Category Archives: History timeline

History In The Making

Shenandoah's hull designs by Theodore Ferris

Theodore Ferris planned Shenandoah in meticulous detail

It is one thing to be able to buy luxury – it is quite another to own a precious piece of history.

Owning Shenandoah is to be the custodian of glorious slice of maritime history. That is why one Italian industrialist has spent a fortune restoring the ship’s former glory and welcoming her to the heart of his family’s life.

Shenandoah was born in one of the 20th Century’s most glamorous eras. She has survived two World Wars. She has welcomed on board the world’s most powerful families, international royalty and her fair share of smugglers and gamblers. She has raced across oceans and circumnavigated the globe many times.

“She has, in a word, lived.”

Shenandoah under sail at Cowes during the America's Cup Jubilee celebrations

Shenandoah under sail is a majestic sight

She has also faced dereliction and neglect. She was lost to the world before being saved by one of the most successful entrepreneurs ever. She has, in a word, lived. And she has been loved. Not just for her renowned elegance but for her supreme handling on the water. That is why Shenandoah is one of the finest yachts sailing today.

The Ultimate Luxury

Mr & Mrs Fahnstock seated at the front of their carriage

Charles Fahnestock was one of the richest bankers in America. Just after the dawning of a new century, he decided to commission the design and build of a fabulous new sailing yacht.

Her name was to be ‘Shenandoah’. He saw her as the ultimate retirement luxury, a chance to sail the Caribbean and the Mediterranean in a ship that was meant to be both enjoyed and admired. She was built in 1902 at the Townsend & Downey Shipyard near Staten Island, New York – the work of celebrated maritime designer Theodore Ferris. She became one of Ferris’s crowning achievements and the only one of his designs still sailing today.

The Townsend & Downey Shipyard c1902

“…a tribute to the ‘Golden Age of Yachting’…”

The 180 ft three-masted gaff rigged schooner is indeed a tribute to the ‘Golden Age of Yachting’, when grace and elegance were as important as how she sailed. Ferris was inspired by a similar yacht being built in the docks at the time, Meteor III, a phenomenally fast ship belonging to the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Born together,  they became virtual sister ships.

The splendid original interior

Distinctive From The Start

Shenandoah displaying her original rigging in 1902

Shenandoah displaying her original rigging

Initially, Fahnestock cruised Shenandoah from Newport, Rhode Island, and she stood out right from the beginning because at the time her rigging was very new to America.

As a three-masted topsail schooner, the foremast carried two yard-supported rectangular topsails, above its gaff-rigged mainsail, whereas the other two masts carried two triangular topsails above their gaff-rigged mainsails. The yacht kept that rigging until after World War II when the topsails were taken down and she became an ordinary schooner.

“She hosted many glamorous parties…”

She was just as much a talking point in 1905, a few years after her launch, when Fahenstock, now retired, finally fulfilled his ambition to sail to and around the Mediterranean. She hosted many glamorous parties along France’s Cote D’Azur and the Amalfi coast in Italy and for the next seven years, the Med became her home.

Crossing the Atlantic en-route to the Med

Crossing the Atlantic en-route to the Med

Mrs Fahnestock comes aboard at Dinard

Mrs Fahnestock comes aboard at Dinard

Britain’s Pride And Joy

Checking the rigging on Shenandoah

Checking the rigging

Her next owner, German aristocrat Landrat Walter von Bruining, was a trifle unfortunate.

He also saw Shenandoah as the ultimate status symbol and, following a small revamp, renamed her Lasca II and berthed her in Kiel in Germany where she once again met up with the Kaiser’s Meteor III. Summers were spent in Cowes on the Isle of Wight – though not many of them.

Walter von Bruining

Walter von Bruining

Sir John Esplen

Sir John Esplen

In 1914, as war broke out, she was appropriated by the British until the end of hostilities – at which point she became the property of Sir John Esplen who was at the time one of Britain’s greatest shipbuilders.

“…one of the most admired and photographed vessels on the South Coast.”

He, too, recognised Shenandoah’s unique beauty and reinstated her name before installing two gas engines. With her 12-man crew, chief steward, two cooks and two stewards, the Atlantic racer became one of the most admired and photographed vessels on the South Coast.

Beloved By A Playboy Prince

Shenandoah anchored off the glamorous Italian resort of Portofino

Shenandoah anchored off the glamorous Italian resort of Portofino

Until the mid-1920s, she was briefly owned by Godfrey Williams. He instigated what would become Shenandoah’s most glamorous phase when he sold her to a flamboyant Italian Prince, Ludovico Potenziani.

Prince Ludovico Potenziani, one time Mayor of Rome and previous owner of Shenandoah

Prince Ludovico Potenziani

Potenziani again renamed her, this time Atlantide, and added even more opulence to the interior, including immaculate hand-carved wood panelling.

“…sold to a flamboyant Italian Prince…”

For a time, Potenziani was the Mayor of Rome but his open defiance of Mussolini during the rise of fascism in Italy saw him forced into exile. During one especially decadent party in 1929 – when she was berthed in Naples – a guest was received on board and within minutes had declared he would buy the ship, along with the crew (made up of 12 Italian brothers and cousins) there and then. This guest was the wealthy Danish yachtsman, philanthropist and renowned sculptor, Count Viggo Jarl.

Shenandoah when she was known as ‘Atlantide’

Shenandoah when she was known as ‘Atlantide’

Hiding From The Nazis

The crew of Shenandoah preparing for the journey to South America

Preparing for the journey to South America

In many ways, Jarl prepared the ship for the modern era.

Jarl spent a fortune on Shenandoah’s upkeep, maintaining her magnificently. He installed brand-new diesel engines and, for the first time, electricity throughout.

Viggo Jarl, philanthropist, sculptor and previous owner of Shenandoah

Viggo Jarl

For most of the period she was based in Cannes and it was from here that she embarked on a series of extraordinary adventures – not just the length and breadth of the Mediterranean but throughout the Greek islands, through the Red Sea, down to the West Indies and Colombia, through the Panama Canal, over to Hawaii and then further down into South America. Jarl even took Atlantide 500 miles up the Amazon until, “the jungle seemed to close in over the decks, the river was teeming with crocodiles and snakes.”

“…the river was teeming with crocodiles and snakes.”

At the onset of the Second World War, Jarl hid the boat in Northern Europe. He removed both the engines and the masts to render the boat useless to the Nazi’s – and keep her out of  the grasp of sailing enthusiast Hermann Goering who was rumoured to be interested in ‘acquiring’ a yacht of his own.

After the War, her adventures continued. With engines and masts reinstated, she set out on an eleven-month expedition up the Congo and Niger rivers of Africa.

From Kings To Drug Barons

In 1949, under the ownership of Viggo Jarl, guests who were welcomed on board Shenandoah included: Mme Gruss; Count and Countess Knuth: King Christian and Queen Alexandrine of Denmark as well as Edward, The Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallace Simpson.

1949. From left to Right: Mme Gruss; Countess Knuth; Queen Alexandrine of Denmark; Count Knuth; The Danish Consul in Cannes; and Viggo Jarl

Back home in Europe after World War II, Atlantide continued to attract admiration wherever she went.

Members of the European aristocracy were frequent visitors – King Christian and Queen Alexandrine of Denmark; King Umberto of Italy; Baudouin, the young King of Belgium, and his father Ex-King Leopold; even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

So impressed was the Duke, who had abdicated the throne some years before, that he turned to Jarl during one of the Dane’s lavish parties and announced, “I wish I could afford to buy this boat.” She was even seen in Monte Carlo on the night Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco, though it’s not known if Jarl was a guest at the ceremony.

“Rumours abound that she was used to smuggle guns, drugs and all sorts of illegal cargo…”

Sadly the good times could not last. Viggo Jarl found himself ruined by post-war economic difficulties and had to sell the yacht – and thus began a period that is still shrouded in mystery. Apparently, at one point a company in Honduras owned her, then a secretive businessman in Cincinatti, known as Julius Fleischman, took control. Rumours abound that she was used to smuggle guns, drugs and all sorts of illegal cargo throughout the Americas and Caribbean – but hard evidence of these nefarious activities has never been found.

Saved From Ruin

Baron Marcel Bich one of Shenandoah's eminent previous owners

Baron Marcel Bich

It was not only her size and status that made her an ideal vessel for illegal activities, but her enviable speed too.

But it was no way to treat such an elegant craft. Eventually, a little battered and weary, she somehow made her way back to Cannes. A banker named Travers was often to be found holding court on board, but it was rumoured to be owned by the proprietor of a very large publishing house.

“…seized by the French Government as part of an unpaid tax scandal.”

Such mysterious ownership couldn’t last and in 1962 the yacht was seized by the French government as part of an unpaid tax scandal. For the next 10 years, Shenandoah as she once was, didn’t move, slowly decaying. Until a fabulously wealthy industrialist with a ballpoint pen saved her from permanent neglect.

Shenandoah at home in the South of France

Shenandoah at home in the South of France

That man was Baron Marcel Bich – the Italian industrialist whose fortune was founded on the Bic ballpoint pen as well as lighters and other gadgets. In 1970, as the decades turned, he fell in love with Shenandoah and for two years negotiated with the French government to secure ownership of her.

Return To Former Glories

Captain Joe, in all his glory, at he helm of Shenandoah

Captain Joe, in all his glory, at the helm of Shenandoah

The moment the contract was signed – and before he spent a fortune restoring the yacht to its former glory – Bich performed what he considered his most important task.

He changed the ship’s name back to the original Shenandoah. Bich believed that once you name a yacht, that name should remain forever. Then, under his ownership and the the guidance of a Corsican ‘Old Salt’ called Captain Joe, a full renovation was undertaken according to the original plans of the ship’s designer, Theodore Ferris – much to the delight of the Fahnestock family.

“…once you name a yacht, that name should remain forever.”

The hull was stripped, bilges and bulkheads painted, below-deck panelling was taken down and varnished. The hull was lined with cork for insulation and the topsides were painted blue. She was re-rigged as she was when launched except the top masts and mizzen boom were shortened. New Dacron sails were made and new diesel engines were installed.

At last Shenandoah had been returned to her former splendour and she remained a much loved member of the Bich family for 14 years, eventually being run as a charter yacht by Marcel’s son, Francois.

The Voyage Home

Shenandoah during an Atlantic crossing

The voyage home

However, one of Marcel Bich’s last acts as owner was also one of his most poignant.

The Italian’s claim to yachting fame is that he organised and supported the French challenge to the America’s Cup, first in 1970 and then again in 1974. It was on this latter occasion that he decided to take Shenandoah back to her original home of Newport on Rhode Island. Although she didn’t race, her ‘pomp and glory’ was admired by all who saw her.

“…it was her first trip home since 1905…”

For the first time, the ship became treasured not just by an individual but by two nations – France, for she sailed under its flag, and America. It was her first trip home since 1905 but the return was deliberately low-key.

Bich was not an ostentatious billionaire, he preferred to hide himself away from the glare of parties and he used Shenandoah as his personal sanctuary. He hosted only small gatherings during the races, attended by the likes of Caroline Kennedy – the only living child of the former President – as well as Ambassadors and close family.

One Man’s Obsession

A glamorous model poses for Vogue on Shenandoah's polished decks in the 1980s

Posing for Vogue on Shenandoah’s polished decks

This period of heightened fame saw Shenandoah become the location for a celebrated Vogue magazine shoot.

And then the following year Rod Stewart filmed the video for one of his biggest singles, ‘What Am I Gonna Do’, on board Shenandoah when she was resting in Cannes. You can still it on YouTube: It must be the first and only occasion she has sailed under the Scottish flag!

“…it must be the first and only time she has sailed under the Scottish flag!”

Then she reached another, and just as exotic, phase of her life – remaining an ever-present monument to the golden era of sailing,  but this time in the warm waters of Thailand and South East Asia where she was available for charter. Aside from some personal adventures through the Caribbean, it was here where industrialist and new owner Philip Bommer based her.

Fashions change, but Shenandoah's style endures

Fashions change, but Shenandoah’s style endures

Vogue recognised Shenandoah's natural grace and elegance

Vogue recognised Shenandoah’s natural grace and elegance

Bommer, a collector of Impressionist art and rare automobiles, first saw Shenandoah when he was 13. Captivated, he spent the next 20 years dreaming of owning her and finally fulfilled that ambition in 1986, immediately organising an extensive refit. No expense was spared – the expansive teak decks were restored and scrubbed clean, the mahogany was brightened to its original hue and the brass gleamed as if it had been newly installed.

She’s Like A Five Star Hotel

Philip Bommer, one of the lucky owners of Shenandoah

Philip Bommer

The fond reminiscences of passengers tell the story better than anything.

One former captain, Jean Paul Charpentier, kept a scrapbook of thank you notes from some of the many guests he looked after during the 1970s and 80s. “The Shenandoah was like a five-star hotel”, he says. And one passenger from those halcyon years agreed, making special mention of the service from the permanent 10-man crew.

The sumptuously restored main saloon on Shenandoah in the 1980s

The sumptuously restored main saloon

Restrained and polished elegance in the main stateroom of Shenandoah during the 1980s

Restrained and polished elegance in the main stateroom

“We can see from the daily routines that you still keep the brass like in the old days.”

Stephane Desjonquers, who joined the ship in Gaudeloupe is recorded as saying, “This is professionalism at its best. You forget completely that you are with people who are responsible for the ship. The crew are always available for our own personal needs and you almost forget that they are sailing the ship as well.”

Bonnie and Clive Chajet, residents of Park Avenue, New York, were so impressed, they wrote the following, “If we could fit you in a museum we would put you in it – because as many people as possible should appreciate you.” High praise indeed.

Shenandoah has always provided ample space for her fortunate guests to enjoy fine weather

Relaxing in the sunshine

A Stay of Execution

Philip Bommer ensured Shenandoah's brass once again glowed in the sunlight

From coming perilously close to an ignominious ending, a miraculous change of heart meant she lived to sail another day

But the glory days were shortlived.

Just as she began the 20th Century in luxury and celebration, so Shenandoah entered its last decade in disarray. But beneath the dereliction, the dimly discernible lines of a once-beautiful classic yacht seduced a German owner into making her his own.

“Shenandoah was beyond repair and would be… scuttled.”

Against better judgment, she put to sea and sailed to New Zealand, where she arrived battered and badly leaking, barely afloat. In the cold light of rational analysis and no doubt suffering a dose of buyer’s remorse, the owner came to the only logical decision: Shenandoah was beyond repair and would be taken off soundings and scuttled.

Happily however, profound passions, once awakened, are not so easily stilled. Reason was banished and the owner relented, deciding that this once magnificent yacht would be brought back to life after all.

An Award Winning Refit

Shenandoah racing in The Millenium Cup

Racing in The Millennium Cup

The highly respected McMullen & Wing won the contract to bring Shenandoah back to vibrant life.

Many thousands of hours later the yard’s craftsmanship and the owner’s commitment were rewarded as Shenandoah returned to the water, her hull and acres of varnished teak gleaming, her name emblazoned across the transom highlighted in gold.

Shenandoah was brought back to life above decks…

Brought back to life above decks…

Shenandoah's year 2000 refit brought her interiors back to glorious life

…and below

Beautiful African Paddock redwood panelling and exquisite mouldings and details added a stately feeling to the main salon and cabins. All the rooms below decks benefited from a great degree of natural light from overhead skylights. In addition to the dining area below decks, an intimate detachable deck cockpit was designed by Martin Francis to allow Shenandoah to show the clean lines of an all time classic. The massive restoration effort was recognised with the 1996 ShowBoats International Best Classic Yacht Restoration award.

“…the clean lines of an all-time classic.”

The view from Shenandoah's helm is worth savouring

A view worth savouring

The owner achieved his dream of rescuing the boat and returning to New Zealand for the America’s Cup regatta in 2000. Not content to merely sit on the sidelines, Shenandoah also competed in the Millennium Cup superyacht regatta, where she was a major head-turner, even amongst a plethora of the latest and greatest superyachts in the world fleet.

A Deep Authenticity

Shenandoah brings timeless elegance to any anchorage

Shenandoah brings timeless elegance to any anchorage

With his mission accomplished, the German owner put Shenandoah up for sale and she changed hands to her current Italian owner, whose passions have proved just as strong.

“Voyages on Shenandoah are a full immersion into the relaxing atmosphere of a bygone era,” he says, “for not only her beauty but even her motion under sail resonates with a deep authenticity, which allows us a glimpse of the world through the sepia lens of the past. Her historic grace and timeless class give me great pleasure and it is this unique aspect of Shenandoah that I have endeavoured to preserve.’’

“Her historic grace and timeless class give me great pleasure…”

On board Shenandoah you can glimpse the world through the sepia lens of the past

Glimpse the world through the sepia lens of the past

Mounted on a wall in the crew mess on board Shenandoah is a map of the world with multiple spider trails crawling over the blue sections that represent the world’s oceans. Each of these trails represents various voyages by the 55m three-masted schooner. Add them up and they amount to almost five circumnavigations since that 1996 refit. And counting…

Shenandoah is one of the great classic sailing yachts

Shenandoah is one of the great classic sailing yachts

The America’s Cup Jubilee

Sailing past The Needles

Sailing past The Needles

In 2001 Shenandoah competed in the America’s Cup Jubilee Regatta.

Centred on Cowes, in the Isle of Wight, this was a celebration to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the world’s oldest sailing race. The race was a classic, around-the-island competition to replicate the original that took place on August 22nd, 1851. The first time it was run, the race winner was the yacht America.

Proud to be part of the celebrations

Proud to be part of the celebrations

Celebrating a century and a half of yacht racing demanded a prestigious event. The America’s Cup Jubilee Regatta was a worthy commemoration as it was attended by over 200 of the world most famous and photogenic yachts.

A unique combination of power and poetry

A unique combination of power and poetry

Practical Beauty

65,000 hours of care and attention

65,000 hours of care and attention

Further refurbishment has made the boat more practical and more beautiful.

In 2005, a much-needed modification was completed on the crew mess entrance to allow access when at sea. The living quarters are now precisely how Shenandoah’s original owner wanted them to be when class, taste and the fineries of life ruled the waves. When unparalleled luxury meant something. The deck now offers three points of access to the interior and the accommodations now are probably more luxurious than they ever were.

Cared for from top to toe

Cared for from top to toe

A great outlook on land or water

A great outlook on land or water

“…lovingly lavished attention on every minor detail.”

But that has not been the end of the restoration. For several years the Italian owner has lovingly lavished attention on every minor detail, from the brass handles on the antique dressing table, to the art deco light fittings. Most importantly though, he funded a thorough refit of Shenandoah’s mechanics and rig in 2008/09 bringing her back up to the flawless standards that she deserves.

A craftsman's attention to detail

A craftsman’s attention to detail

Teamwork pays off

Teamwork pays off

Shenandoah will always be a treasure to myself, my family, the crew and key contractors who know her. Her upkeep and maintenance is not a chore or task but a responsibility to the past as well as the present. Shenandoah is a labour of love and it is my hope that her beauty may continue to grace the seas for many decades to come.”

The Dream Lives On

There is no better place to watch the sunset than onboard Shenandoah

There is no better place to watch the sunset

‘Those 65,000 hours of work during her refit mean Shenandoah is stronger and more pristine than ever.’

Aside from the interior’s upkeep, the owner also installed a state of the art entertainment system and, as would suit, toys to enjoy the worlds anchorages including; windsurfers, waterskiing equipment, diving and fishing gear. New communication and navigational equipment was also integrated to keep her up-to-date with all the modern technological aids.

Even the dolphins show their appreciation of Shenandoah

Even the dolphins show their appreciation

Every journey on Shenandoah is unforgettable

Every journey is unforgettable

“There is an honour and privilege in owning something that has been lovingly passed through generations.”

There is a beauty in the past that no amount of modern ingenuity can hope to emulate. There is an honour and privilege in owning something that has been lovingly passed through generations. There is a thrill in knowing that you are a part of history. That is what Shenandoah is.

More than 100 years ago, one man had a dream of sailing around the world in a vessel so stunning that it would make people on land stop open-mouthed to watch it glide past them, a vessel so unique that every day on deck would make him wish that he was nowhere else on earth. Stories are not just something we tell our children, the best ones are alive. Shenandoah is one of those stories. She is a dream that came true.

New horizons beckon for Shenandoah

New horizons beckon


The routes of Shenandoah’s many epic voyages

Shnandoah has faced dereliction and charmed heads of state. She has been owned by both aristocracy and outlaws. Her provenance is, most likely, unique in its contrasts.

But one thing has remained consistent – her penchant for adventure. Shenandoah is no ‘all show and no go’ gin palace, she has experienced enough for several lifetimes and never shied away from far horizons.

From the soft-lapping luxury of the sun-kissed Mediterranean to the fierce seas of the icy South Atlantic and the vastness of the Mid Pacific, she has circumnavigated the globe more than most. Long may her adventures continue. Bon voyage!