princess grace and prince rainier on their honeymoon yacht, the 44-metre yacht Grace

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The princess and the sea: the story of Grace Kelly's honeymoon yacht

5 February 2024 • Written by Holly Margerrison

BOAT peels back the layers on the nearly century-old vessel, where she's gone from a hardy naval ship to a honeymoon gift fit for a princess...

What's in a name? For the 44.8-metre Camper & Nicholsons yacht Grace, it's hard to pinpoint that one pivotal moment. In her close to 100 years on the water, she has played host to a roster of impressive guests, from royalty and politicians to Navy commanders and, more recently, to charter guests. Built at the British shipyard's Southampton facility, she hit the water in 1928 and was delivered to Argentinian entrepreneur Jacques “Santiago” Soulas, who named her Monica after his daughter. 

Four years later, she was sold to a Greek gentleman named Zarch Couyoumbian, who then named the yacht Rion. By 1938, she was back on the market and snapped up by the chairman of the Prudential Insurance Co., Sir George Tilley. 

Her finest hour: the war years

Credit: YPI

Her jazz-age years were relatively short-lived. At the onset of war in 1939, she was enlisted by the British government where she joined the British Navy and was renamed HMS Rion.  Throughout this chapter, the yacht became inextricably bound to the turning point in the war – the Battle of Dunkirk.

The Royal Navy needed smaller vessels like HMS Rion for coastal patrols and she was sent to a small shipyard in Tynemouth where her furnishings and teak panelling were substituted for machine guns, hammocks and anti-submarine warfare weaponry to hunt and sink German submarines. 

Most famously, on 26 May, 1940, during Operation Dynamo, HMS Rion was dispatched to the beaches of Dunkirk to help evacuate the hundreds of soldiers trapped there. She made three 39-mile trips from Dunkirk to Dover, collecting 300 soldiers with each run. On the third trip, she suffered a blow off her starboard bow, where 14 soldiers and one sailor were killed and shrapnel punctured holes in the hull. After repairs in Portsmouth, she continued duty in the channels from Portsmouth to Southampton.

Credit: YPI

Her efforts didn't stop there. HMS Rion was also involved in a daring nighttime capture of a German E-boat in 1940 and, later, in the discovery of a submarine in 1941. A few months on, the vessel's port engine had taken a slight battering, so she was decommissioned for a short period.

She returned to the water with a red cross painted across her sides and upper deck, where she was renamed HMS Noir and became an annexe to the Royal Naval Hospital until the war's end. She was decommissioned in 1945, returned to her original shipbuilders for restoration and, with a few more stories in her structure, made her way back to Sir George Tilley.

A yacht fit for a princess

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Post-war, she came into her element as the princess's yacht. She was bought by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who famously rescued, rebuilt and owned the 99.15-metre superyacht Christina O (named after his daughter and wife, Christina and Jackie O). Onassis restored the yacht to her original beauty, renamed her Arion and added her to his charter fleet – reportedly hosting Winston Churchill – before offering her as a wedding gift to Prince Rainier III and his bride-to-be, Grace Kelly, in 1956. 

The Hollywood actress travelled aboard the SS Constitution ship for eight days from New York to Monaco with her family, six bridesmaids, poodle and more than 50 bits of luggage, before the royal couple were legally married in a private civil ceremony in the palace throne room. Following their official nuptials, their grand fairytale wedding took place in Monaco's Saint Nicholas Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Immaculate Lady. Located in front of Port Hercules at the foot of the train station, most yacht-goers will be familiar with the Cathedral of Monaco, where the prince and princess exchanged their vows in French.

The newlyweds rechristened their wedding gift Deo Juvante II and sailed into Monaco harbour to rapturous applause; the entire principality flooded the docks to wish the couple fair winds and following seas on their seven-week honeymoon – a Mediterranean idyll cruising along the coasts of Corsica and Sardinia.

They eventually parted with the yacht in 1958.

Read More/Tying the knot: romantic weddings, receptions and honeymoons at sea

Grace: the charter yacht today

Credit: YPI

Today, charter guests can share a part of the yacht-with-many-name's history.  In 2011, the yacht was once again renamed Grace in a nod to her Hollywood associations and she now charters with Yachting Partners International (YPI) starting at a weekly rate of $134,000. According to BOATPro, she was renamed in 2007 and was most recently refitted in 2009 with a new upper deck to become a charter yacht in the Galápagos Islands, where the itinerary is heavily focused on wildlife watching with naturalist guides. 

The historic yacht has been renewed from bow to stern, where she can accommodate 16 guests across nine cabins, including the famous Grace Kelly Suite, with further accommodation for a crew of 12. Guests can make the most of her ample spaces, including a main saloon, dining area, well-stocked bar, library and al fresco lounge. There are also charter favourites including a hot tub and a solarium.

Today, charter guests can still see the Deo Juvante II engraving on the wheel

With nearly a century of seafaring under her belt, Grace has seen and heard some of the most defining moments in global history. After a rollercoaster early start to life, it's fair to say the 45-metre has earned a more peaceful chapter as a charter yacht in the Galápagos Islands, encapsulating all that it is to be Grace – always moving in a smooth, controlled, and attractive way.

Read More/Stalca: Princess Grace of Monaco’s family getaway yacht

More about this yacht

Camper & Nicholsons   44.81 m •  1928

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