April 25, 2024

The Grand Legacy of the Steam Yacht SS Delphine: A Voyage Through Time

SS Delphine stands as a remarkable testament to the grandeur of early 20th-century yacht design, encapsulating a rich history that spans over a century. Commissioned by one of the automotive industry’s pioneers, Horace Dodge, this luxurious steam yacht has witnessed the ebb and flow of fortunes, survived global conflicts, and emerged as a charter vessel in the modern era. Here’s a detailed look at the storied past and enduring legacy of SS Delphine.
SS Delphine at Anchor in evening atmosphere
❐ SS Delphine – The Legend Lives On.


1. The Birth of a Legend

In the early 1920s, the world was rapidly transforming with technological advancements and economic prosperity. It was during this era of optimism that Horace E. Dodge, co-founder of the Dodge Brothers Company, envisioned a floating masterpiece – not merely as a means of recreation but also as a symbol of his success. The steamer Delphine was launched in 1921, a project that was both ambitious and personal.
Built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ecorse, Michigan, the yacht was a marvel of her time, stretching 257 feet with a beam of 35 feet. She was powered by two quadruple-expansion steam engines, a hallmark of engineering at the time, which are still operational today. The yacht was equipped with luxurious amenities, including a Louis XVI-style dining room, a music room with a Steinway piano, and opulent guest suites.
SS Delphine was a testament to Horace Dodge’s love for the finest things in life and his passion for innovative engineering. The involvement of Tiffany & Co. in the yacht’s interior design further underscores Dodge’s commitment to unparalleled luxury and craftsmanship.
Build and Launch SS Delphine 1921
❐ Launched on April 2, 1921, often employing a sideways method due to limited clearance.


2. About the Commissioner: Horace Elgar Dodge

Horace Elgar Dodge, born in 1868, was a significant figure in the American automotive industry. He and his elder brother, John Francis Dodge, were not only inseparable in childhood but also in their adult lives. In 1886, the Dodge brothers relocated to Detroit, Michigan, to work at a boilermaker plant, and in 1894, they became machinists at the Canadian Typograph Company across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario.
In 1896, Horace married Anna Thomson. The couple had two children: a daughter, Delphine Ione, born in 1899, and a son, Horace Jr., born in 1900. Together with his brother John, he founded the Dodge Brothers Company in 1900, quickly establishing it as a leading automobile manufacturer renowned for its quality and engineering.
Horace’s enthusiasm for yachting led him to commission architect Albert Kahn to build his home in Grosse Pointe Farms, positioned ideally along the Detroit River. This setting was perfect for his hobby, leading to the creation of yachts like the Hornet, the fastest on the Great Lakes at one time, and the 258-foot Delphine, one of the largest private yachts in the region. Both Horace and Anna were avid music lovers and played significant roles in supporting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, including funding the construction of Orchestra Hall.
Dodge was not just a businessman but also an innovator. He saw the potential for integrating the craftsmanship and robust engineering of automobile manufacturing into naval architecture. On January 3, 1920, he and his brother went to New York Auto Show, where both brothers caught the Spanish flu. John did not recover and died later in January, and Horace died the following December in Palm Beach, Florida. With Horace’s death, a great philanthropist passed away. Read a newspaper report from that time about the deaths of the two brothers here.
Unfortunately, Horace never got to sail on his yacht, he died shortly before the SS Delphine was completed. The yacht was named after his beloved daughter, Delphine, adding a personal touch to this magnificent vessel.
The Dodge Brothers
❐ The Dodge brothers, Horace Elgin and John Francis Dodge, founders of the famous car company.


3. The 1926 Tragedy: Fire and Sinking of the SS Delphine

SS Delphine’s journey through history is also marked by a dramatic incident early in her maritime life. In 1926, just five years after her launch, the yacht faced a catastrophic event that nearly ended her story prematurely—a severe fire followed by sinking.
On the morning of April 1, 1926, while docked at her winter moorings in New York City, a fire broke out. The blaze was first detected in the engine room, a critical area housing the vessel’s innovative steam engines. Given that the yacht’s construction was largely made of wood, the fire quickly spread, consuming the luxurious interiors and compromising the structural integrity of the yacht. As the fire raged, it weakened the hull of the Delphine, and she began to take on water. The added weight of the water used to fight the fire further compromised her buoyancy, and the once-majestic yacht sank at her mooring spot.
The sinking of the yacht Delphine was a significant loss, but fortunately, the story didn’t end there. Once raised, SS Delphine underwent extensive repairs and refurbishments. Remarkably, her original steam engines were restored, a testament to the resilience of the engineering of the era. The interiors, once lavishly decorated and then destroyed by the fire, were carefully reconstructed to reflect their original state, adhering to the 1920s style and luxury.
SS Delphine Fire and Sinking
❐ Fire and sinking on April 1, 1926, while docked at her winter moorings in New York City, followed by salvage and dry docking.


4. The Ship During WWII

Her role during these tumultuous times was crucial, providing a secure and mobile venue for planning and coordination. Delphine’s steam engines proved reliable and robust, even in the demanding conditions of wartime. It is said that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the yacht, and the Yalta Accords were drafted aboard.
After serving valiantly during World War II as the USS Dauntless, the SS Delphine was decommissioned and returned to the Dodge family in 1946. This marked the beginning of her transition back to a luxury yacht, though the journey was fraught with changes in ownership, periods of disuse, and eventual revival.
USS Dauntless (ex Delphine)
❐ SS Delphine in wartime service, renamed USS Dauntless (PG61).


5. Return to the Dodge Family and Subsequent Ownership Changes

Upon its return to the Dodge family, SS Delphine was restored to her original condition as a private luxury yacht. She continued to sail under the Dodge banner for a few years, serving as a symbol of the family’s prosperity and an elegant venue for entertaining high-profile guests.
However, as the decades rolled on, the yacht’s fate began to mirror the changing fortunes of the family and shifts in societal and economic landscapes. In 1967, the Dodge family donated SS Delphine to the People to People Health Foundation, an organization focused on improving health and fostering understanding among nations.
The details on how long SS Delphine served with the People to People Health Foundation and what eventually led to her being released or sold from their service are sparse. It’s likely that the operational costs associated with maintaining and staffing a floating medical facility, especially one as old and potentially as maintenance-intensive as the steam-driven yacht Delphine, became too burdensome for the foundation.
SS Delphine changed owners multiple times during the following years, each new owner bringing different visions for her use. Some envisioned her as a floating restaurant or hotel; others thought of repurposing her as a charter or cruise vessel. However, none of these plans was sustained or came to fruition, mainly due to the immense costs associated with maintaining such a large, ageing steam yacht.
Noblesse Yachts
❐ SS Delphine got her original name back after being returned to the Dodge family.


6. The Years of Neglect and Decay

During this time, the yacht frequently sat unused, moored in various ports where she was exposed to the elements without adequate maintenance. The salty sea air, moisture, and neglect contributed to the deterioration of her once-lavish interiors and robust exteriors. Without regular upkeep, critical features such as her steam engines and luxurious woodwork began to degrade, leaving her a shadow of her former glory.
By the 1980s, SS Delphine was a vessel in decline, largely forgotten and at risk of being scrapped. Her interiors, once opulent and fit for the highest tiers of society, were now faded and damaged. The engines that had reliably powered her across the Great Lakes and through wartime lay dormant and in disrepair.
The neglect was not just physical but also symbolic of the waning era of private luxury steam yachts, which had been overtaken by more modern and economically viable ships. Delphine’s story during these years is a poignant reminder of the impermanence of human achievements and the relentless march of time and technology.
Abandoned SS Delphine
❐ Time has already left its clear marks on the ship. Little remains of her former glory.


7. The Purchase and Restoration by Jacques Bruynooghe

The rebirth of the SS Delphine from a state of disrepair to a celebrated historical vessel began with its acquisition by Jacques Bruynooghe in 1997. Bruynooghe, a Belgian businessman with a passion for maritime heritage, discovered SS Delphine languishing in a state of neglect. At the time, the yacht was moored in the Mediterranean, far from the sparkling condition of her heyday. Despite her dilapidated state, Bruynooghe saw the potential for the Delphine to be more than just a relic of the past; he envisioned restoring her as a fully operational luxury yacht that could recapture the elegance and grandeur of the 1920s. Once the purchase was finalized, a process during which Bruynooghe faced numerous challenges, he undertook the massive task of planning the restoration
The restoration of SS Delphine became a labor of love for Jacques Bruynooghe, consuming several years and a substantial portion of his resources. His dedication to the project was driven by a desire not just to own a piece of history, but to bring that history back to life in a way that could be shared with others. His vision was to see the Delphine sail the seas once again, not as a museum piece, but as a living, breathing example of maritime heritage and engineering marvel. Thank you, Mr. Bruynooghe!
Jacques Bruynooghe and SS Delphine
❐ Without Jacques Bruynooghe, this grand old lady might no longer exist today.



8. A Living Legend Available for Charter

As we look back on the remarkable journey of SS Delphine, from her days as a private escape for one of America’s industrial titans to her service in the global conflict of WWII, and her resurgence as a restored luxury yacht, it’s clear that she is a vessel unlike any other.
At Noblesse Yachts®, we are dedicated to preserving the relics of maritime history. We achieve this by bringing their stories to life for people today—viewing them as windows into the past. Our efforts include documenting their evolving roles through time, highlighting their battles for survival, and showcasing the dedicated individuals who have committed themselves to preserving these floating treasures, often at great personal risk. Adi Konstatzky, CEO and founder of Noblesse Yachts, speaks from experience. He has personally contributed to the preservation of two classic vessels: a steamship from 1913 and a motorship from 1928.
You can charter Delphine for about the same as you’d pay for a modern 205-foot Feadship. Why shouldn’t you charter a modern yacht then? It becomes clear from the moment your foot touches the deck that Delphine is another creature altogether.
The reason is vibration: She has none.
“A modern diesel engine does 3000rpm. We do 80,” once Bruynooghe said proudly. “No vibrations — it’s more like a heartbeat.” And almost no noise: Once under way, all you hear are the waves against the hull. You’re in a time machine, doing 11 knots.”
But be careful—chartering a classic yacht might just become your new passion! Uncover the Details: Get in Touch Today: , or fill out contact form.
SS Delphine - Noblesse Yachts
❐ Some impressions of this reborn beauty.

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