By his own admission, the purchase of Menorca was a gamble for hotelier Laurent Morel-Ruymen and his business partners. The Frenchman, one of the founders of Mare e Terra, an environmentally conscience luxury hotel and residence development group that operates in Menorca, very much fell into yacht ownership by chance. In June 2015, instead of going for a siesta after lunch, Morel-Ruymen started meaninglessly browsing the Internet, as he sometimes does, looking at classic cars and classic yachts.
“It was nothing serious other than to have my mind thinking about something else,” he remembers. “I have always loved the canoe-stern yachts and suddenly I saw this beautiful yacht, named Zurga, that had a chimney and a canoe stern a bit like Christina O, being advertised for sale in Greece. I then looked at the price and thought it was a joke!”
His interest aroused, Morel-Ruymen responded to the advertisement and spoke to a Greek broker, who explained the boat was to be sold at auction within two weeks and gave him the contact details of a Greek lawyer for more information. The lawyer then told him that the boat had been put up for sale after being arrested by the Greek authorities but added that the auction had been postponed numerous times because the owners had been able to block it. However, because of the situation in Greece, the government needed money and the lawyer believed that this time the auction would go ahead.
As a reminder, June 2015 was a very unstable time in Greece. The country’s government-debt crisis was threatening a possible departure from the European Union and Greek citizens were having their bank accounts blocked. “It was complete chaos, so I did seriously question whether it would be sensible to go any further with the idea,” Morel-Ruymen continues. “But the next day I was still very excited by the thought, so I called my two partners with whom I develop hotels and asked them if we should buy the yacht.”
Thinking that they would dismiss the idea immediately, Morel-Ruymen was surprised when they told him to go to see the yacht in Greece and, if he thought she looked good, to go for it. The next thing he knew, he was on a flight to Greece where a broker was waiting for him at the airport. This was to be the first of many hurdles: the broker told him they were not allowed to visit the yacht, as per the terms of the authorities, and also there was no survey available.
“I was expected to buy her in a box,” Morel- Ruymen laughs. “I couldn’t do that, so I asked the broker to take me to the marina where the boat was docked, completely shut up, and we asked the marina manager to look the other way. I entered the boat through a broken window on the wheel- house and started looking around commando-style, using my iPhone as a torch. That was the only way I could visit Zurga!”
Morel-Ruymen then had to ask himself, with his very limited experience in yachting, how he could form an opinion about the condition of the boat. “I thought, I know about hotels and restaurants, so therefore I know a good kitchen when I see one,” he explains. “I went straight to the galley to see the installation and to determine what type of investment the owners put in when the yacht was rebuilt in 2003. There I saw a top-notch, professional galley, which I knew would have required a huge investment. I then looked all over the yacht and I loved the way she looked. The only negative was that she was sitting very low in the water because a big crane and all the toys were crammed on to the sundeck, but I wasn’t too stressed about that.”
The next problem was to consider the financial and political climate in Greece. As per the terms of the auction, in order to bid, Morel-Ruymen would have to send money in advance to a Greek bank and this troubled him. He called a couple of French bankers for advice and they recommended that if the money was to be immediately taken out by a lawyer in the form of a cheque to be presented at the auction, there shouldn’t be too much risk of it being blocked.
“I arrived at the auction and there were only four people in the room,” Morel-Ruymen continues. “I think the other bidders realised quite quickly that I was very serious and soon they all stopped bidding, so we won. But as soon as we went to leave the auction room, two lawyers approached me. They told me that they were representatives of an American yacht owner who wanted to buy Zurga – he didn’t want to send money to Greece, but he was happy to buy the yacht from me for 50 per cent more than I had paid.” Morel-Ruymen thanked them but said the boat was not for sale.
However, the ordeal did not end there. Even with proof of the result of the auction from a judge, the Greek authorities would not release the boat. The formalities were so shrouded in corruption and bureaucracy that Morel-Ruymen had to have a lawyer working solidly for four months to resolve the case. Finally, in October 2015, he was able to move the yacht to start her 18-month refit at Atlas Shipyard in Greece.
A very important part of the brief for Menorca’s refit was to preserve her rich history and get her back to her classic 1960s aesthetic, which had been diminished slightly during her 2003 rebuild. She had been owned by Baron Allard of Belgium until his death and her last owners were the heirs of Greek shipping magnate John Paul Papanicolaou (who had, interestingly, also bought Christina O at the same time as Zurga). “There is a long list of people who were chartering her, including royalty, nobility and industry captains,” says Morel-Ruymen. “She really is a part of the history of the Mediterranean.”
Taking time out from the hands-on management of Mare e Terra’s core business, Morel-Ruymen was heavily involved in Menorca’s refit. He recalls how the crew would often find him sanding something with a face mask on and mistake him for one of the yard workers. His first priority was to ensure that all the excess weight, including a Jacuzzi, was removed from the sundeck to get her back to her correct waterline. “Now she sits proudly in the water,” he enthuses. “That was really important for me, so that she stands like a classic and you can enjoy the aesthetic of the canoe stern to its full potential.”
Morel-Ruymen’s involvement did not falter on the interior-design front either. He and his team at Mare e Terra took this on themselves, using their extensive experience of creating stylish but understated spaces in the group’s hotel and residential projects. Their mantra for the preservation of nature and human heritage is also illustrated in the yacht. The result is quite unlike any other yacht’s interior on the water today, as a Belgian-meets-The Hamptons aesthetic runs throughout the boat, creating a beach-house feel that meshes well with her island-chic setting in Menorca.
For Morel-Ruymen, the main purpose behind the purchase and refit of Menorca was to charter her out seriously. While the charter business won’t technically be linked to the Mare e Terra group, the boat’s name, Menorca, has been carefully thought out to tie in with it. “The yacht is part of the business in the way that it makes a lot of sense to have Menorca the island being promoted in all of the ports around the Mediterranean,” he says. “I see it as a way to advertise the island, which we have business interests in.”
This is a preview to the full interview, which appears in issue 182 of The Superyacht Report. If you are an owner, senior crewmember, manager, designer, yard representative or broker, you can apply for a complimentary VIP subscription of the magazine here.
Images by MET Studio.