TRUTH • OPINION

ALESSANDRO FALCIAI
Enjoying the last of the
summer wine with the
owner of Adamas II.

KNOWLEDGE • IDEAS

...
A dreamer
and a boat
lover
– WORDS BY ANGELA AUDRETSCH
AND IMAGES COURTESY OF ERIC MERLIN

The discovery of three postcard...
26

On a crisp December afternoon Eric
Merlin found himself engrossed in
one of his favourite pastimes: browsing
the legen...
27
28

“A THREAD THAT IS COMMON TO
BOTH EMERAUDE AND CALISTO
IS THE TREMENDOUS BACKSTORY THAT EACH OF THESE
VESSELS HAD. FOR ...
30

engine, but neither of those would make
sense today, not when we have diesel as
an alternative. But we did manage to
m...
An interesting story about uncovering and building the Emeraude Classic Cruises by the cruise's owner Eric Merlin in The S...
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An interesting story about uncovering and building the Emeraude Classic Cruises by the cruise's owner Eric Merlin in The Superyatch Magazine, February 2014

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The discovery of three postcards from the early 1900s at Parisian flea market in 1999 is the start of a unique journey for Eric Merlin....Read more!

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An interesting story about uncovering and building the Emeraude Classic Cruises by the cruise's owner Eric Merlin in The Superyatch Magazine, February 2014

  1. 1. TRUTH • OPINION ALESSANDRO FALCIAI Enjoying the last of the summer wine with the owner of Adamas II. KNOWLEDGE • IDEAS EMERAUDE Eric Merlin’s unique journey to build a replica of a 1900s paddleboat using an old postcard. & S U P E R YA C H T O W N E R I N S I G H T THE FULL MONTE Part of a new wave of marina communities, Porto Montenegro is more than just a place to berth. QUANTIFYING QUALITY Should we do more to quantify a yacht’s true value before it goes on the market?
  2. 2. A dreamer and a boat lover – WORDS BY ANGELA AUDRETSCH AND IMAGES COURTESY OF ERIC MERLIN The discovery of three postcards from the early 1900s at a Parisian flea market in 1999 was the start of a unique journey for Eric Merlin. A self-confessed dreamer and boat lover, Merlin’s imagination was captured by one of the postcard’s discernible paddleboats, Emeraude. He began a quest to uncover her history and build a replica using only these fading sepia images. Now also the owner of the faithfully restored 41.5m minesweeper M/Y Calisto, Merlin talks to Angela Audretsch about Emeraude, his first labour of love.
  3. 3. 26 On a crisp December afternoon Eric Merlin found himself engrossed in one of his favourite pastimes: browsing the legendary Parisian flea market Les Puces de Saint-Ouen for postcards of colonial Vietnam or Indochina. Not expecting to find anything new, Merlin was surprised to pick up three postcards in a box marked ‘Indochine’, dated 1916, 1917 and 1919. Two of them showed paddle steamers far in the distance in Halong Bay and the other one featured an image of the boats at Hai Phong Port in the north of Vietnam. As the founder of one of south-east Asia’s leading travel agencies, Exotissimo Travel, and general lover of historic boats, Merlin was drawn to these old-world steamboats. “I was quite fascinated to see that at the beginning of the last century, there were tourist boats,” he says, telling me that using a magnifying glass, he was able to make out two names – Emeraude and Perle. “My first thought was – ‘Where are these boats?’ My dream was to come back to Vietnam and find these boats in the mud.” After months of looking at the postcards and daydreaming about the boats they portrayed, Merlin decided to use the postcards as the basis for designing a replica paddleboat, in order to offer tourist cruises on Halong Bay that recaptured the glamour and romance of a bygone colonial era. The project began in 2002, with construction commencing in January 2003 at a boatyard in Haiphong, northern Vietnam’s most important seaport. But for a man as meticulous about detail as Merlin, this was not enough. After learning the name of the company that owned one of the boats – Emeraude – and the name of the man that owned the company – Paul Roque – he attempted the daunting task of tracking down the family to find out even more about the history of the boat he was replicating. “I sent out 1,220 letters to all of the Roques in the French telephone directory,” Merlin tells me. “I received a lot of phone calls from Roques, maybe twenty to thirty. They all commented on how fascinating the story was, they would tell me about their grandfather who went to Hong Kong or anyone with a connection to Asia, but crucially they were not connected to Emeraude.” Eventually, though, he received the call he had been waiting for: “The man on the end of the phone said, ‘Don’t look further, we are the family you are talking about and I will introduce you to my father, Xavier, who is the son of Paul Roque.’” In July 2003, just five months before the new Emeraude was completed, Merlin sat down with Xavier Roque, the 76-year-old son of Paul Roque. “He told me about the family history, he showed me the china from the original Emeraude and he gave me an original copy of the brochure for me to copy,” recalls Merlin. On talking to Xavier, Merlin found out that the story of the Roque family in Vietnam began way before Paul Roque came to the country and purchased a fleet of paddleboats (Emeraude, Perle, Ruby and Sapphire) in Halong Bay. In fact, Paul was following in the footsteps of his father and uncles who had come to the region during its very beginnings as a colony in the late1800s. This entrepreneurial spirit was something Merlin could relate to. “Like the Roques, I also looked beyond France to the wider world and all of its possibilities for, shall we say, ‘entrepreneuring’,” he muses. “One can easily do business at home, and in my family – in my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation – they did. I was looking for a new challenge, in a new part of the world, just as the Roques did.” Opening page: Merlin runs Emeraude as a passenger vessel in Halong Bay. Above: Eric Merlin and a model of Emeraude. Right: The three postcards that Merlin purchased at the Paris flea market in 1999.
  4. 4. 27
  5. 5. 28 “A THREAD THAT IS COMMON TO BOTH EMERAUDE AND CALISTO IS THE TREMENDOUS BACKSTORY THAT EACH OF THESE VESSELS HAD. FOR THE ENTIRE TIME I WORKED ON BOTH, THE STORIES OF THE PEOPLE AND THE VOYAGES PLAYED OVER AND OVER IN MY IMAGINATION.” – ERIC MERLIN, OWNER OF EMERAUDE Replicating and building a 55m 1906 paddleboat using just a postcard was a new and welcome challenge for Merlin and the mystery that lay behind Emeraude and her story made this kind of project all the more enticing for him. “I love this kind of old history, how with something like this, you grab a little piece of a story and it can take you in any direction,” he says. “Open an old 1925 phone book, take any name, pull the string and do the homework, and there is a story. Behind this Emeraude story, there is a family, a company and a big history of people who were very courageous. It’s very interesting.” Today, Merlin is no stranger to epic reconstruction projects with a historical edge. In 2007 he purchased a 44.5m former 1944 YMS-1 class minesweeper called Calisto from Thomas Loel Guinness, a member of the famous Irish brewing family, who had completely transformed her into a private yacht. When Merlin took possession, Calisto underwent another significant, historically sensitive refit at a yard in Singapore to restore her to her former glory and she is now a family yacht as well as a successful charter yacht. “A thread that is common to both Emeraude and Calisto is the tremendous backstory that each of these vessels had,” Merlin says to me. “For the entire time I worked on both, the stories of the people and the voyages played over and over in my imagination. I’ve always felt a responsibility to the heritage of these vessels, and to the people who would cruise on them. I feel like a caretaker of a great story as much as the owner of a vessel, and so I have this responsibility to produce great chapters for tomorrow!” With three decks, 38 full-view cabins and one suite, as well as an 80-seat restaurant, two bars, shops, massage rooms, a swimming platform and entertainment area, Merlin’s Emeraude is a slight step away from the original. “We wanted to build the new version a bit different,” Merlin explains. “The original Emeraude was smaller, and it carried freight and mail on the main deck. There were no more than six cabins and we needed much more. The paddle wheel in the back was nice, but not workable today.” Merlin designed the boat based on the postcards, trying to make the shape as similar to the original boat as possible. Even though the paddle wheel would be redundant, Merlin was determined to incorporate it, so Emeraude’s huge paddle wheel opens to reveal a swimming deck, allowing passengers to swim in the calm waters of Halong Bay. “Being faithful to the original design of the boat and, at the same time, cognizant of the expectations our passengers would have today was a great challenge,” admits Merlin. “I love the paddle wheel, and I love the steam
  6. 6. 30 engine, but neither of those would make sense today, not when we have diesel as an alternative. But we did manage to maintain the silhouette of a dreamy old vessel. The atmosphere is very much of another era.” The original plan was to rebuild a full fleet of four sister ships – Emeraude, Perle, Ruby and Sapphire – but Merlin admits that that dream has had to be put to one side owing to the tough market conditions. Not one to stop dreaming completely though, Merlin has another plan. “The barb of that original story of the Emeraude is still sunk in me, and I have a dream to dive on the wreck of the original boat, which went down in 1937,” he says with a smile. “I know where it sunk and the engine was a steam engine, so the big mass of metal should be easy to locate. Now I just need the time and energy to put all that together with professional divers and all. That kind of thing can sometimes be complicated in Vietnam, so I don’t quite have the energy to take care of this yet. But it could be fun. We could retrieve chinaware, the brass bell, maybe … you see, I am not a businessman, I am a dreamer and a boat lover!” The Jewels of Halong Bay: A Tale of Adventure in French Indochina and a Curious History of the Emeraude (Nha Xuat Ban Lao Dong), a book on the story of the Roque family and Emeraude written by long-time Hanoi resident Pam Scott and based on Merlin’s research, is out now. “I LOVE THIS KIND OF OLD HISTORY, HOW WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS, YOU GRAB A LITTLE PIECE OF A STORY AND IT CAN TAKE YOU IN ANY DIRECTION.” – ERIC MERLIN, OWNER OF EMERAUDE Previous page: (top left) A rowboat returning to one of the original paddleboats in Halong Bay; (bottom left) A boatload of French tourists in excursion in Halong Bay in the early 1900s; (bottom right) Emeraude leaving the dock in Hai Pong. Top: The new Emeraude is now exclusively a passenger vessle. Bottom: Merlin still wants to dive the wreck of the original Emeraude one day. TO COMMENT ON THIS ARTICLE GO TO: WWW.THESUPERYACHTOWNER.COM

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