Voy­age of dis­cov­ery

An out­stand­ing restora­tion project has res­cued an im­por­tant his­toric yacht and cre­ated a mag­nif­i­cent se­ries of new in­te­ri­ors in the spirit of the 1930s, as John Goodall re­veals

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­tographs by Paul High­nam

An out­stand­ing restora­tion project has res­cued the im­por­tant his­toric yacht Malahne and cre­ated a mag­nif­i­cent se­ries of new in­te­ri­ors, as John Goodall re­veals

Malahne, Portsmouth

At her moor­ings, Malahne looks strik­ingly dif­fer­ent from the sur­round­ing su­pery­achts, with their sharp lines and shin­ing fin­ishes of plas­tic, metal and glass. Her clas­sic lines pro­claim her to be a sur­vival from another age of yacht­ing: Malahne was com­mis­sioned in 1937 by Wil­liam ‘Bill’ Lawrence Stephen­son, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and, from 1931, chair­man of Wool­worths. Dur­ing the 1930s, he emerged as a prom­i­nent fig­ure in the sail­ing world, win­ning the King’s Cup in 1936 on a J Class yacht built for him by Camper & Ni­chol­sons in Portsmouth. this was named Velsheda af­ter his three daugh­ters, Velma, Sheila and Daphne.

the vic­tory was per­haps the cat­a­lyst for the com­mis­sion of a new mo­tor yacht the fol­low­ing year, de­signed by Charles E. Ni­chol­son from the same yard with another com­pos­ite name. this time, he used the end let­ters of each daugh­ter’s name: Malahne.

the idea of pair­ing yachts—one with a mo­tor, the other a sail­ing boat—be­gan in the late 19th cen­tury. Sail­ing yachts were es­sen­tially plea­sure boats for rac­ing. In or­der to com­bine sport with com­fort, there­fore, it was nec­es­sary to sail in the com­pany of a mo­tor yacht. By con­trast, these were lux­u­ri­ously ap­pointed ves­sels suit­able for en­ter­tain­ment and the ac­com­mo­da­tion of guests, so a day of rac­ing could con­clude

with the home com­forts of good food and com­fort­able beds.

Cru­cially, mo­tor yachts could also sail in­de­pen­dently on long jour­neys. Be­fore the age of the aero­plane, there­fore, for the rich, they were the means of for­eign travel for plea­sure and busi­ness.

In the two years fol­low­ing her con­struc­tion, Malahne cruised in the Mediter­ranean and made at least one transat­lantic busi­ness voy­age to New York. When war broke out in 1939, how­ever, she was im­me­di­ately req­ui­si­tioned —along with all other large mo­tor yachts— by the Ad­mi­ralty. As HMS Malahne, she was lightly armed. In a 2005 in­ter­view recorded by the Im­pe­rial War Mu­se­ums, the for­mer sig­naller P. J. Lit­tle re­called that she pos­sessed two ma­chine guns and depthcharges. Ac­cord­ing to pho­tographs, she was also armed at some point with a light gun on the for­ward deck.

In June 1940, HMS Malahne was in­volved in the Dunkirk evac­u­a­tion, tow­ing small boats laden with sol­diers away from the beaches. Then, from Jan­uary 1942, she was based at Lam­lash, in Ar­ran, and classed as an Aux­il­iary Ves­sel for Fly­ing Train­ing. She also served as a ward ship. Among her war­time crew was the fu­ture Prime Min­is­ter, then Able Sea­man Jim Cal­laghan. By a happy co­in­ci­dence, he was also later the MP for the Cardiff con­stituency, where the present owner of Malahne grew up.

Af­ter the war, and in com­mon with most other yacht own­ers, Stephen­son re­leased Malahne in re­turn for a gov­ern­ment pay­ment. The air­craft was now re­shap­ing in­ter­na­tional travel and, be­tween 1949 and 1960, she passed through the hands of sev­eral pri­vate own­ers. She also briefly changed name twice, first to the Lev III and then to Nar­cis­sus.

In 1960, she was re­fit­ted and re­verted to her orig­i­nal name shortly be­fore be­ing pur­chased by the Nal­man Steamship Corp of Panama for the film pro­ducer Sam Spiegel.

Malahne was ini­tially ac­quired by Spiegel as float­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for the film Lawrence of Ara­bia (1962). There­after, how­ever, he used it as a place for en­ter­tain­ing, bring­ing to the yacht a glit­ter­ing ar­ray of guests from across the world, in­clud­ing many Hol­ly­wood stars. A fac­sim­ile of Spiegel’s guest­book is pre­served on­board. The yacht was de­scribed in Life in July 1965 as hav­ing been ‘mod-

ernised with sta­bilis­ers, au­to­matic steer­ing, short and long range radar and… a 24-foot speed­boat ten­der for wa­ter­ski­ing’.

Lat­terly, how­ever, Spiegel fell be­hind with main­te­nance and, in 1978, Malahne was sus­pended from her class. He was even­tu­ally com­pelled to sell the yacht, which was re­fit­ted in the 1980s and lost any ob­vi­ous out­ward ap­pear­ance of its age. Even af­ter this trans­for­ma­tion, how­ever, Malahne was not for­got­ten. Sur­vivals of this kind are a great rar­ity and Nicholas Ed­mis­ton, chair­man of the su­pery­acht bro­ker­age firm Ed­mis­ton, fol­lowed its for­tunes closely. In 2009, with G. L. Wat­son & Co, he pre­pared de­signs for the restora­tion of the yacht and, in the mean­time, kept an eye open for some­one to buy and re­store it.

The op­por­tu­nity came when a Bri­tish phi­lan­thropist ar­rived in search of a yacht to re­store. He saw the po­ten­tial of the ves­sel de­spite its par­lous con­di­tion. For­tu­itously, Malahne had a spe­cial res­o­nance for him: the year its keel was laid down, 1937, was the year his mother had es­caped Ger­many and ar­rived in Eng­land. On the foundation of this as­so­ci­a­tion, oth­ers have been built, so that the ves­sel’s restora­tion has de­vel­oped in one sense as a homage to the owner’s fam­ily and its ex­pe­ri­ence.

There are two in­ex­tri­ca­bly re­lated as­pects to the restora­tion, of which the first is ess- en­tially tech­ni­cal: it was nec­es­sary to re-cre­ate within the orig­i­nal hull of the ves­sel a sta­teof-the-art mo­tor yacht with modern en­gines and tech­ni­cal in­fras­truc­ture. So, for ex­am­ple, Malahne to­day in­cor­po­rates a full IT sys­tem and air con­di­tion­ing as well as such fea­tures as modern en­gines, sta­bilis­ers and a for­ward­turn­ing pro­pel­ler termed a bow thruster.

The sec­ond as­pect of the work was to cre­ate a sump­tu­ous new in­te­rior. Pho­tographs of the orig­i­nal ves­sel show that its main cab­ins were rel­a­tively aus­tere. Again, rather than re-cre­at­ing these, the in­te­rior de­signer Guy Oliver of Oliver Laws was charged with rein­vent­ing them in a 1930s id­iom. It is a pe­riod with which

he has a spe­cial affin­ity, hav­ing worked on, among other pres­ti­gious projects, Clar­idge’s.

This new in­te­rior had to be de­signed within the con­straints im­posed by the yacht as a func­tion­ing ves­sel, most im­por­tantly, con­cerns of weight—to avoid im­bal­ance or in­sta­bil­ity —and to make the most of space. It is part of the de­light of Malahne to­day that these con­straints have not been treated as prob­lems, but as dis­ci­plines to be mas­tered and turned to in­ge­nious—and some­times mar­vel­lous—pur­pose. In­deed, ev­ery room pos­sesses at least one ob­ject that was ef­fec­tively a de­sign project in its own right. Even the let­ter­ing on the yacht is in a spe­cially de­signed font de­vised with the owner.

Ren­o­vat­ing a 1930s ves­sel has de­manded a com­pletely dif­fer­ent kind of ex­per­tise from that em­ployed in the re­fur­bish­ment of modern yachts. As a Portsmouth-built ship, more­over, the owner was keen that as much work should be done in Bri­tain as pos­si­ble. In the event, the yacht was re­stored by Pen­den­nis Ship­yard in Fal­mouth, Corn­wall. The restora­tion took 30 months to com­plete and Malahne was re­launched on March 14, 2015.

The en­tire body of the yacht, with all its in­te­ri­ors, sits in­side the steel hull and alu­minium su­per­struc­ture un­der the weight of grav­ity and is cush­ioned against the metal with rub­ber. This is to pre­vent the vi­bra­tions of the en­gine from de­stroy­ing the in­ter­nal struc­ture. The phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of the hull and the in­ter­nal frame de­mands a very ex­act­ing sys­tem of de­sign and con­struc­tion, which was un­der­taken by naval ar­chi­tects BMT Nigel Gee. So too does the ge­om­e­try of the hull, which creates curves run­ning through the length of the yacht and across its width.

The in­te­rior shell of the yacht was con­structed by Ruiter Qual­ity In­te­ri­ors. To make the most of the space avail­able, the in­ter­nal

The de­light of Malahne’s in­te­ri­ors is that the con­straints of a func­tion­ing ves­sel have been mas­tered to in­ge­nious pur­pose

con­fig­u­ra­tion of the ves­sel was adapted in some par­tic­u­lars. The modern en­gine, for ex­am­ple, is much smaller than its pre­de­ces­sor, yet more pow­er­ful and ef­fi­cient.

All the fur­nish­ing and in­ter­nal fin­ishes were planned con­cur­rently with the con­struc­tion of the in­ter­nal skele­ton. A full-sized model of each room was cre­ated to al­low for the lay­out of full-scale draw­ings and then mock­ups of the fit­tings within it. Ex­act al­lowance had to be made for the open­ing of draw­ers and the pas­sage of peo­ple. Ver­ti­cal mea­sure­ments were no less im­por­tant: in some in­te­ri­ors, the legs of ta­bles and chairs have been short­ened in or­der to pre­serve an il­lu­sion of space be­neath low ceil­ings.

Only when the com­plete de­sign was agreed could the in­te­rior be as­sem­bled. The fur­nish­ings in­clude many pe­riod pieces, col­lected for the ship and the paint­ings have been se­lected from the owner’s pri­vate col­lec­tion. Much be­sides, how­ever, has been spe­cially com­mis­sioned from spe­cial­ist craftsmen and women.

The in­te­rior is laid out on three prin­ci­pal decks of which the lower, with port­holes just above the wa­ter line, com­prises a se­ries of guest cab­ins with en-suite bathrooms. Each one is dis­tinc­tively fin­ished with pan­elling and, in one case, this is strik­ingly dec­o­rated in black and white with il­lus­tra­tions of Cardiff Docks by Re­becca Perry ( Fig 7).

On the prin­ci­pal deck above this are the din­ing room and main sa­loon, the lat­ter partly screened from the main stairs and a spa­cious sun deck by an el­e­gant lat­tice of glass, metal and painted pan­els. Just be­side the screen is a games ta­ble by Jerome Cordie, that ex­em­pli­fies the in­ge­nu­ity of the newly com­mis­sioned fur­ni­ture ( Fig 3). It is a work of join­ery as com­pelling to play with as to play upon.

The din­ing room is dom­i­nated by another large fixed ta­ble, which stands on a sin­gle star-shaped leg ( Fig 5). This fig­ure of a star not only de­ter­mines the pat­tern of the floor, but is in­laid in the sur­face of the ta­ble and ap­pears in the shape of the cen­tral light fit­ting. All the crock­ery and cut­lery is stored in beau­ti­fully de­signed cab­i­nets that se­cure each item against the move­ment of the sea.

To ei­ther side of the din­ing room are nar­row side decks that run like open cor­ri­dors with views over the sea. These con­nect to the mas­ter bed­room suite that ex­tends the full width of the ves­sel and in­cor­po­rates a mag­nif­i­cent bath­room ( Fig 6) that bril­liantly evokes the fash­ion for daz­zling in­te­ri­ors of this kind be­tween the World Wars ( COUN­TRY LIFE, March 23, 2011).

On the up­per deck is the bridge and, be­hind it, another sa­loon ( Fig 4) with some par­tic­u­larly fine pe­riod fur­nish­ings. These in­clude pan­els of the signs of the zo­diac made for the lifts of the Sel­f­ridges store on Ox­ford Street in 1928 by the Birm­ing­ham Guild of Me­tal­work­ers, in­cor­po­rat­ing work by Wal­ter Gil­bert and his as­sis­tant, Louis Wein­gart­ner. Here, the port­holes can be cov­ered by shut­ters, op­er­ated by turn­ing han­dles.

Stored at this level are two launches ( Fig 2), with that for the owner built by Cock­wells of Fal­mouth. It is over­laid with ma­hogany and ca­pa­ble of 35 knots.

Walk­ing on the im­mac­u­late decks of Malahne to­day, it is im­pos­si­ble not to feel that the re­cent restora­tion has been an un­usual achieve­ment. The re-cre­ation of its pe­riod in­te­ri­ors has been full-blooded and cor­re­spond­ingly spec­tac­u­lar. What makes them ex­cit­ing, how­ever, is the way in which they have been thought­fully shaped to modern needs.

This clas­sic yacht ( Fig 1) has not been so much re-cre­ated as im­proved by the 21st cen­tury. Hope­fully, its ex­am­ple will help win other his­toric yachts a sim­i­lar fu­ture.

Fig 1 left: Malahne weighs an­chor. The yacht is 165ft long and ac­com­mo­dates 10 guests and 11 crew. She has a gross ton­nage of 440 tonnes and a max­i­mum speed of 15 knots. Fig 2 above: The up­per deck with a hoist for the launches

Fig 3 above: The games ta­ble in the main sa­loon. By me­chan­i­cal re­leases, it is pos­si­ble to draw a backgam­mon or chess board onto its sur­face. If both boards are folded away, how­ever, a mag­netic cov­er­ing for cards can over­lay the ta­ble. Be­hind it is the screen over the stairs. Fig 4 right: The up­per sa­loon. The desk is a 1937 pro­to­type for Heal’s by Serge Cher­may­eff

Fig 5: The din­ing room and its ta­ble set on a sin­gle star-shaped leg. The pat­tern re-emerges on the ta­ble sur­face and in the light shade

Fig 7: A desk with views of Cardiff Docks

Fig 6: The glit­ter­ing mas­ter bath­room

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