Stalca: Princess Grace of Monaco’s family getaway yacht
by Clare Mahon
What would you do to get away from it all if you were not only Hollywood’s highest-wattage star but Europe’s most glamorous princess as well? If everywhere you went you were followed both by court protocol and a slew of unruly paparazzi, how and where could you get some time alone with your family?
For Princess Grace of Monaco those questions seem to have been very pertinent. “I have many duties and obligations of state along with my husband,” she told a US newspaper in 1971, “but my family comes first.”
In the early 1970s she and her husband, Prince Rainier III, commissioned the Dutch shipyard Visch Holland to custom build them a 25 metre yacht. The couple had already owned a yacht together, the 44.5 metre Deo Juvante II (now named Grace), a wedding gift from Aristotle Onassis that they used for their honeymoon and later sold. But now they were looking for something different.
While other royal families were cruising the seas in luxurious behemoths, with ranks of crew and extra cabins to fill with guests, turning heads everywhere they went, Stalca seemed like a conscious decision to pare down and hide in plain sight.
A 25 metre yacht was by no means small by the day’s standards, but it would have been too small for guests and would not have required many crew. Most of all, it would not have attracted unwanted attention.
Stalca, the Principality of Monaco’s royal yacht, was much like a place where Grace Kelly might have enjoyed a family vacation as a child growing up in Philadelphia — a lodge in the Adirondacks or a cabin in the Maine woods perhaps. With four guest cabins — a master suite, a VIP and two double bunk cabins — she had room for family, albeit a royal family, and little else; crew quarters could sleep two, everything and everyone else would have to stay ashore. Even the yacht’s name includes family and nothing else — it’s an acronym of the names Stephanie, Albert and Caroline.
Maybe the reason that there are so few photographs of Stalca today is because the Grimaldis’ discretion worked. There are just a
few paparazzi shots of Europe’s most beautiful royal children jumping off the side of the yacht for a swim while Grace watched over them, happy and unscripted. There are probably more Stalca summer memories pasted in the Grimaldi family photo albums than were ever splashed over the covers of gossip magazines and that, for a family such as theirs, was a feat.
Over the years Stalca has changed hands and homeport several times, but she has finally found a new family. “We were at the Palma Boat Show in 2015 and went out on a sea trial aboard Stalca,” says Janet Wotherspoon, her new owner. “Our good friend Andrew Winch, who we met through our children, was also in Palma so we asked if he wanted to come along. At the time we were looking for a charter and Stalca was just that: a charter yacht that worked the Palma Bay area. But as we were motoring about it came out that she could be for sale too.”
“Stalca had just the sort of look that Iain [Janet’s husband] liked,” adds Winch. “She was the perfect fit for them, their two children and grandchild. They liked the history, the balance, the proportions and the strength of the boat.”
“We had a 23 metre fibreglass Fairline Squadron, so this was a big change,” Janet says. “Andrew was wonderful with advice throughout the project — suggestions on what he thought would be right.”
What everyone agreed on was that it was important not to be slaves to Stalca’s history, not to over-emphasise that she was “royal” but to live on her as Grace would have done: comfortably, discreetly and, well, gracefully. As Janet says: “She’s our boat. I love the provenance, but I’m not going to harp on about it.”
After enjoying a first summer aboard in the Palma area, the Wotherspoons wanted to take Stalca beyond the Med, maybe even up to the west coast of Scotland. Because they wished to charter the yacht when they weren’t using her, they decided to bring her up to MCA safety standards.
But when they took the boat to STP in Palma and hauled her out of the water it became clear that the assessment done at the time of sale was a bit optimistic: as so often happens in these cases, Stalca’s superyacht refit turned out to be a rebuild.
“STP has an open management model and does not dedicate itself directly to the refit, but to the management of the space and to the services of lifting, launching, standing and water and electricity, among others,” says STP manager Joan Rosselló.
“For this reason, we are positively valued by captains and boat owners who want to choose specific companies to carry out each job. In the case of Stalca, they contacted the best specialists in paint, bilges, plumbing, air conditioning, engines, electricity, furnishing and interiors for their refit. Customers appreciate our system because it allows them to control quality and their budget.”
For the Wotherspoons, this was certainly a hands-on project. “For us it was in for a penny, in for a pound. We wanted to do a comprehensive job and make Stalca a truly seaworthy yacht,” Janet says.
“To implement the MCA requirements for the yacht, handrails, stanchions and even the bow had to be at a higher position,” Winch says. “What I did was draw a small profile with a higher bulwark to show them what it could look like because Stalca looked rather weak on the bow. The higher bulwark gives it MCA safety, but it also makes for a very nice and discreet foredeck, where you can relax on loungers, catch the sunshine and no one can see you.”
Janet adds: “With baby gates at the head of the side passageway, the space is great for my grandson.” A testimony to Stalca’s time spent in the Balearic Islands is a swim platform that was added aft. “We decided to keep it, but had to resolve some balance and sloshing problems. Now it’s just as it should be.”
With the hull stripped down to the metal and the new bow in place, Janet considered a different hull colour. “I was thinking of blue, but in the end stayed with the original off-white because Andrew advised against a darker colour. It’s just too hard to keep clean and free from saltwater deposits. We’re very happy with the painting and fairing work done by Rolling Stock in Palma.”
Interestingly, vintage photos show that Stalca’s top deck was not a living space when she was a royal yacht: the only access to that area, used principally to stow a Zodiac-type tender and what looks like a Laser, was a steep companionway in the crew cabin. “We added a retractable stair from the main deck aft and made what used to be just a storage space with an outdoor helm station into a lovely sundeck. Actually, that’s where we spend most of our time when we’re aboard,” Janet says.
The Wotherspoons have a vintage photo of a young Prince Albert, hair tousled by the wind, using the top deck helm, and another one of Prince Rainier helming like an old salt, with a cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth. The Wotherspoons kept the original Plexiglas box that protected the controls, but all the technology under it is new. After some careful calculation and reinforcing work, the tender and a launching crane are now stowed on the overhang that shades the aft guest cockpit.
As far as engines, generators, wiring and navigation equipment that had to be changed, it’s probably better not to ask. “The ambition from day one was to keep her as original as possible,” Janet says. “Where we could we reconditioned, but some things were just too far gone. We tried to recondition the windlass, but ended up with all new chains and anchors. But the ship’s bell, which proudly reads ‘Stalca Monaco’, is original.”
While installing all new technology aboard a vintage yacht requires biting the bullet economically, it does have advantages: today you can get a lot more brain and power into a lot less space. The Wotherspoons have made the best, and at times the most unexpected, use of spaces that were freed up after outmoded technology was replaced.
The large teak box in the pilothouse that held the old SSB radio has now become a handy wine cellar. Large and cumbersome AC units have been removed to free up cabin space and smaller, more efficient units have been installed directly into existing furniture. A former AC cover in Stalca’s main saloon now houses a retractable flatscreen TV and Sonos sound system. One old fashioned feature that the Wotherspoons kept, much to their captain’s delight, are the sturdy Caterpillar engines. “No electronics,” he says with a grin.
Once the hull, systems and wiring were up to standard, Janet could get started on the interiors. “When we bought Stalca she had been ‘done up’ on an awful royal theme — lots of gold and purple; tassels, chandeliers and things. I think that it’s very romantic that this yacht is almost 50, but I didn’t want to do it as a ‘princess yacht’ because I don’t think that the Grimaldis lived on it like that.
“The galley is huge and very comfortable. I can really see Grace in there, getting a meal ready herself. Even the pilothouse is big, the whole family could have been in there, helming, talking and watching the world go by. While there is a lot of me in the interior now, I tried to keep her as original as possible, respecting her patina.”
Keeping the patina meant sanding off layers of varnish that made banisters sticky, but waxing the teak panelling; cleaning up the portholes, but respecting their original finish; deciding that chrome, rather than brass, would be the metal finish of choice throughout. Stripping back the princess effect meant removing a bookcase, a formal dining area, and other fussy touches from the main saloon.
“Stalca is a girl from the 1970s and so am I, so I decided to embrace it,” Janet says. “It was a wonderful time to be a teenager, after the barriers had been broken down in the 1960s and before computers. We really enjoyed the sense of freedom. I’m about the same age as Princess Caroline and for me she was always an icon of style.
“I remember looking at the magazines and seeing the outfits she wore; if she had a pair of wide white trousers, I’d go out and look for some too. She has always been so chic. It’s really nice to think that she was on this yacht, having fun.”
Janet began to research the best in 1970s style through the website No Repro, a mid-century furniture specialist. “Unfortunately for me, this stuff is very collectable these days,” she says with a laugh. She kept the original dining table in the aft guest cockpit “because we’re Scottish; we’re fine eating outdoors”.
The freed up main saloon space now has a rosewood and a chrome Pieff side table that has been fully adapted for marine use. “I got Andrew on this one. He loved it and maybe even copied it.” Other design pieces are Merrow Associates side tables, vintage Spanish leather armchairs and Italian leather couches.
Winch provided some ideas for colour themes, but Janet stuck with cream and (royal) blue with orange accents. Most fabrics are Jane Churchill. “What I wanted to do was to soften the interiors and make them more comfortable. The ceilings have Alcantara panels now and where I can I have lined table tops with leather. Little touches like reading lights beside the beds make a world of difference.”
The previous owner had plugged the Grace Kelly theme with movie posters and stills as artwork. “But I don’t think she would have wanted that,” Janet says. These have been replaced with prints by artists like Mirò, Chagall and Sir Terry Frost, who captured the spirit of the French Riviera in the 1970s. An Eileen Gray carpet in the main saloon is in a pattern called Blue Marine, also the name of a charity that both Prince Albert and Andrew Winch support.
But one piece in particular has captured Janet’s heart: a painting of Stalca done as a gift from the Wotherspoons’ gardener. “I’m sorry, but if we should ever sell this yacht, that painting is coming with us. It was such a kind gesture and it really means a lot to us.” But, like Grace, they will leave a legacy of care and respect, and a family haven fit for a princess.
First published in the November 2017 edition of Boat International.