"SS Delphine" – A 257-foot Steam Yacht

By: Rick Casali

Volume 18, Issue 12, December 2023

One of the largest private yachts ever built and sailed on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River is the 257-foot steam yacht Delphine. She was built in 1921 for Horace Dodge Sr., co-founder of the Dodge Brothers Automobile Company. The massive yacht was built near Detroit in River Rouge, MI, by the Great Lakes Engineering Co., at a cost of over $2 million.

Delphine is powered by twin quadruple-expansion steam engines that produce 1,500 horsepower each. Mr. Dodge designed these large engines, which still operate the yacht today. They turn only about 150 revolutions per minute, which is awfully slow compared to modern marine engines. And they are said to be quite easy on fuel oil. Delphine cruises at 9 knots and she has a range of about 2,500 nautical miles. She was reported to have a top speed of 15 knots. The yacht carries over 200,000 gallons of fuel oil, as well as over 300,000 gallons of fresh water.

Horace and John Dodge were hugely successful in the automotive business. Initially, they supplied axles, engines, and other components to Henry Ford and other manufacturers.  Eventually, they made the decision to build their own motorcars under the Dodge name, and were known for durable and dependable automobiles, sold at a competitive price. Having accumulated millions of dollars in wealth, they built large mansions in Grosse Pointe, MI, as well as motor yachts – all of which were the result of their ingenuity and driven business habits.

Unfortunately, Horace Dodge and his brother John never got to enjoy or sail on Delphine as they both died of influenza in 1920, after attending the National Automobile Show in New York City. At the time of their deaths, they were only about 55 years of age. Horace’s wife Anna took over control of Delphine, and the Dodge family cruised her through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and on the East Coast. While at anchor on the Hudson River in 1926, Delphine caught fire, and partially sank.  Under Anna’s direction, she was re-floated and restored. In 1940, Delphine struck a rock off Manitoulin Island, ON, in Lake Huron, and again went through some restoration and repairs.

During WW II, the Dodge yacht was requisitioned by the US Navy and was re-named the USS Dauntless.  She became the flagship of Admiral Ernest King, who was Commander-in-Chief of the US Atlantic Fleet. It also reported that during WW II, US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Russian Ambassador Molotov had a secret meeting to discuss war strategy, in the smoking room of the large yacht. Following the war, she was used as a training vessel for steam yachts by the Lundenberg Maryland School of Seamanship. She went through a series of owners over the following 18 years. At one point, she was considered being sold for scrap metal.

Two antique launches that belong to the Delphine. [Photo courtesy the author]

Delphine, which was named for Horace and Anna Dodge’s daughter, was ultimately restored, and sold for $22 million.  Another massive five-year restoration from stem to stern was finished in 2003, and was reported to cost 45 million Euros. She was owned by the Tunisian Ineke Brunynooghe – who apparently does not like to fly. Upon completion of the restoration, Princess Stephanie of Monaco re-christened the vessel. Today, she flies the flag of Portugal, and is available for charter.

Delphine has 11 staterooms, which can accommodate 24 guests.  The guest staterooms are 14 by 14 feet, each with a private bath. The owners’ stateroom is 25 by 25 feet. Delphine has a swimming pool, massage suite and spa, a gourmet galley, a small hospital, and about 3,000 square feet of deck space. She has five decks, and originally had a crew of 54. Today, a crew of 32 is the norm. The living spaces in the interior were designed by Tiffany’s. One of her features was the installation of a $60,000 organ. Today, the organ has been replaced by a Steinway grand piano.

The Delphine's impressive wheelhouse. [Photo courtesy of the author]
Delphine's steam engines. [Photo courtesy of the author]

In terms of support vessels, Delphine originally had two 20-foot launches for the captain and crew; a 30 foot launch; and a 35-foot express launch for owners and guests that was capable of doing 40 miles per hour. The 1,700-ton vessel has a beam of 36 feet and draws an amazing 14 feet.

Today, Delphine is available for charter in the Mediterranean Sea, and frequents ports in France, Monaco, Italy, and Greece.  This luxury yacht has all the water toys and modern comforts that wealthy charter clients expect. Many Grand Prix drivers have visited Delphine, as she is frequently anchored in Monaco for the famous auto race.

During her history of cruising US waters, it is evident that Delphine transited the St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands a number of times. Her 14-foot draft would have limited where she could find a berth in the Islands. Mrs. Dodge had good friends in Cape Vincent, and visited them on the Delphine. Alexander and Lucy Rutherford, who owned the Windy Bank estate, entertained Mrs. Dodge on more than one occasion. The property, at the northwest corner of Broadway and Real Streets, and is now owned by David and Sharon Wiley. It is also reported that Mrs. Dodge enjoyed having dinner at the Carleton Hotel, while in the Cape Vincent area aboard the Delphine. The Rutherfords were also entertained by Mrs. Dodge aboard Delphine on numerous occasions. Her last visit to Cape Vincent was in June, 1955. Mrs. Dodge passed away at her home in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI, on June 2, 1970 at the age of 103.  Thus far, I have not been able to uncover any photos of ports-of-call that Delphine made while in the Thousand Islands or Lake Ontario.

Today, Delphine is available for charter in the Mediterranean Sea, and frequents ports in France, Monaco, Italy, and Greece

Some say that her design length of 257 feet was limited by the capacity of the Welland canal and locks. In the 1920’s, Delphine was the largest private yacht to pass through the locks. The tragic story of owner Horace Dodge, not ever able to enjoy his nautical dream, reminds me of the story of George Boldt and Boldt Castle. It is ironic how health can change the future, despite incredible wealth.

By Rick Casali

Rick Casali is a resident of Wellesley Island.  During his youth, his parents had a cottage from 1947 to 1970 named The Orchards on Grindstone Island.  Rick now splits his time between Stuart, Florida and the River.  He worked for Columbia Gas System for 29 years, and ran their Washington, DC office. Then in 2000, he started brokering boats and yachts, and continues as a broker with North Point Yacht Sales.  Rick and his wife Anne cruise the River in a Seaway 24 Seafarer named "Miss Annie" and they live on Tennis Island.

Be sure to see more of Rick Casali's tributes and reviews. He had now written over a dozen and they are not only interesting but provide an important historical review of River life.

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 12, December 2023, People, History, Places, Sports

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