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By any measure used, the classic yacht Delphine must be described as extraordinary. Built in an era when high society ruled the yachting waves, the vessel was commissioned by the US automobile magnate Horace Dodge – who was anything but high society. At a time when old money funded the superyachts of the day, no one really accepted that the upstart son of a foundry owner could aspire to the world of luxury afforded by such a magnificent vessel. By Micheal Howorth
Delphine was built at the Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ecorse, Michigan during 1920 at a cost of US$20 million. At 78.5 metres overall, with a displacement of 1,342 tons, she was launched in 1921, and remains today the largest yacht ever built in the US that is still in operation. Her Tiffany-designed interior was lavish, with the formal dining room on the main deck filled with decorations, carvings, wall motifs and the finest of carpets. But rather sadly, Dodge never got to enjoy the luxury he had created. He died in December 1919 having contracted Spanish flu, which in turn gave rise to complications resulting in pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver. He was just 52 years old at the time of his death.
In 1926, the yacht caught fire in New York and sank. Fortunately, the Dodge family had pockets deeper than the water that engulfed the vessel, and Horace Dodge's widow Anna, was on hand to fund the five-year recovery and rebuild process. Delphine next hit the headlines in 1940 when she reportedly steamed at full speed over rocks in the Great Lakes. There are several reports of her sinking at that time, but subsequent research has proved those to be unfounded. During the Second World War she was requisitioned and pressed into duty as USS Dauntless PG61. Stripped of her lavish interior furnishings, she became the flagship of Admiral Ernest King, Commander in Chief of the US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations. Legend has it that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Molotov and Winston Churchill enjoyed the hospitality the yacht had to offer, and it is said that the Yalta Treaty was drawn up in the vessel's ornate smoking room.
With the war over, Anna Dodge was offered the opportunity to buy her lovely yacht back again. After a full refit, only nine hash-marks carved into the woodwork and the navy siren remained as a reminder of Delphine's wartime duty. But, as was the case with so many big yachts around this time, she fell onto hard times after the war years.
Delphine was donated to the Lundeberg Maryland Seamanship School in 1968, and in a fit of national pride they gave her back her navy name of Dauntless. For the next 20 years she was to serve as a training ship for US merchant seamen. Then followed a sorry line of ill-informed but ever hopeful owners. No matter the well-intentioned plans each of them brought to the party, they all failed. Then, in 1997, the Belgian jeans magnate Jacques Bruynooghe fell in love with the concept of reviving a historic yacht that he could enjoy rebuilding and sailing in. That same year, Delphine was towed to Belgium, where she underwent a full restorative rebuild.
Over the six-year refit period, her new Belgian owners invested over €35m bringing Delphine back to the glory days of the Roaring Twenties. Museum archives were scoured for original blueprints to ensure that the engineering and architectural refit precisely matched the original design.
Legend has it that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Molotov and Winston Churchill enjoyed the hospitality the yacht had to offer, and it is said that the Yalta Treaty was drawn up in the vessel's ornate smoking room