Having survived two wars, seizure by the French and a succession of blue-blooded yachtsman, Shenandoah of Sark has had a truly remarkable life. As she joins the market with Burgess and Sandeman Yachting, we walk through the history of this 120-year-old classic...
One of the most glamorous classics still sailing the seas, the iconic yacht Shenandoah of Sark has seen it all. A three-masted gaff-rigged schooner, Shenandoah of Sark has been owned by aristocrats, royalty and even smugglers. She’s hosted fabulous parties and hidden away during war times. She’s sailed in regattas and gone around the world multiple times. She was nearly lost to history more than once, but was thankfully saved from dereliction to come back stronger, better and even more beautiful than before.
The 54.35-metre sailing yacht Shenandoah of Sark was originally commissioned for the wealthy American banker Charles Fahnestock. Shenandoah of Sark was his retirement plan – meant to be the ultimate luxury on which he could travel through the Caribbean and Mediterranean. She was designed by Theodore Ferris, who was inspired by the lines of Meteor III, the yacht owned by German Emperor and King of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Shenandoah of Sark is a true specimen of the Golden Age of yachting and was highly celebrated upon her launch in 1902, built by Townsend & Downey Shipyard in New York. Notably, she is Ferris’s only yacht still sailing today.
Her ownership reads like a list of the who’s who of elite yachting aficionados, spanning many generations and continents. “One of the things that makes Shenandoah of Sark so iconic is that she has an amazing history of owners,” says her captain Russel Potter. After spending many happy years in the Med with her original owner, she was sold to German aristocrat Landrat Walter Von Bruining, though his ownership was sadly short-lived. As World War I broke out, Shenandoah of Sark was appropriated by the British military, and after the war she belonged to British shipbuilder Sir John Esplen. She again changed hands to Godfrey Williams, who sold her to the Italian Prince Ludovico Potenziani. He named her Atlantide, refitted her interior to be even more elegant and hosted epic parties on board. During one such soiree, the Danish Count Viggo Jarl came on board and offered to buy the yacht on the spot.
Jarl lovingly updated the yacht further and prepared her for her first of many epic adventures. Under his ownership, as Atlantide, she travelled to Central and South America and even went 500 miles up the Amazon River. During World War II, she was dismasted and the engines were removed so she would be of no use to the Nazis. After the war, she continued her sophisticated life. She is reported to have been in Monaco when Prince Rainier married Grace Kelly. When Jarl fell on hard times, she was sold and entered into a period where her history is a bit murky – she is rumoured to have been used to smuggle drugs and guns around the Caribbean.
In 1962, she was seized in France and sat unused and unloved for a decade. “She was eventually bought by Baron Marcel Bic, the inventor of the Bic pen,” says Potter. “He restored her to her current setup.” The Baron also reinstated her original name, Shenandoah of Sark. The Bich family enjoyed her for 14 years, during which time she sailed back to the United States and was visited by members of the Kennedy clan.
During the 1980s, Shenandoah of Sark became a superstar of sorts, used as the backdrop for Vogue magazine photoshoots and Rod Stewart music videos. Then her next owner, industrialist Philip Bommer, relocated her to Southeast Asia, where she was offered for charter. But at the dawn of the 20th Century, she once again faced hard times and disuse. “She was rotting away in Thailand and was found by a German gentleman who restored her back to her current grace,” says Potter. She limped to New Zealand and was impeccably restored by the McMullen & Wing shipyard. Shenandoah of Sark then competed in the Millennium Cup in New Zealand and later in the America’s Cup Jubilee Regatta in 2001 off the Isle of Wight in the UK.
“To go through those chapters of boom and bust and crazy owners, that’s part of what makes her so unique,” says Potter. But she still had much more life to live. In the past 20 years, she’s logged many more miles, travelling as far as South Georgia island off Antarctica. “We spent three weeks down there exploring Shackleton’s path – you couldn’t do this with common classic yachts,” he says.
Flying a total sail area of 2,646 square metres, the other thing that makes Shenandoah of Sark such an iconic yacht is the actual experience of sailing her. “Even after all these years, I still enjoy the experience of being on board when she’s under full sail,” says Potter. “It’s something special watching all the sails go up and leaning her over and putting the wind on the beam – feeling the power of this boat is just incredible.”
Though her captain points out that unlike many yachts of her day that are narrow and fast, Shenandoah of Sark wasn’t built for racing. “She’s big – she was built as a superyacht, which back in the day was quite opulent,” he says. Shenandoah of Sark participates in races and regattas, but she’s really better suited to go around the world than around the racecourse. Captain Potter praises her seaworthiness, and her track record backs it up. Shenandoah of Sark has completed three circumnavigations with her current owners, going to places like Madagascar and the South Pacific. She currently is offered for charter, so other classic lovers can appreciate her splendour.
“She’s still timeless when you come on board – you get that feeling of stepping back in time, but you’re also on a superyacht with five-star luxury,” says Potter. “She still has her original bell on board, the rivets on some of the frames from 1902, parts of the hull – not the actual plating but the frame – and the keel is original. It’s quite cool, you think, ‘wow, that’s very old.’” And she is constantly being updated. “It’s like preserving a piece of history,” says Potter.
The way in which classic owners consider themselves custodians of history, classic yacht crew also appreciate the vintage nature of such boats. Shenandoah of Sark was Captain Potter’s first job in yachting – he joined as a deckhand in 2002 and worked his was way up to officer, then went on to other boats, but came back when she needed a new captain. “Most classic sailboats tend to have low crew turnovers, because it’s not just about the money but looking after a piece of history and having a bit of pride and admiration for what we do,” he says.
Shenandoah of Sark was recently listed for sale and is looking for a new custodian to take her into the next century and beyond. Like many classic yachts who have lived far longer than the people who sail her today, the iconic yacht Shenandoah of Sark has seen it all. She has been owned by and enjoyed by royalty and aristocrats, survived two World Wars, come back from the dead and sailed to the farthest flung reaches of the earth. If these decks could only talk.