What do you know about “the Creole?” It is the largest wooden sailing ship in the world, and one of the most famous. Owned by the family of Maurizio Gucci, it has both a brilliant and cursed past.
The world is full of fateful tales of sailing ships, large and small, private and military. One of the most famous wooden sailing ships of all time is the Creole. Now in the hands of the Gucci family, yes the couturier Maurizio Gucci’s family, the Creole is beautifully restored to the vision of the original designers. For all of its longevity, the Creole has earned a reputation built more on fear among some sailors than on respect.
Original Design and Build
When American Alexander Smith Cochran inherited a fortune of roughly $40 million in the early 1900s, he set about obtaining a fleet of wooden sailing ships to satisfy his passion for regattas and yachting. Cochran was known at the time as the “Richest Bachelor in New York,” and bought a number of yachts to compete in regattas in both New York and Europe.
With a vast fortune in his pocket, Cochran had well-known yacht designer Charles E. Nicholson build him a personal yacht for sailing. The ship was originally known as Vira, and quickly became Cochran’s pride and joy. However, it took several years to complete the beautiful wooden ship. When it was finished in 1927, he was too ill with tuberculosis to even navigate the deck of his own ship. At the ship’s christening, a friend of Cochran’s had to crack the champagne bottle on the ship’s keel because he was too weak to do so. His friend, Fred Hugues, required three swings to break the bottle.
Even though Cochran’s ship was the largest yacht ever built by the Camper & Nicholson shipyard, he wanted numerous changes made. First and foremost, he had the three tall masts shortened. Then he had ballast added to the bow. His changes made the ship labor in the water, and Cochran used it little before dying in 1929.
Numerous Ownership Changes
Between Cochran’s death and World War II, the Vira was purchased first by Maurice Pope, who renamed the ship Creole. Pope was a yachting enthusiast who had all of Cochran’s physical changes to the ship reversed. Pope frequently used the vessel to sail between The Solent and the Isle of Wight, UK. In 1937, Pope sold the ship to Sir Connor Guthrie. He had the vessels masts lengthened again and restored its original keel, and was rewarded for his investments as he won numerous regattas in the British Isles while racing the Creole.
When World War II erupted in Europe in 1939, the Creole became an unlikely servant for the British Empire. The ship was renamed Magic Circle and given the mundane task of patrolling the waters of the coast of Scotland as a mine hunter. The ship had been refitted and repainted to serve in war, but upon the conclusion of World War II, it was returned to Guthrie’s family.
Post World War II
After the war the ship sat idle while in control of the family. It wasn’t until 1948 that it earned some tender love and care. Stavor Niarchos purchased the vessel at this time, spending into the hundreds of thousands (USD) to repair, refurbish, and breathe new life into the ship. The Greek yachtsman was in love with the Creole, going over every detail of the ship’s original design and finish to ensure it was properly refitted.
In the end, the vessel once again showed why some call it the “Cursed Creole.” Niarchos’ first wife was found dead onboard the ship from a suspected overdose of barbiturates, as was his second wife. At this point in time, Niarchos refused to sail on the ship ever again. By 1977 he had given up and sold it to the Danish government. Pressed into military service again, the Danes used it as a training ship until they could no longer afford to maintain and support the ship’s use.
Rescued Once Again
After years of neglect, the Creole was purchased by a man whose fashion sense had earned him millions, millions which he would need to save the ship. In 1983, Maurizio Gucci purchased the ship and vowed that he would return the luxury yacht to its original glory. Over the course of six years he spent millions of dollars restoring the sailing vessel and mega-wooden yacht to its true beauty.
Gucci gave the yacht an appearance that was befitting of the fashion magnate’s own name. The Creole sailed with him to ports throughout Europe, earning respect and admiration from sailing fans across the continent. It appeared that the Creole Curse had one more victim to claim though. In 1995, Gucci was murdered in a brutal attack that was ordered, allegedly, by his own wife.
Currently, the Creole belongs to the children of Gucci. His daughters Allegra and Alessandra own the yacht. Although neither daughter has been spotted sailing the Creole with regularity, they are said to properly care for the boat in their father’s memory.