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Nicky Haslam's 6 favourite sailing memories

Nicky Haslam's 6 favourite sailing memories

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Yacht-spotting in St Tropez

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Interior designer, socialite, writer and bon viveur Nicky Haslam is a regular guest on board the yachts of the great, the good and the merely fabulous. Here he shares his happiest seafaring memories...

Towards the end of the 1950s, living in St Tropez, we would reel out of Ghislaine’s, one of the world’s first discothèques, to see Stavros Niarchos’s ravishing black-hulled and famously cursed 63 metre sailing yachtCreole (pictured) had sailed in overnight, or Gianni Agnelli’s racers, pencil-slim, scudding away below a million sails and, once, the flamboyant Chilean millionaire Arturo López Willshaw’s fantasy, La Gaviota (now Marala), her décor by Emilio Terry of giraffe-skin-velvet upholstered banquettes, Louis XVI furniture and Ming-potted palms as deliciously, extravagantly impractical then as they would be today. Off Tahiti Plage, we’d lunch on movie producer Sam Spiegel’s Malahne (contemporary of Shemara, on which her then owner, Lady Docker, had got into deep do-do for tearing up the Monagesque flag), with Betty Bacall and Jean Vanderbilt diving, lithe as ribbons, into the sun-splintered sea.

Don’t think for a moment I actually went on board these fabled craft, except for Sam Spiegel’s. Rather, just gazed, in mute admiration. Later, for one Aegean-sailed August, friends and I hired a leaky tub that took on water so alarmingly we had to abandon ship with Prince and Princess Michael of Greece’s gleaming white hull handily towering over us.

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Sailing the Med on board Tartar

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My first experiences of actual grand seafaring were summer weeks spent on newspaper proprietor Seymour Camrose and Joan Aly Khan’s twin-screw ketch, Tartar; loftily flying the White Ensign guaranteed a masthead ballet of dipped burgees, and possibly a welcoming gun-salute, in every port from Salonica to the Costa Smeralda, where Joan’s son, the Aga Kahn, had just unleashed his ocean-going Kalamoun, arrow-sleek and faster than the wind, on unsuspecting co-racers, while his torpedo-slim Shergar gurgled alongside.

And moored mountain-like nearby was Adnan Khashoggi’s Nabila (now Kingdom 5KR - pictured), the original superyacht, riveting for having an “auxiliary potato-peeler” button in the vast galley and a handful of yawning young, hired to get up and dance when anyone entered the strobe-pulsing onboard nightclub, whether at 9pm or 5am; to say nothing of a bizarre couple named Ricky and Sandra Portanova, who were docked – “parked up” would better indicate their gaudy galleon’s girth – in Monaco. Ricky, no stranger to a tot or two of rum, aroused the ire of Prince Rainier by frequently relieving himself on the steps of the Hotel de Paris, and the banished Portanovas had to high-sail it away to Morocco – “after all, that king lets you pee anywhere”, as Princesse de Polignac astutely commented.

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Discovering southern Turkey

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And, as sooner or later everyone must, I discovered the southern shore of Turkey. Initially I drove its length, swerving off treacly tarmac to climb every mountain to ruined arenas, waded out to submerged temples: deep, rippled white marble monoliths more emotive than any museum. And, owing to divine providence, I met premier Turkish hostess Cigdem Simavi, who, with her newspaper proprietor husband Haldun, had recently founded Göcek, now a world-renowned yacht haven. As well as their Halas, a 1914 Clyde-built coastal cruiser, later pressed into service for the Dardanelles campaign, now reincarnated as the last word in maritime luxe for her seasonal stately steam from the Sublime Porte to these calm Carian coastal waters, Cigdem had her own, far more intimate, floating pleasure-dome.

Melek was no commonplace gulet but a three-mast schooner, wide-keeled, her only stateroom a seagoing ottoman divan of wide low sofas, soft cushions and furry throws for chillier daybreaks. Somewhere, cheek-by-jowl with bunk-like cabins, was a galley from which Cigdem conjured her exquisite Circassian chicken, or Black Sea turbot grilled over sweet-scented wood, to be lazily relished before a fall into the limpid depths of yet another turquoise bay, while her sons scampered like tanned acrobats up into the rigging.

photo: Adobestock

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