Yachting has provided a pastime for generations of Rothschilds. In Britain in the 19th century, Mayer Rothschild (1818-1874) had the 'Garland', Ferdinand (1839-1868) the 'Rona' and Juliana (1831-1877), the 'Czarina', on board which she died in 1877.
French family yachts
Arthur de Rothschild (1851-1903) acquired his steam yacht 'Eros' in 1875, hastened to become a founder-member of the French Yacht Club and went on to found the Coupe de France, the country's major yacht-racing prize. After his death, 'Eros' passed to his nephew, Henri (1872-1947).
When 'Eros' sank off the Swedish coast in 1922 after hitting a reef, Henri built a new 1,000 ton 'Eros' II', with a crew of 33 and every luxury for the glittering array of friends from the theatre who regularly cruised in it. Philippe, his son, learnt his love of yachting on board and went on to win the Coupe de France, founded by his great-uncle. Later keen sailors included Cécile (1913-1995), whose guests on board regularly included Greta Garbo and Cecil Beaton.
Lionel de Rothschild
In England, Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942) was a keen motorboat racer. Lionel’s interest in all things racing began while he was at Cambridge. His successes included the breaking of the world water-speed record of 28 knots in 1906 and again in the 1907 Perla del Mediterraneo, won jointly with John Montagu in the 'Flying Fish'. His motor-launch 'Nigella' and steam-yacht 'Rhodora' were both built by Camper and Nicholson. 'Rhodora II', built to replace the first of that name was an 800-ton boat complete with operating theatre and space in the hold for a Rolls Royce. She was manned by a crew of twelve.
Lionel's son, the late Mr Edmund de Rothschild (1919-2009) recalled “On our summer cruises, we sailed as far south as Spain and the Balearic Islands, and north as far as Sweden and the Baltic. One year, when we were steaming down the coast of Dalmatia, my father received an invitation to lunch with the King of Yugoslavia, to discuss the possibility of a loan, at Bled, the King’s summer resort. At lunch, my father later reported to my mother, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on; she turned out to be Princess Marina, the future Duchess of Kent, who later came with the Duke to stay at Exbury in 1938. A few days after his lunch at Bled, my father received an invitation to lunch from the other side of the Adriatic, from Benito Mussolini; but he declined to go. When Rhodora dropped anchor, there would be sightseeing parties ashore, though I was always much happier dangling a fishing line over the yacht’s stern or chasing butterflies.”
The Gitana Fleet
Strongly connected to the Franco-Swiss branch of the Rothschild family, the story of the Gitana boats began in 1876 on the banks of Lake Geneva. In 1876, Baroness Julie de Rothschild (1830-1907) - a woman with a strong personality otherwise known as “La Gitane” (the gypsy) ordered the first 'Gitana': a steam schooner 24 metres long, with which she became the fastest woman on water in the world with a speed record of 20.5 knots, almost 38km/h. Twenty-two years later, at the helm of 'Gitana II', she beat her own record by reaching a speed of 26,034 knots, 48 km/h, also on Lake Geneva. From then sailing became a sport as much as a leisure activity for the family.
In the 1960’s Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1926-1997) turned the family’s love of boats into a real passion for sailing. The family’s favourite sailing boats were monohulls. From 'Gitana III' to 'Gitana VIII', the boats were successful in prestigious races, including the Giraglia in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic’s Fastnet, for which 'Gitana IV' held a record for nineteen consecutive years.
In 1984 Baron Edmond de Rothschild created the class A Boats (‘Maxi’). These were gems of speed and elegance, on one of which his son Baron Benjamin de Rothschild (b.1963) won the World Cup which he presented to his father in 1986.
Baron Benjamin founded the Gitana Team in 2000. In 2019 the Gitana team on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild 'Gitana 17' won the Fastnet and set a new multihull record time, smashing the previous 2011 record by 4 hours 45 minutes.