Christina O classic superyacht

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The real story behind the Triangle of Sadness superyacht

22 November 2022 • Written by Holly Overton , Peter Boulton and Roger Lean-Vercoe

When an unhinged captain, celebrity model couple and an elderly arms dealer find themselves on a luxury cruise ship, things take a turn for the worse in Ruben Östlund's Triangle of Sadness. As the glossy satire is released in theatres, we dive into the colourful history of the film's true star (no, not Woody Harrelson), the 99.15 metre superyacht Christina O.

Christina O is no stranger to celebrity fanfare. With classic lines and a trademark yellow funnel, some might say she was destined for the screen and even secured a role in Netflix drama The Crown, starring as the 121.95 metre Alexander, before landing the part of a luxury cruiser in the 2022 comedy Triangle of Sadness. Even in her early years she was often found in the company of A-listers. The former warship was famously rescued and rebuilt by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and her guest list reads like a who's who of Hollywood's finest, the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo and Grace Kelley having all graced her decks.

Classic superyacht Christina O 
Credits: Stef Bravin

Spending $4 million on a yacht in the years of austerity after the Second World War seemed an act of frivolity by Onassis, but it was shrewd philosophy that underpinned what appeared to be a wasteful extravagance. The Canadian anti-submarine frigate HMCS Stormont, which he bought for its scrap value of $34,000 in 1954, was transformed into Christina O: a pleasure palace that vastly enhanced his status – and wealth – as film stars, politicians, bankers and businessmen answered his invitation to ‘come aboard’. 

What sets Onassis apart from the more patrician yacht owners of the day, who valued their privacy above all else, is that he virtually wrote the manual for today’s superyacht lifestyle. Espadrilled, tanned and always with an eye open beneath his sunglasses to the possibilities of a little publicity, he epitomised the roguish glamour of the mega-rich. Who didn’t aspire to a lifestyle that revolved around beautiful women, yachts and film stars? Yet, as a shrewd businessman, he was among the first to realise the potential of a yacht as a business tool. Who knows how many lucrative doors a few days’ hospitality aboard Christina O opened up for the man who began his career as a refugee from Turkish Anatolia with $250 in his pocket and a ticket to Argentina, where he made his first fortune.

Christina O's appeared in Netflix's The Crown

Christina O was named after his first-born child, who inherited her father’s yacht at his death in 1975. However, with the memories of those carefree days perhaps too poignant, Christina donated her namesake to the Greek government in 1978, and a period of slow deterioration followed. Greece was in the hands of a left-wing regime, and the former plaything of a capitalist millionaire was embarrassing.

The yacht was rescued in 1999 by an Onassis family friend, John Paul Papanicolaou, who set about restoring her. The work was more extensive than first thought – 560 tonnes of new steel were required to replace corroded plating – but now with MAN diesels in place of her original steam turbines and many of her original fittings retained, she charters extremely successfully, her 17 cabins putting her into the exclusive mini-cruise liner market, a role that suits her perfectly.

Onassis' unique taste is everywhere – lending a special flavour to an already impressive yacht

Christina O has undergone numerous refits in recent years, which saw some mechanical and repair work undertaken, including careful restoration of her famous Minotaur mosaic swimming pool/dance floor. A new ‘Callas stage’ was also constructed and installed around the base of the funnel. Although there is an official concert room below – for events like the Maria Callas opera recitals that showcase the yacht’s links to the famous soprano – it was considered that in view of all the available Mediterranean sunshine going to waste, an alternative outdoor space would be a sound investment.

Ari’s Bar is one of the most historical parts of the Christina O

The most preserved areas are the Onassis Suite, the famous Ari’s Bar and the concert room. All guest cabins have been completely refurbished in similar style and still use the names of Greek islands, as accorded by Onassis. The pastel colour scheme in all of the cabins was selected by Jackie O and her choice of colour schemes and décor.

Ari’s Bar is one of the most historical parts of the Christina O. Engraved orca whale teeth provide places to hang a handbag, or hold on to, around the circumference of the bar, whose surface is still the original massive piece of timber from a sunken Spanish galleon. Similar orca teeth offer footrests on the stool columns, which are covered with the whale penis skin that Aristotle loved to tell his guests about.

Christina O boasts a total of 17 staterooms

Countless reams have been written about this famous yacht in gossip columns, scandal sheets, fashion magazines and yachting journals – probably more so than any other yacht afloat. Christina O is a celebrity in her own right and represents a golden age, an era of giants, from those who owned her to those who trod her decks and gave everlasting ambience to her interior spaces.

While she is truly an icon of her time, her legacy lives on both on and off the screen.

Christina O is available for charter with Morley Yachts from €700,000 per week.

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