The seven lives of the SEA CLOUD

A windjammer that has made history
The seven lives of the SEA CLOUD

Money was not an issue when Wall Street broker Edward Francis Hutton had the world’s largest private sailing yacht built in Kiel in 1931. He gave his wife, the glamorous Marjorie Merriweather Post, a free hand in the interior design of the new “Hussar”. She furnished the four-master in a style-conscious manner with selected antiques and thus shaped its unmistakable character. The Hutton family spent at least nine months at sea each year, heading for the most exotic destinations.


“Four pylons!”, the eccentric Marjorie Merriweather Post had insisted. After all, she had to outdo the three-master of her millionaire acquaintances. Marjorie moved in elitist circles: As heiress to the “General Foods” group and successful businesswoman, representation was part of her everyday life. Whether in her Villa Mar-a-Lago in Florida, the flats on New York’s Fifth Avenue or on board a private yacht – Marjorie loved to impress her guests with luxury.

With her husband, the good-looking financier Edward F. Hutton, she opened doors for herself. He too had grown up in wealth and was happy to add another ship to the Hutton family fleet. In 1931 he had today’s SEA CLOUD built at the Germania shipyard in Kiel according to plans by the renowned American design office Gibbs & Cox.

Marjorie was responsible for the interior design of the new four-master. She took almost two years to equip her “baby” at its finest. In a warehouse in Brooklyn she drew the outline of the ship’s interior in original scale on the floor. Then she built up the lovingly selected antiques there in the way they would later stand in the seven luxury cabins. Marjorie bought French antiques and sideboards in the old German style, combined dainty bedside tables with massive boards and had golden taps made in the shape of swans. Her very own style mix of creativity and decadence still amazes us today.

After its launch in the last week of April 1931, the largest private sailing yacht in the world at the time was christened HUSSAR. The yard sailor with the black hull was now to take the Huttons wherever they considered their presence desirable for reasons of representation, business interest or simply for adventure. Marjorie, Edward and their daughter Nedenia, called “Deenie”, headed for exotic destinations such as the Galapagos Islands or Hawaii.

But the luxury life under white sails was soon overshadowed: The marriage of Marjorie Merriweather Post and Ed Hutton fell into a crisis – and in August 1935 the couple divorced.

After the painful separation from her husband, Marjorie quickly found comfort in her old friend Joseph E. Davies. He was so very different from the conservative Edward – namely monogamous, liberal and politically active. The successful lawyer knew his way around the world: he had been one of President Wilson’s economic advisors at the peace negotiations in Versailles after World War I.

Marjorie’s marriage to Joseph on 15 December 1935 gave her life a new direction: from then on, the attractive woman moved not only in the circles of business magnates, but also in the world of politics and diplomacy. At the beginning of 1937 Davies took over the post of American ambassador in Moscow. The SEA CLOUD was now ordered to Leningrad as a floating (and tap-proof) diplomatic palace. This once again significantly increased the SEA CLOUD’s social obligations.

Marjorie understood brilliantly how to establish contacts with the diplomatic scene. And the Soviet celebrities gladly took her invitations as an opportunity to study Western luxury life more closely. A number of crowned heads were also guests at the SEA CLOUD at that time, including Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.

Over time, however, the journeys started from Leningrad became increasingly threatening. The SEA CLOUD encountered warships more and more often along the way. A planned voyage to the Black Sea was cancelled because enemy submarines were supposed to have already stopped there. In June 1938 the SEA CLOUD bid farewell to the USSR and sailed to Istanbul.

Most guests on board the SEA CLOUD carelessly walk past the small, white panel with the five brass angles, which is screwed to the front of the wheelhouse below the bridge. Only very few know: Each angle stands for half a year of active military service for the USA.

The patriotic act of Marjorie and her third husband Joseph Davies is often described as a heroic sacrifice: Instead of a son, they would have sent the SEA CLOUD to the Second World War. But in fact the couple had tried to sell the windjammer shortly before the USA entered the war. By that time, the market for luxury yachts had already collapsed. An estimate indicated that Marjorie would only have received $275,000 for her gem.

The United States was drawn into the Second World War by the raid on Pearl Harbour at the end of 1941. And shortly afterwards, the Navy began to acquire private yachts to strengthen the fleet and to equip them for submarine hunting, patrolling and weather observation.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was a close friend of diplomat Davies, had initially rejected the SEA CLOUD’s military service on the grounds that the yacht was far too beautiful for such a mission. But in 1942 even the USA could no longer afford aesthetic categories of this kind. For the symbolic charter of one dollar, the Coast Guard took over the SEA CLOUD, dismantled the masts, figurehead and bowsprit and had the hull painted grey.

Not much was left of the impressive millionaire yacht. Equipped with guns and anti-submarine weapons, she now cruised under the name IX-99 in the sea area around the Azores and south of Greenland. As a floating weather station, the ship transmitted current data to Arlington/Virginia every four hours.

As one of the first coast-guard ships, the IX-99 also gave African Americans the chance to prove themselves in maritime service. The 173 crew on board included four black officers and 50 boatmen – a critically observed experiment at the time. But the crew proved themselves: at the end of 1944, Marjorie and Joseph were able to receive the SEA CLOUD again.

While all other yacht owners had lost their ships in the war or sold them to the Navy, the SEA CLOUD was the only private luxury ship of this size still in service immediately after the end of the war. As early as July 4, 1946, Joseph and Marjorie, along with seven friends, set sail for the Florida coasts. Although the sailing yacht had to do without her masts, she was painted bright white again – and her bow was again adorned with the golden eagle.

In the summer of 1947 the rigging was rebuilt. In 1949 the SEA CLOUD finally received a full set of new sails, which were hard to get even for millionaires after the war. In total, the SEA CLOUD took nearly four years to restore. Full of excitement, Joe and Marjorie finally awaited the return of their restored ship in one of the upper floors of a Palm Beach hotel. When it finally appeared on the horizon under full gear, Joe remarked to Marjorie: “Well, Dear – there goes your baby.

She immediately set about manoeuvring her baby and herself back into the centre of social interest. The largest and most beautiful private yacht in America was now mostly sighted off the east coast of the USA. Joe Davies, who was prone to seasickness, was quite happy not to have to go on a voyage of discovery into little-known waters. Now he could concentrate on his friendships, for example with the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. The dictator was entertained more often than anyone else on board and even then had a highly desirable eye on the yacht.

Meanwhile, Marjorie came to the conclusion that she could no longer maintain the luxury yacht – the costs for the 72-man crew had risen immeasurably. The third marriage of the now 78-year-old also fell into crisis. And so she decided to sell her ship in the early 50s.

For months, Marjorie searched for a buyer for the SEA CLOUD. That was the signal for the man who had been invited aboard as a guest more often than anyone else: Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, brutal head of state of the Dominican Republic. The autocratic tyrant with a penchant for splendid uniforms had seized power after a coup in 1930. Twenty years later he dominated all sectors of the economy: he dominated banks, the press and the tobacco, rum and sugar industries. He had practically the entire country’s treasury at his disposal.

In 1955 Trujillo bought the SEA CLOUD – and immediately gave it a new name: ANGELITA. But after a short time, the dictator lost interest in his new acquisition. Without further ado he left the ANGELITA to his son Rafael jr., called Ramfis. Instead of studying law in the USA, Ramfis preferred to devote himself to his career as a playboy and party animal. Under Ramfis’ command, the champagne on the windjammer gushed in streams and Hollywood stars came and went on the ANGELITA.

When Ramfis had squandered around a million dollars, things became too colourful for his father: he ordered the ship back home and threw his son off the ship. In 1961 the party was finally over for the dictator himself. On 30 May his car convoy was ambushed and Trujillo was shot. His clan could not hold on to power for long after the assassination. In the same year his family was forced to leave the Dominican Republic.

Son Ramfis had his father exhumed and tried to leave for Cannes on the ANGELITA with the body, part of the Trujillo clan and enormous amounts of cash. But shortly before reaching the Canary Islands the ANGELITA received a radio message: the new government forced the crew to return. The ANGELITA sailed back to the Dominican Republic, was renamed PATRIA and offered for sale again.

After the Dominican government sold him the PATRIA, the new owner Clifford Barbour planned to restore it to its former glory. As an exclusive cruise ship, the windjammer was to become the pride of the oceans again. Barbour renamed the PATRIA ANTARNA and wanted to have her completely overhauled in Naples. But there was massive trouble with the American tax authorities. The ship was chained up and condemned to inactivity once again.
Then the 26 years young Stephanie Gallagher appeared on the scene. Together with her husband Charles she was obsessed with the idea of “Oceanic Schools”. On board tall ships, students were to supplement their academic studies with a programme at sea. Stephanie Gallagher made a deal with Clifford Barbour: “Oceanics” would pay all outstanding bills and fees of ANTARNA. In return, the owner would give her the yacht for an extremely low charter rate.
Unfortunately, the parties later remembered the details of this verbal contract very differently. Stephanie had the ANTARNA repaired by her dedicated crew of young people and set sail. Clifford Barbour and his representative John Blue stayed ashore – together with the ship’s papers. They denied having given the yacht to Stephanie and from then on pursued her as a pirate.
Things were not exactly running smoothly on board either: the cooling system had failed, the engines were overheating and the atmosphere was becoming increasingly tense. Whichever port the ANTARNA was calling at, John Blue was already there to recapture “his” ship. In Panama Blue finally came on board with lawyers and policemen. The ship was searched for drugs, cut off from the fresh water supply and harassed until the Gallaghers and their crew gave up and disappeared.

For eight years the ANTARNA was at the mercy of the destructive sun and high humidity of Panama. But then salvation was near – in the person of a captain from Hamburg.
In the port of Colón the ANTARNA presented a sad picture. The once so self-confident windjammer had not been moved for eight years. Now the tropical climate was seriously affecting the rigging, decks and hull. But although she was no longer “in business”, the floating legend was not forgotten by the lovers of proud sailing ships.
One of them was the German Hartmut Paschburg, captain on a long voyage and graduate economist, who had already breathed new life into several old sailing ships. He quickly realised that the ANTARNA had a good chance of being torn out of her agony once again, despite her considerable deficiencies. Together with a group of Hamburg merchants, he purchased the luxury yacht – and the first thing he did was give her back her old name: SEA CLOUD.
But the hardest piece of work was yet to come for Captain Paschburg: he had to get his new acquisition across the Atlantic. In mid-July 1978 Paschburg flew to Colón with 38 enterprising men and two women. Together with Panamanian workers, they slaved away for the next few months to make the rotten yacht halfway seaworthy. In mid-October it was time to “Cast off!” – the SEA CLOUD set course for Europe. And on November 15th, 1978, the SEA CLOUD finally arrived in Hamburg Harbor, where she was greeted enthusiastically by thousands.
But the new owners were overcome with ambivalent feelings when they saw their sailing yacht. It quickly became clear that much more money would have to be invested than initially planned. In February 1979 the SEA CLOUD was towed to Kiel through the Kiel Canal, and Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG, successor to the Germania shipyard, began the extensive repair and conversion work. Only eight months later, the SEA CLOUD set out on her first cruise under a new flag.
Since then the magnificent diva has been at home on the world’s oceans again – and receives the attention and care she deserves. From November 2010 to April 2011 the windjammer legend was adapted to the new SOLAS regulations (SOLAS = Safety of life at sea) at the MWB shipyard in Bremerhaven. Between 2 and 13 May 2011, the four-masted barque then presented itself in fresh splendour for the first time in 33 years at the Überseebrücke in Hamburg and also took part in the entry and exit parade of the HAMBURG PORT BIRTHDAY.
The latest renovation has given its aura a new lustre. Her beauty is enchanting. Her majestic pride captivates everyone. For many, the SEA CLOUD is the true centre of a journey – and simply incomparable.

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