Friday 5 July 2013

Christina O: From Snowy Nova Scotia to the Sunny Mediterranean, how a Canadian Frigate Became the World's Most Famous Super Yacht

1) HMCS Stormont at St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia, early 1944. MMA, M94.19.134, photo by George Coletti

This photo from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's collection shows the newly commissioned Canadian frigate "working up" to train her new crew in Nova Scotia on a wintery day in 1944. Little did the 150 sailors aboard know, but after a distinguished wartime career their ship would be purchased by the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and turned into the world's first, and still most famous, super yacht. Built in Montreal, Stormont arrived in Halifax in December 1943 with her new captain George Myra from Bayport, Lunenburg County, a veteran pre-war merchant captain who had served as the alternate captain for the famous fishing schooner Bluenose and was a good friend of Angus Walters. Stormont had a busy war, fighting in the last phase of the Battle of the Atlantic with North Atlantic convoy escorts, taking a convoy to the Kola Inlet on the Murmansk run and another to Gibraltar. On one voyage she spent 63 continuous days at sea, a record for a Canadian frigate. She was part of the D-Day invasion force, protecting the landing vessels from German naval attack. As Germany crumbled in 1945, Stormont was refitted for tropical service in the Pacific but Japan's surrender ruled that out. Decommissioned on November 6, 1945, Stormont was mothballed as Canada demobilized its huge wartime navy, briefly the Third largest in the world.

2) Christina O in home waters. Despite a new bow and liner-like funnel, the naval lines of her hull are still evident to a knowing eye.  George Onassis, Wikimedia

Initially sold for $34,000 to be converted to a freighter in South America, Stormont caught the eye of shipping agents for Aristotle Onassis and was rebuilt in Kiel, Germany as a yacht. Named after Onassis's daughter, the new extravangently outfitted yacht stood out in war-ravaged and austere Europe and was a major departure from the long, low and slim private yachts of the pre-war era. Christina O made full use of the ship's large hull and powerful naval engineering systems to support luxuries like a combined swimming pool and dance floor. Most notoriously, the yacht's bar contained coat hooks made from Orca teeth and barstools made from the leather of Minke whale penises.  
Over the years, the yacht hosted fleets of celebrities. Apart from Onassis's mistress Maria Callas and wife Jackie Kennedy Onassis, early guests included Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, followed by sailings with celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rudolph Nureyev, Eva Peron, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly.

3) Where racks of depth charges once waited to sink German submarines, Christina O's stern now boasts a mosaic swimming pool which drains and raises to become a dance floor at the push of a button. Maxine Simpson, Wikimedia

Christina O set the bar for the super yachts that followed in the decades after World War Two. Much larger yachts followed but few matched her legendary origins. Passing through several owners after the death of Onassis, Christina O was restored in a major refit in 1999, the yacht has recently been offered for sale for $34 million.

Hear more about HMCS Stormont and Christina O in an July 4 interview by Dan Conlin on CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

More on her naval and yacht career in Randy Boswell's July 4 article the National Post " ‘The last word in opulence’: Lavishly refitted D-Day warship, Christina O, on sale for $34-million"


  1. Mr. Rick Donmoyer writes: "My father, Robert George Donmoyer was one of the young radio operators on the Stormont. He died after my brother and I were born and told us little about the war as we were very young when he passed. Our mother, grief stricken, days after his death disposed of almost every artifact and Navy related item so we have almost nothing here to hold. Other than some information that came much later from our uncle just prior to his death, my brother and I have little knowledge of our Dad's naval service and will appreciate any stories and history other shipmates or their children might contribute. Dad was a Woodstock Navy Club member in Woodstock Ontario, but on our mother's wishes, he spent little time there so we know no one else he may have been close to." Should you have any information concerning the service of Robert Donmoyer onboard the Stormont, please submit the info here as a comment, or by email to the Acting Curator of Marine History at Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Lynn Marie Richard

  2. The very first memorial plaque displayed on the entrance wall of the Woodstock Navy Club is that of my father, Robert (Bob) Donmoyer. He was a founding member and the very first member to pass away a few years after the Woodstock Navy Club was created. One artifact that is in my possession is a souvenir chunk of the Rock Of Gibraltar, which Dad must have obtained while on shore leave. It is engraved with "Gibraltar 1944".

    1. Thank you very much for sharing this information. It is great that you have a relic of the farflung voyages of your father and HMCS Stormont. Are you the same Rick Donmoyer who was in touch with the museum in 2014? (See the other comment.)