Not many yachts surpass famous owners’ reputations, but Christina O has. Once owned by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, the 325-footer’s history is nearly as outrageous as the lives of the rich and famous who walked its canopied decks. From Onassis’ torrid love affair with opera singer Maria Callas to his subsequent marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, Christina O has facilitated some of history’s most extravagant maritime tales.
Acquired by new owners in 2023, the floating starlet is ready to embark on a new chapter as a charter vessel. “When people come on board Christina O they typically have an emotional reaction,” says Tim Morley, whose firm Morley Yachts, charters the vessel. “People love it—and it affects almost everybody in this way, young and old.”
It wasn’t always a glamorous superyacht. The vessel started out as Canadian Navy Frigate, HMCS Stormont, built in 1943 by Vickers of Montreal. It played an active role in World War II. In 1952, Onassis acquired it for $34,000 as part of a block purchase of ten ships that he intended to convert into a fleet of whaling vessels. When plans fell through, he kept Stormont for himself, spending $4 million (or about $46 million in today’s dollars) to convert it into a luxury superyacht—the first true gigayacht. He lengthened the hull by 29 feet and named it Christina after his daughter.
No expense was spared for its rebirth. Powered by steam engines that delivered a top speed of 21 knots, the yacht was equipped with five fast launches, a glass-bottomed boat for underwater observation, a small dinghy, two kayaks, a Fiat 500, and a five-seater Piaggio P.136L-2. (This was the same seaplane that crashed in 1973, killing Onassis’s 24-year-old son Alexander.)
Christina was one of the few yachts of its time to have an elevator, not to mention a surgical operating theater with radiography equipment. The mosaiced swimming pool also broke molds, with a minotaur-themed lifting floor that converted into a dance floor.
Onassis lived aboard for many summers, cruising the Mediterranean. His yacht became a coveted destination for the world’s elite. It was distinguished from other vessels not only by its size, but by its graceful exterior and matching balconies on either side of the wheelhouse.
A close-knit group of Onassis’s friends and family partied alongside powerful figures and stars of the silver screen, including Marilyn Monroe, Margot Fonteyn, Frank Sinatra, the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds and Paul Getty. Ex-King Farouk of Egypt referred to the yacht as “the height of opulence.” The guests were entertained in reception lounges that are now famous with whispered stories.
The wood-paneled Jackie O Lapis Lounge on the main deck—named after a lapis-lazuli fireplace rumored to have cost a princely sum of one dollar per square centimeter—is stocked with rare books and a self-playing electric piano. The fake El Grecos that Onassis hung during his ownership—“If people want to believe they are authentic, why spoil their pleasure,” he once quipped—have been switched for real masterpieces by Renoir, Le Corbusier and Chirico.
Adjacent is Ari’s Bar where orca teeth serve as armrests for stools and are engraved with scenes from Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Wood from a sunken Spanish galleon was used for the bar. On the walls hang portraits of John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, all guests aboard the boat.
Christina was also a place where Onassis conducted business, thanks to the network of 42 telephone lines across the boat. John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill had their first encounter on the yacht. Britain’s wartime Prime Minister enjoyed eight voyages between 1958 and 1965 and was the only guest for whom Onassis gave up his own suite. The Library is named in his honor.
The amidships master—the Onassis Suite—remains largely intact. Its original office with a Louis XV desk is today a private lounge with a Renoir hanging above the marble fireplace. The ensuite has a large shower and marble bathtub, though not the original mosaiced blue Syene marble bathtub that Onassis commissioned.
The 16 additional guest cabins are named after and inspired by Greek islands. The Ithaca suite was Christina’s cabin, which she surrendered to Greta Garbo, Maria Callas and Jackie Kennedy (prior to her marriage to Onassis in 1975) whenever they visited. They each feature wood, marble and gold bathroom fittings. The pastel color schemes were selected by Jackie O, who was renowned for her restoration of the White House.
Maria Callas embarked on a nine-year-long love affair with Onassis in 1959. The Maria Callas Lounge contains her original grand Steinway piano. Her wedding rings from her first marriage and a solid silver Tiffany dish presented to her by JFK are displayed by the entrance, and the entire collection of her operatic recordings are available to play. For film nights, there is a remote-controlled projector.
After Onassis’ death in 1975, his daughter gifted the boat to the Greek government and a slow deterioration ensued. In 1999, a new owner, Onassis family friend John Paul Papanicolaou, undertook a sizable refit estimated at $50 million that replaced 65 percent of the steel hull. He also renamed the vessel Christina O.
Subsequent refit work from 2016 to 2018 added an aft deck bimini system and a boarding platform for easier guest transfers. Two sets of Vosper stabilizer fins were installed, along with cold rooms, an incineration chamber and garbage compactor for the lower deck galley. A split-level Jacuzzi deck now overlooks a bar and large dining table with intricate marquetry inlays depicting the tales of Ulysses.
The original steam engines were replaced with two 2,775-hp MAN diesels, rendering the yellow funnel redundant. It’s now used to store the HVAC system and has a “Callas stage” at its base for open-air concerts. The changes in the layout freed up enough space to add a grand dining room that can accommodate 42 guests and a second Steinway.
A pair of restored mahogany HackerCraft tenders sit alongside original features, such as the circular staircase with its onyx and silver handrail, vintage wall lights and leather settees.
The vessel has recently been a case of life imitating art. Christina O played a starring role in the Netflix series The Crown and 2022 comedy Triangle of Sadness. The 1956 wedding reception held on board for Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly was echoed in 2019 when supermodel Heidi Klum was married on board. Most recently, Rupert Murdoch chartered the yacht in July for a family reunion in Positano, Italy.
Other amenities include a spa with two full-time therapists forming part of the 38 crew and a chest of water toys, including an inflatable slide and Flyboard. Those weren’t toys that were available when Onassis acquired the vessel and turned it into a superyacht, but one imagines he would’ve approved.
Christina O can be chartered around $768,500 per week with Morley Yachts.
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