The Hunt for Stacia Leigh

The Hunt Starts

As a company one of our specialisms is finding suitable boats  for clients. In this we are assisted by our own bespoke software 

known, immodestly, as ‘BEST’ (which actually stands for Boating  Enterprise Search Tool!).

Recently we were engaged for a very unusual assignment. A client wanted to find a specific boat of great historical interest, which was  built in the early 1900’s. He was interested in its fascinating history  and in trying to find out its current location or what had happened to it. 

He had already engaged three local researchers for a period. They had not succeeded in the task. So, as specialists, we were called in. Could we help?

We were specifically engaged to investigate and report back on  what had happened to the boat variously known as Chryseis and  Stacia Leigh.

Our research team consists of Joseph Dewhurst, John Thain, Mollie Fordyce and Ilistyl Scates-Stenzel. Although they were very busy on other tasks, it only took our researchers a mere three days to find out the history of this boat and what had happened to it. This is its story.

It turned out that this boat has done everything, from being part of the pioneering motor industry, to unsavoury connections to the Nazi and Axis regimes, to smuggling arms, to becoming a movie star in not one but 4 films, to being a bed and breakfast. So – for more,  read on… 

It’s early history; 1906 – 1998

The boat was built in 1906 by clipper company Le Havre, hull number 0227, and named Chryseis. The significance (if any) of the name is not clear; however “Chryseis” is one of the female characters who appears during the events of the Trojan War in Greek mythology.

The basic metrics are impressive for the time. It had a gross weight of 84 tons, measured 31 meters LOA, a beam of 4.8 metres and a top speed of 9.5 knots. This was the largest petrol driven yacht that had been built up until then.

We think, but are not certain, that the hull was designed and built at the Dubigeon shipyard, in Nantes. The rear fittings were by Maison Leglas Maurice in Nantes. However, the location has not been verified.

The vast majority of the boat was reserved for accommodation. This gave it a feeling of spaciousness even greater than its size would suggest. In the stern, there were 4 master bedrooms, each with en-suite. On the lower deck there were a further 4 smaller cabins for the crew. In the forward area there was space for a further 6 people, with a head and a kitchen area.

The original owner was Louis Renault, co- founder of Renault motors and one of the early pioneers of the car industry. Together with his two older brothers, Marcel and Ferdinand, they formed the Renault Freres company in 1899. Louis Renault went on to become a highly controversial figure, supporting the Nazis during WW2. It was while cruising up the Seine on Chryseis that Renault spotted a 1,000 acre estate at Herqueville, Normandy. Just like any modern-day billionaire, he bought the estate.

Chryseis was originally fitted with two 50HP Renault petrol engines, with a secondary 8HP motor powering internal electrics. We can speculate that Louis Renault was interested in investigating how his engines would perform in a marine environment. Or maybe he just happened to have a couple of spare engines laying around.

Of course, diesel is generally regarded as the favourite fuel for several reasons, including the risk of fire from petrol. This seems to have been recognised as there were several fire safety precautions evident in the design and structure.

The petrol fuel was placed above the ship’s own deck. The tanks were above the waterline in watertight double boxes, with direct flow to the sea. The annular space between the tanks and the caissons was filled with sand, such that the petrol tank was therefore embedded in the sand. The fueling devices were also above the waterline in completely sealed metal boxes. Any fuel that could have flown from these devices would have been immediately flushed out of the hull. These precautions eliminated most of the fire risk.

We understand that she was then sold to 1937 to Count Galeazzo Gano of Liveno, Italy. He had previously married Mussolini’s daughter, Edda, in 1930. There is some evidence that the Count was a journalist, although evidently a well-connected one.
When Count Gano died, the boat was inherited by Mussolini. After Mussolini’s execution in 1945, Italian rebels used Chryseis to smuggle arms.

Once the war was over, Chryseis became a movie star! She was used in four movies;

  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Seven Cities of Atlantis
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • S.S. Commodore.

The later years; 1998 – 2004 – and a name change

After her movie career, she lay abandoned for several years until she was purchased by Patrick and Bonnie Hicks in 1998. She had been discovered in a shipyard near Dayton Beach, Florida. We could find no record of how she came to be there.

The boat was then moved to Orange where she underwent repairs and enhancements for a month. This included the radical addition of the upper deck comprising of five staterooms which changed her looks radically and increased the internal accommodation further. This was eventually to become her downfall. 

The vessel was then moved to Galveston, Texas. Here she underwent a name change and was operated as the Stacia Leigh Bed & Breakfast. She was named after the owners’ daughter.

She was moored at Pier 22 in Glaveston, Texas. Unfortunately, the vessel became unstable probably due to poor weight distribution caused by guests staying onboard and that addition of an upper deck. She sank in April 2004.

2004 – present day – Where are you now Stacia Leigh?

After the sinking, we believe she was raised by T&T Salvage and placed on hard-standing.

Where are you now, Oh Stacia Leigh?

During our research we found the following images taken at Port Bolivar Marine Service, based in Galveston, Texas which show the degradation of the vessel (2009).

We were able to get someone to visit Port Bolivar Marine Service on 24th July 2021. Very sadly, after an interesting life, it has been confirmed that Stacia Leigh is no more. Unfortunately, the shipyard has confirmed that Stacia Leigh has been dismantled and sold for scrap. The exact date she was scrapped is not currently known.

A sad ending but, it must be admitted, a life lived to the full.

Martin Berman, with research by Joseph Dewhurst, John Thain, Mollie Fordyce and Ilistyl Scates-Stenzel

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