1) HMCS Stormont at St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia, early 1944. MMA, M94.19.134, photo by George Coletti
This photo from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's collection shows the newly commissioned Canadian frigate "working up" to train her new crew in Nova Scotia on a wintery day in 1944. Little did the 150 sailors aboard know, but after a distinguished wartime career their ship would be purchased by the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and turned into the world's first, and still most famous, super yacht. Built in Montreal, Stormont arrived in Halifax in December 1943 with her new captain George Myra from Bayport, Lunenburg County, a veteran pre-war merchant captain who had served as the alternate captain for the famous fishing schooner Bluenose and was a good friend of Angus Walters. Stormont had a busy war, fighting in the last phase of the Battle of the Atlantic with North Atlantic convoy escorts, taking a convoy to the Kola Inlet on the Murmansk run and another to Gibraltar. On one voyage she spent 63 continuous days at sea, a record for a Canadian frigate. She was part of the D-Day invasion force, protecting the landing vessels from German naval attack. As Germany crumbled in 1945, Stormont was refitted for tropical service in the Pacific but Japan's surrender ruled that out. Decommissioned on November 6, 1945, Stormont was mothballed as Canada demobilized its huge wartime navy, briefly the Third largest in the world.
2) Christina O in home waters. Despite a new bow and liner-like funnel, the naval lines of her hull are still evident to a knowing eye. George Onassis, Wikimedia
Initially sold for $34,000 to be converted to a freighter in South America, Stormont caught the eye of shipping agents for Aristotle Onassis and was rebuilt in Kiel, Germany as a yacht. Named after Onassis's daughter, the new extravangently outfitted yacht stood out in war-ravaged and austere Europe and was a major departure from the long, low and slim private yachts of the pre-war era. Christina O made full use of the ship's large hull and powerful naval engineering systems to support luxuries like a combined swimming pool and dance floor. Most notoriously, the yacht's bar contained coat hooks made from Orca teeth and barstools made from the leather of Minke whale penises.
Over the years, the yacht hosted fleets of celebrities. Apart from Onassis's mistress Maria Callas and wife Jackie Kennedy Onassis, early guests included Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, followed by sailings with celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rudolph Nureyev, Eva Peron, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly.
Christina O set the bar for the super yachts that followed in the decades after World War Two. Much larger yachts followed but few matched her legendary origins. Passing through several owners after the death of Onassis, Christina O was restored in a major refit in 1999, the yacht has recently been offered for sale for $34 million.
Hear more about HMCS Stormont and Christina O in an July 4 interview by Dan Conlin on CBC Radio's Mainstreet.
More on her naval and yacht career in Randy Boswell's July 4 article the National Post: " ‘The last word in opulence’: Lavishly refitted D-Day warship, Christina O, on sale for $34-million"