking to see that everything is impeccable." Impeccable indeed--a crew member once explained, "You could smash up a $20,000 speedboat into pieces and not a word would be said, but spit on the Christina's deck, and you were out of a job."
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.)
All was not lost, however. In 1998 John Paul Papanicolaou, a Greek national in the shipping business and an old friend of the Onassis family who had cruised aboard the yacht as a child, secured the yacht at a new government-sponsored auction. He made it his goal to rebuild Christina in a way that would have awed Onassis himself, renaming her Christina O as a tribute.
Proudly embarking on the most extensive refit project ever launched, and using his considerable knowledge and shipping background, Papanicolaou assembled a gifted team of experts. Naval architect Costas Carabelas spearheaded the group. Interior architecture and construction were done by Apostolos Molindris and Decon, respectively. The refit work was executed by Viktor Lenac, a Croatian shipyard.
A major priority was enhancing the physical integrity of the yacht and repowering her. Upgrading systems and reconfiguring her interior were also key. The initial survey showed that 65 tons of steel in the hull needed to be replaced. When she was put in dry dock, it actually turned out to be 560 tons. Fifty-six miles of new wiring and 140 tons of pipe work were replaced. This large task, along with the refurbishment and redecoration of gathering spaces, was stunningly accomplished in only 16 months, with more than 1.2 million man-hours and at a cost of more than $50 million. Now she was ready for charter and cruises for an exclusive worldwide clientele.
On the technical front, to improve her efficiency, the original 1943 steam engines and boilers were removed. Two new MAN diesel engines and three MAN gensets were installed. She now has a cruising speed of 18 knots and a top speed of 22--not bad, considering Onassis cruised at 14 knots and could rev her up to 24.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.