With most of the
country off its feet, Edward F. Hutton, investment broker and husband of
Marjorie Post, General Foods heiress, urged big-yacht owners to rally to the
nation's financial plight by keeping their vessels in commission. Hutton
reasoned that while the big yachts might offend during the "business
depression," their operation would give employment and income to many who
might otherwise be destitute. He pointed out that keeping a 200-foot yacht in
commission for five months of the year meant the spending of at least $100,000
in the form of wages, purchases of supplies and general upkeep.
Hutton was being
more than just generous with other people's money. He was smoothing the waters
for the launching of his own yacht, the 316-foot, full-rigged auxiliary bark
Hussar—the largest privately owned sailing yacht ever built.
Hussar, a modernized ideal of a four-masted bark, was truly a picture yacht.
With her towering masts, square-sail yards, clipper bow and long bowsprit, she
brought to mind the days of the old clipper ships. Though her full suit of 30
sails comprised 36,000 square feet of canvas and took most of her 70-man crew a
full hour to raise, for true sail men there was more than one discordant note.
Between her foremast and main, rising above her black hull, was a buff funnel,
serving the power plant which drove her when her owner wanted to travel
hurriedly rather than loaf along under canvas. There was also a bridge for
navigation under power.
A few years after
the launching of the Hussar, Mrs. Hutton parted from Mr. Hutton and gained
custody of the yacht, which she rechristened Sea Cloud. She changed her own
name, too, wedding Joseph E. Davies, the corporation and international lawyer
soon to be appointed Ambassador to Russia.
encouraged by the Sunday supplements, insisted that all yachts were the scene
of perpetual bacchanals, especially on lengthy cruises. In reality, life on
most of the big ones was downright dull, and owners found it difficult to fill
more than two or three staterooms with desirable guests able to afford the time
for a long cruise. Mostly, they depended on their immediate families for
company. Indeed, many yachts would cruise along with owners and their guests
aboard only for a month or two at a time—perhaps from Marseilles to Colombo, or
from Honolulu to Hong Kong—on a round-the-world voyage.
W. K. Vanderbilt's
round-the-world voyage aboard the Alva, however, was long planned and done with
purpose. Besides the taking of specimens for the Vanderbilt Marine Museum, this
was to be the first circumnavigation of the globe under the yacht ensign of the
United States Naval Reserve in which Vanderbilt was a lieutenant commander.
Setting out in
July 1931, under Captain Vanderbilt (whose command included three mates, two
wireless operators, a boatswain, a starboard and a port launchman, three
quartermasters, six sailors, a chief engineer, three assistant engineers, an
electrician, seven oilers, two stewards, a chef, two cooks, a bedroom steward,
a waiter, a captain's man, a pantryman, three messmen, a messman-bugler and a
laundryman, plus an artist, a taxidermist, a photographer, assistant
photographer, a valet and a ship's surgeon), the Alva, carrying 520 tons of
fuel oil. 360 tons of water and five guests, including Vanderbilt's wife Rose,
was to travel 29,000 uneventful nautical miles, visit 57 big and little ports
and return home seven months later with her tanks filled with a great variety
of queer fish.
On reaching Spain,
nearing the end of the east-to-west voyage, Vanderbilt looked over the latest
reports from the New York Stock Exchange. "Central has hit 25," he
recorded in his diary. "It is time to go home." The family stock, which
had soared to above 250 at the peak of the market, was soon to sell for less
than $10 a share.
By late 1932,
keeping a big yacht in commission had become an unsupportable financial burden
for all but a rare Croesus, and there was a wave of selling and
decommissioning. The low ebb was reached when Utility Tycoon Harrison Williams'
million-dollar Warrior was sold for less than the value of her launches.
Even J. P. Morgan
took his yacht out of commission, retaining only a lay-up maintenance crew of
seven or eight men. For a man who didn't net enough to pay an income tax for
the years 1931 and 1932, decommissioning the big yacht (which cost as much as
$500,000 a year to operate, a trip to England costing a minimum of $50,000) was
not just politic.