January 04, 2014

Sea Cloud sails on myth and mystery



David Ellis

THE Great Depression seemed to mean little to fabulously wealthy New York businessman, Edward Francis (Ed) Hutton who agreed in 1930 – Depression or not – to get a sailing boat on which he and his independently millionaire wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post could entertain friends to parties and little sails at weekends.

They contracted America's best naval architects to design something to Marjorie's specifications, and which with her perceived standing in society would leave the aquatic playthings of business associates floundering in their boat's wake.
With Ed giving her free rein, Marjorie came up with a veritable floating palace:  at an amazing 110-metres – or 360ft – it would be longer than a football field, weigh-in at 2,500 tonnes, and have the most luxurious owner's suite possible,  six opulent guest's staterooms complete with gold-plated bathroom fittings, lavish dining areas, lounges, and smoking and games rooms.

And four masts would be needed to carry the massive amount of sails for crossing the open seas, so a crew would be necessary that from the captain down through other officers, chefs, waiters, butlers, maids, deck-hands and sail-trimmers, would number seventy-two.

The boat, to be named Hussar, was built at the famous Krupp shipyards at Kiel in Germany, and while this was being done Marjorie had full-scale plans of the interior drawn on the floor of a rented New York warehouse. There she spent every spare moment "furnishing" these interior spaces with priceless antiques and heirlooms that would be transferred aboard to the exact same positions when her boat arrived from Kiel.

Hussar became a second home, taking Ed and Marjorie and friends on jaunts to the Caribbean, the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii and the Mediterranean until the dream came to a shattering end in 1934: just four years after taking delivery of Hussar, Ed and Marjorie suddenly divorced – Ed signing the barque over to his ex-wife the next day.

Although she'd been married once before, Marjorie wasted little time as a single lady: just four months after leaving Ed she married an old friend, Joseph (Joe) Davies, an attorney and one-time Presidential Economic Advisor.

Two years later Joe was appointed American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and he and Marjorie took Hussar – which she'd now re-named Sea Cloud – with them, to the delight of Russia's diplomatic circles who were enthralled at being invited to share in something of western decadence, and who helped Marjorie acquire priceless Russian heirlooms for Sea Cloud.

After returning home and when America entered the Second War, the couple patriotically chartered Sea Cloud to the US Coast Guard for a symbolic $1; the magnificent vessel was stripped internally and of masts and sails, and guns mounted on her decks for her to patrol the North Atlantic for enemy subs.

Although Sea Cloud was rebuilt to her former glory after the war, Joe had lost interest in the barque – largely because he suffered miserably from seasickness – and also apparently in Marjorie, and the couple divorced in 1955.

Finding it hard even with her wealth to afford its upkeep, Marjorie decided to sell Sea Cloud – amazingly for a capitalist, to the despotic dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.

Trujillo renamed Sea Cloud as Angelita, and when he was assassinated his family tried to flee with his body and the Angelita to Cannes in France, but the new Dominican government grabbed the yacht and sold it to an American company as a world-roaming "ocean school" for the children of those who could afford such trifles.

The venture failed and the old barque was abandoned for years until a group of German tall-ship enthusiasts rescued her, rotting, in 1978 and took her back to Kiel to be painstakingly restored at a cost of millions.

Eighteen months later she sailed out of Kiel as Sea Cloud once more, and now follows the sun for Sea Cloud Cruises through the Mediterranean, Caribbean and the Atlantic with just 64 passengers who can afford Marjorie's original concept of the Good Life.

(FOOTNOTE: Marjorie remarried for a fourth time just months after divorcing Joe Davies, but that marriage to businessman and fox-hunting enthusiast Herbert May lasted just six years, and when they too divorced – she was then 77 – she retook her original name Marjorie Merriweather Post until her death in 1973.)


[] SEA CLOUD today – restored to her former glory to follow the sun with those seeking Marjorie's good life

[] OPULENT dining room aboard Sea Cloud, replicating Marjorie's original

[] SEA CLOUD as a US Coast Guard patrol boat in WWII – sans luxury interiors, masts and sails

[] MARJORIE MERRIWEATHER POST in her suite aboard her Sea Cloud

Originally issued 2 AUGUST 2010

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