Over the Rainbow — By Diane M. Byrne
— February 2005
Over the Rainbow, Head Over Heels
What possessed a man to restore a 1930’s wooden yacht that was falling apart beam by beam? Love.
Three years ago while visiting Monaco’s Port Hercule marina, Jean-Michel Folon, the celebrated painter and illustrator, fell in love at first sight.
The object of his affection was no ordinary woman, or even a comely girl for that matter. Rather, she was a 115-foot yacht built in 1930, with all of the classic elements you’d expect of a cruiser hailing from that era: a knife-like bow and shapely canoe stern, with all-wood construction in between, plus a mast and funnel accentuating her elegant profile.
And what a sight she must have been to see. The roof covering the captain’s cabin and wheelhouse, perched atop the main deck, was badly rotted, and the lower wooden roof—the one over the dining area, galley, and smoking room/lounge—was warped due to age and, perhaps, neglect. Metal posts and other structures were rusted. Simply put, she was literally falling apart before his eyes.
How, then, could the Belgian-born artist have fallen for her? Folon offers this simple answer: “Love is blind.”
Not only that, but resistance was futile: “This boat had to be liked,” he adds. “As much as one can sometimes want to aid an old lady, in helping her to cross a street. [I wanted] to help this boat travel across time.”
Though Folon had taken countless imaginary journeys on fantastic seas through his paintings and sculptures, and though he had lived aboard a barge at the base of the Eiffel Tower for a decade, he could never have envisioned the journey he was about to embark upon. More than just a refit, this was to be 16 months of laborious restoring, during which not even posts rusted beyond reuse or engine parts out of manufacture for 50 years could dissuade him from what he saw as his destiny: living aboard the restored yacht in the Mediterranean. Indeed, she was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. He even chose a fittingly nostalgic name for her: Over the Rainbow.
The yacht’s condition notwithstanding—or, perhaps, befitting it—this 115-footer has quite an interesting, wide-ranging history. Built in 1930 by Dickie & Sons in North Wales, the 164-ton yacht was launched as Janetha IV for a Scottish nobleman. When World War II broke out, however, she was pressed into service by the Royal Navy, plying the coast of Scotland. After the war the yacht returned to private hands, this time in Greece, where she was used as a gambling ship, later (the exact year is unknown) serving charterers for many years along the Cote d’Azur under the name Classique.
When Folon acquired the yacht in 2002, he knew he couldn’t oversee the restoration himself. Upon meeting Capt. Jean-Louis Legros, however, “I knew instantly that the boat and Jean-Louis were destined to meet one another.” Legros’ background was impressive. At the tender age of 19, he’d been put in charge of a 98-foot sailing yacht, entrusted with taking her to South Africa from England—by himself. As an adult, he’d run a shipyard in Brittany.
When Folon and Legros explored their options as far as shipyards were concerned, they settled on Mondomarine in Savona, Italy. The yard opened its doors in 1978, first constructing motorboats but adding custom yachts 85 feet and up in the 1990’s. In more recent years Mondomarine has expanded its services into refit, having worked on yachts such as the 151-foot Fulmara and 144-foot Dream Seeker. The yard quoted a competitive price and a 12-month labor period for Over the Rainbow. More important, however, “We perceived a true human motivation,” Folon explains. “They wanted to save the boat.”
“Save” was the understatement of the year. When Over the Rainbow arrived at the yard, the craftsmen discovered some shocking things. For one, 16 tons of railroad tracks had been used for ballast. When Mondomarine removed all of this, it thankfully discovered that the outside hull was fine structurally—but the internal framework was an entirely different story. An astounding 80 percent needed to be replaced. Every pipe needed to be replaced as well, and the 47-year-old, 250-hp Mercedes engines (which had replaced the original Gardiners) required a number of new parts that had gone out of manufacture so long ago that no one even knew when that had occurred.
This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.