Meermin, the royal yacht that was on the verge of perishing in Arctic waters

The yacht, which is taking part in the Illes Balears Clàssics, was first owned by a member of the Belgian royal family.

The Meermin is another one of the key players in the Illes Balears Clàssics, the annual classic regatta organised by Club de Mar Mallorca. The boat is back on the race course after a complete, two-year refit. The history of this boat, launched in Antwerp in 1951, began with the pretensions of the Belgian royalty.  Later on, the boat experienced dangerous adventures in the Arctic seas and when she was facing seemingly calmer crossings in the Mediterranean, a leak almost brought her to her ruin. Help from an American destroyer saved the boat and linked its fate to Palma, as this is where the destroyer towed the stricken boat.

It was here that she was bought by her current owner in 1991 and consequently started taking part in classic regattas on a number of occasions. However, it was in 2015, after an unfortunate mishap causing serious damage to the boat while hauled out in Pollença, that the owner undertook a total refit of Meermin, from the deck to the masts and the entire interior.  More recently, a little over a month ago, new rigging was fitted, which means that the boat has been brought back to life in this year’s Illes Balears Clàssics.

Originally this beautiful sailing boat, a 14 metre gaff ketch with a riveted steel hull, was built at the Meyntjens shipyard in Antwerp, Belgium to a design by M. Selleslagh. Her illustrious first owner was Baron de Guy,  a member of the Belgian royal family. However, he did not seem to appreciate her beauty and the boat ended up moored at the Dublin Yacht Club, where she soon attracted the interest of Dr. Rory O’Hanlon. The Irish doctor brought the boat to life and took her on great adventures on routes around Greenland and, the most dangerous of all, to Jan Mayen Island, a small, snow-covered volcanic islet at 70 degrees of latitude north in the Arctic. There the Meermin faced gales of force 8 and 9 and winds of up to 60 knots, more than 100 kilometres per hour. The yacht had sought shelter at anchor in Walrus Bay on the island. However, the force of the gale broke the anchor chain and threw the boat against the rocks. The captain had already issued a desperate Mayday for help and had  the crew in life jackets,  when he with the engine at full throttle managed to regain control of the boat just as the bowsprit, the pole that protrudes from the bow of sailing vessels, was smashed against the rocks.

After Dr O’Hanlon’s death, the Meermin passed into the hands of an Australian couple who dedicated the boat to more leisurely cruises in the Mediterranean. However, there was still another adventure to come, as the boat suffered a major leak in her steel hull while at sea. Fortunately, a US Navy destroyer, the USS Pebble, was not far away and came to her rescue, towing the yacht to the port of Palma, which became her new base. That day began the new life of Meermin.


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