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Love, Kindness, and Drama: Life Aboard Onassis’ Legendary Yacht

Onassis' Yacht
Aristotle Onassis entertains friends aboard “Christina.” Public Domain

The captain of Aristotle Onassis’ legendary yacht “Christina” recently broke his long self-imposed silence, speaking about the celebrities the Greek tycoon once entertained onboard.

In an extensive interview with Greek daily Espresso, 80-year-old Giorgos Zacharias spoke about Onassis’ kindness to his staff and recalled personalities such as Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, Maria Callas, and Jackie Onassis.

Zacharias, who served as the captain of the yacht for ten years, said that Onassis treated him as a trusted and valued employee. He was often the dining companion of the billionaire.

Zacharias says he was on very friendly terms with Onassis’ only son, Alexander, who was tragically killed in an airplane crash at the Athens airport in 1973 at the age of 24.

“We were similar in age and I taught him how to swim and drive speedboats,” Zacharias told the newspaper. The yacht captain was devastated by Alexander’s death.

Churchill was mostly eating, sleeping, or drinking on Onassis’ yacht

“Churchill was a very weird person…Because of his weight, most of the time he was sitting on a chair eating, sleeping or drinking…He emptied whole bottles of whisky while on board,” the captain related.

Onassis yacht
Winston Churchill disembarking from Onassis’ yacht, the Christina. Public Domain

Zacharias said that “he will never forget Greta Garbo.” The Hollywood actress, in her heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, was much older when she befriended Onassis, but she was “still elegant and beautiful.”

The captain recalled one particular incident in great detail: “Garbo was on the deck with a glass of champagne in hand as we had anchored off Chalkida, in Evia. A local fisherman approached the yacht to wave and say hi.”

“She asked the crew to offer him a bottle of whisky… In the morning we discovered that the man had drunk the whole bottle and drowned,” Zacharias explained, and added that “Garbo was inconsolable. She kept crying all day,” considering herself responsible for the tragedy.

He said that his favorite guest onboard the yacht was Tina Livanou, Aristotle Onassis’ first wife. “Every day, she was dining with the crew,” says Zacharias, adding that “She was always asking us if we needed anything [and…] offering help… She was so cool!”

Remembering Maria Callas’ amazing voice on the Onassis yacht

Maria Callas was a tough woman and she behaved like a diva. She never got along with the crew,” Zacharias related.

However, he remembered the amazing voice of the opera singer with amazement. Onassis had installed a piano on the yacht so that Callas could rehearse.

“Every evening we sat back being mesmerized by her voice… Maria had two puppies, from whom she was inseparable. When she was singing, the puppies barked as if they were singing in a trio,” he recalled.

Callas may have been distant from the crew, but he remembers the day when she spoke to him just before her divorce with Onassis.

“We were on the speedboat together and she turns, looks me deep […in the] eyes and says: ‘Giorgo, this is my last day here.’ After two days, they separated,” Zacharias recounted.

As for Jackie Onassis, the former US First Lady and Onassis’ second wife, Zacharias has only unpleasant memories.

“She did not care about the crew, but I also think that she never cared about Onassis [either],” reveals Onassis’ former captain, adding that he doesn’t remember her smiling on her wedding day on Skorpios (Onassis’ then private island in the Ionian Sea).

According to Zacharias, Aristotle Onassis had a big heart. He respected his crew and was a great benefactor and philanthropist.

“When I was doing my military service, Onassis helped my family financially,” the captain revealed.

Before Zacharias enlisted, the tycoon approached him, hugged him, and said: “During the two years of your military service, I will make sure they have everything. I will send them anything they need,” the captain recalled admiringly.

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