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Brief history….

Built as KATOOMBA, official number: 115757, 789- tons, by Ailsa Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., at Troon. Launched 17 February and completed as yard No. 112 in May 1903 for Kenneth M Clark of Paisley.

Dimensions: Length: 205.2ft, breadth: 28.5ft, depth: 15.5ft, tonnage: 706 tm.

Bought by Mme Cyprienne Hériot (widow) whose illustrated account of a Mediterranean cruise in the KATOOMBA was published in 1905.

By 1908 KATOOMBA had been renamed as SALVATOR and was still owned by the recently remarried Mme Hériot.

In 1910 sold to F H de St. Senoch, France

From March 1915 to February 1919 requisitioned by the Admiralty as aux. patrol yacht, Royal Navy

In 1924 renamed KATOOMBA [owner unknown]

IN 1924 renamed SAYONARA by Antony J Drexel, Philadelphia, USA

In 1930 renamed HELIOPOLIS by Baron Empain, Antwerp, Belgium

In March 1940 the Admiralty purchased her for service as Fleet Air Arm target, sold in 1946

In 1947 owned by Typaldos Bros. Steamship Co., Ltd., Piraeus [ converted for commercial service] Greece

Broken up at Piraeus in August 1960.

s.y. Sayonara (b).jpg

                                     SAYONARA, 766 tons, before she was renamed HELIOPOLIS


In 1928 Capt. Harold Cranfield left Rowhedge for Southampton when he was offered command of the HELIOPOLIS, a luxury steam yacht formerly known as SAYONARA, owned by the wealthy American banker Anthony Drexel, and now bought by a Belgian multi-millionaire Baron Jean Empain. He averaged 34,000 miles a year in this yacht, travelling the world, and remained with the Baron until the outbreak of war and the Baron’s death.


HELIOPOLIS on trials after conversion to oil fuel in 1931

Captain Harold Cranfield in his cabin on board HELIOPOLIS

Baron Jean Empain and Capt. Harold Cranfield on board s.y. HELIOPOLIS

s.y. Heliopolis

Capt. Cranfield and crew members of Heliopolis

Visitors to the Heliopolis

THE SOUTHERN DAILY ECHO - Tuesday 5 December 1933 - “YACHT’S WORLD CRUISE FROM NORTHAM - Wonderful Time for Baron’s Guests - CAPTAIN’S ADVENTURE ON CANNIBAL ISLAND - Two pigs equal one wife in the island of Sakan, South Pacific, one of the many places visited in a remarkable world cruise in a craft now lying at Camper and Nicholson’s Northam Yard, Southampton.

The steam yacht Heliopolis, of 766 tons, left Southampton at the end of May, and in five and a half months cruised 29,000 miles in the course of encircling the globe and calling at some of the strangest places on it.

The Heliopolis belongs to a young Belgian Baron, Jean Empain, who, with a party of 14 friends, made the cruise with the principal object of seeing something of the life and customs of the Pacific.

Her captain is a Southampton man, Captain H.V. Cranfield, her chief engineer, Mr. H. Fox, is of Southampton,  and most of her crew of 33 belong to the district.

START FROM NORTHAM - After a re-fit, the Heliopolis left Camper and Nicholson’s Northam Yard, on May 30 picked up at Havre 11 of the Baron’s guests, called at Las Palmas on June 16, reached the island of St. Thomas, West Indies on (June 27th?), and the Panama Canal (blank) days later.

They steamed on to Mexico, and there the Baron, who had crossed the Atlantic in the Bremen, and four other guests joined the Heliopolis, which left without delay for the islands of the South Seas.

The party saw life among the various native races, mingled with cannibals, watched wild dances by moonlight, and observed the natives’ quaint customs.

AMONG CANNIBALS - There was much preparation and excitement when the Heliopolis reached Tomman Island, in the New Hebrides, the first of the cannibal group. Machine guns had been mounted on the deck, and there was a muster of all arms, including sporting rifles and shot guns, in case there was trouble.

Fortunately, the firearms were not needed. A small French trader was anchored in the harbour and when the Baron and his guests landed they were met in a friendly way by the natives.

It was at that island that Captain Cranfield  had a nerve-racking experience.

The Baron and his guests having been away on the island and out of sight for a couple of hours, Captain Cranfield began to get rather apprehensive of danger, and went ashore with one of the man-eating natives, who had come out to the yacht in a canoe.

The man led him inland along a narrow path with tall grasses on either side. The cannibal had a long murderous-looking knife in one hand; the Captain was entirely unarmed.

At length, after a mile walk, the man stopped and began beating on a hollow tree. A band of natives appeared, as if by magic and the captain thought his last hour had come.

GESTURE OF FRIENDSHIP - He walked forward boldly, however, and shook hands with the cannibals, who appreciated his gesture of friendship. He gave them some tobacco, with which they were delighted, and eventually he was able to induce his guide to take him back to the yacht.

He had not seen the Baron and his party at all, but they returned safely. It transpired that they had been to see a village and the cannibals with whom they went had heard that the captain was on the island through the message beat on the hollow tree.

WEIRD DANCE - At Aitchen Island, another of the New Hebrides group, the party saw some amazing dancing. Apparently the natives gathered together every night and to the beating of sticks on bits of wood ingeniously hollowed out to give different notes, danced for hours on end working themselves into such a frenzy that they dashed pigs to death on the ground to appease themselves.

The women folk, with their babies, were allowed to watch these weird dances, but only after the dancing were they allowed to mingle with the men.

CONVICTED CANNIBALS - In the interior of New Guinea, cannibalism is still rife. When the Heliopolis called at Samarai Island, New Guinea, the Australian Resident came to lunch, and afterwards  brought out for the party to see two of the 30(?) prisoners who were serving sentences for cannibalism.

The two men who were brought forward under the guard of two Indian policemen, were members of a tribe living from 200 to 300 miles inland up the Fly River, and were each serving five-year sentences, having been caught with 10 human heads in their possession.

Apparently the tribesmen occasionally become afflicted with a lust for human flesh, come down the river, attack other tribes, carry off as many heads as possible, and celebrate with a gigantic feast.

At Marauki, New Guinea, where the Heliopolis called a few days later, Captain Cranfield was told that two Australians had been ambushed a few miles inland and eaten. He was warned that it would be extremely dangerous for the party to venture inland, and he took the hint.

MATRIMONIAL BARTER - In the islands of the New Hebrides group the custom of bartering pigs for wives still prevails, the men of the islands who have more pigs are able to have more wives. Naturally, something depends on the size and quality of the pigs, but two to three for a wife, Captain Cranfield was told, is the usual rate of exchange. Traders who call at the islands bring pigs to barter for copra.

Most of the natives are very dark, with jet black hair, but in Theopia Island, one of the Banks Islands group, the Baron and his guests were amazed to see fine-looking men with long flowing hair with brown and red tints in it, pointing to the fact that in the dim and distant past some white men had been marooned on the island, and had settled there, and interbred with the native population.

The clothes of the natives, when they had any, differed in the various islands. In Rennell Island, of the Solomon group, where there was no Resident, the men wore merely a small loin-cloth of coconut fibre, rings in their noses, and the lobes of their ears extended by means of wooden blocks from one to two inches.

TATTOOED JUMPERS - The women had their bodies tattooed in various designs, as if representing a woman’s jumper and skirt, in imitation of the clothes of civilised people, with rings in their noses and ears. At Marauke, in Dutch New Guinea, they looked even stranger, wearing tusks instead of rings in their noses.

The natives of most of the islands have an extraordinarily primitive existence, keeping alive mainly on coconuts, on the fish that they catch with bow and arrow, and by other queer means, on goats’ milk when they have goats, and on pigs. Captain Cranfield thought, however, that the large majority were contented and happy. Most of them took a childish delight in clothes.

At some of the islands at which the Heliopolis called a white man had not been seen for many years and the approaches were barely chartered (sic). Fortunately the water is perfectly clear and of a wonderful blue in the South Seas. Captain Cranfield used to proceed from island to island with a man aloft to look out for coral reefs.

FEAT OF NAVIGATION - It was a fine feat of navigation for not once did the Heliopolis touch the bottom, though some of the harbours had very difficult approaches. For example, the entrance to the harbour of Penrhyn Island, one of the N(?) Cook group, is only half a cable wide. That island is famous for its pearls and for its native divers, who bring up the oysters.

The Heliopolis visited about 50 islands from July 1st, when she reached the Marquesas Islands, to August 20th, when she arrived at Surabaya, Java. At Singapore on October 2nd the Baron left the yacht and flew home by air liner as he had to get back to Europe to look after his many business interests.

Returning by Colombo, Aden, Suez, Port Said, Algiers, Gibraltar and Ostend the Heliopolis reached Havre on November 16th, and there most of the party disembarked taking with them many and strange curios of their world trip.

COMPUTATION OF COST - The cost of the cruise Captain Cranfield computes to be in the region of £13,000. The Heliopolis was converted into an oil burning yacht three years ago, with a cruising radius of 5,000 miles. As it was impossible to get oil in the South Seas, 450 tons of it had to be sent on ahead to Tahiti, to Fiji, and to Thursday Isle, which, naturally, added much to the expense of the cruise.

The Baron, who is only 30 years of age, is, in Captain Cranfield’s estimation, an outstandingly brilliant man. He has a palace and much land in Heliopolis (Egypt), from which his yacht takes her name, is the chairman of a Belgian bank, has large interests in the underground railways of Paris, and is chairman of numerous companies.

His party was a regular League of Nations, young, merry, and bright, five Belgians, one Englishwoman, two Canadians, one Norwegian, one American, three French and one Italian. The girls all dressed in white sailor suits.

SKIPPER’S HISTORY - Captain Cranfield has been connected with yachts for 25 years. He took over command of the Heliopolis five years ago, when the Baron bought her from Mr. Anthony Drexel, an American. She was built on the Clyde in 1903 to the design of G.L. Watson.

The Baron has now cruised in the Heliopolis in most parts of the world. Next year he intends to take her out to China and Japan.

The Heliopolis had wonderful weather throughout the cruise until she got back to Algiers. She called at 72 ports on her voyage, and had an average cruising speed of over 10 knots, with the advantage of the south-east trade wind at her back almost throughout.”





Capt. Harold Cranfield

THE YORKSHIRE POST  - 16 July 1932 – “FASTEST MOTOR BOAT – Craft with 500 Horse Power Aero-Engine. The fastest and most luxurious marine “runabout” in the world has just been completed by the British Power Boat Co. to the order of Baron Empain, one of the wealthiest men on the Continent.

The boat, which is driven by a 500 h.p. aero-engine, is to act as a tender to the Baron’s big yacht, Heliopolis, and in commissioning Mr. Hubert Scott-Paine, founder and managing owner of the British Power Boat Co., to design and build this craft for him, the Baron stipulated that it must be the fastest of its kind in the world.

 Only fifteen weeks were available for design construction and testing, but with this very limited period Mr. Scott-Paine managed not only to produce a new type of hull to meet the arduous conditions imposed by the contract, but also adapted and installed with special gearing the big aero-engine acting as power-plant.

 All this work was accomplished with such rapidity and success that at its first trials the boat, when operating at only half throttle, moved across the water at more than 50 miles an hour, and is expected when fully run-in to reach, or even exceed, 60 or 70 miles an hour.”

Motorboating - September 1933

“Boat designer Hubert Scott-Paine at the wheel of his new motor boat with the Mayor of Southampton (front) and politician William Craven-Ellis, taking a test drive in the boat owned by Baron Empain, at Southampton, England, April 4th 1933.” Press photo.

THE SCOTSMAN – 23 July 1934 – “STEAMSHIP MOVEMENTS: Heliopolis, arr. Singapore, 19.”


THE STRAITS TIMES – 30 August 1934 – “BARON ON PLEASURE CRUISE – LUXURIOUS YACHT – THE HELIOPOLIS TO VISIT BANGKOK. Hong Kong, Aug. 20. Baron Empain, eminent Belgian banker and millionaire, arrived in the Colony from Shanghai late on Friday night on his luxurious schooner-yacht, Heliopolis, on his return journey to Europe, after a pleasure cruise through the Orient.

 The yacht leaves today on a short visit to Canton and Macao after which it will sail direct to Haiphong (French Indo-China), Saigon, and then, via ports, to Bangkok. Here the Baron will leave his yacht to his 12 European guests and return to Paris by air.

 The Heliopolis makes yearly cruises to all parts of the world. Last year she completed a round-the-world tour, having previously visited Honolulu, via Panama, the South Seas Islands, Australia, and South America.

 The 750-ton yacht left Southampton on May 25 last and cruised towards the East on no definite sailing schedule, stopping at Gibraltar, Port Said, Bombay, and Madras. Here she picked up her owner, Baron Empain, who had flown by air from Europe. Continuing her voyage the vessel called at Penang, Singapore, Manila (Philippine Islands), Keelung (Formosa) and Shanghai. It was hoped to have carried on to visit Japan, but a typhoon forced the vessel to seek shelter in a small bay 40 miles south of Woosung.

 Her return to Southampton is expected about the beginning of November.

 CRAFT 30 YEARS OLD. Officers aboard the Heliopolis state that she is about 30 years old and has had many owners. Although she now flies the Belgian flag, her last former owner, Mr. Anthony Drexell, an American banker with offices in Paris, operated her under the American flag. The yacht has been the property of Baron Empain for the past five years.

 Her name is taken from the ancient town of Heliopolis in Egypt which was restored and made into more or less of a resort by the father of the present Baron Empain, who is a millionaire Belgian banker, as was his father. The father was a very great friend of King Leopold II.

 Apart from two Belgian wireless operators, the crew of 35 now carried by the yacht are British including the captain, H.V. Cranfield.”


THE SINGAPORE FREE PRESS – 4 September 1934 – “BARON’S YACHT Pays A Visit To Canton. The famous Belgian multi-millionaire Baron Empain arrived in Canton on Wednesday in the luxurious schooner-yacht Heliopolis and anchored at the Shameen Anchorage. Soon after arrival the party left the yacht for a drive round the city, returning at 6 p.m. Afterwards the baron left on a motor-boat ride. The baron and the party were entertained to a dinner on board the H.M.S. Moth.

 Of special interest to Canton, it is understood that one of the officers of the yacht is the ex-Captain of H.M.S. Robin the British river gun-boat, says the Canton Daily Sun.”

THE ESSEX COUNTY STANDARD - Saturday 26 January 1935 - “EAST DONYLAND - REMARKABLE YACHTING CRUISE - The story of the latest cruise made by the s.y. Heliopolis will be of considerable interest to all local seafaring men and to many who are at present living overseas. The Heliopolis is owned by Baron Empain and commanded by Capt. Harold Cranfield, a local born seaman, who on a recent visit to the village narrated the wonderful cruise which with others surely constitutes a record. During the last four years over 100,000 miles have been covered in cruising. In 1933 she did a world cruise, during which she visited about 70 different places and covered approximately 29,000 miles at an average speed of 10½ knots. During 1934 several thousand miles were covered in cruising in Norway, after which another long trip was started from Southampton on May 25, during which she covered approximately 25,000 miles, encountering heavy seas during the monsoons, but notwithstanding all the difficulties she maintained an average speed of nearly 11 knots. Forty-nine places in all were visited. Not only a remarkable record, but one that calls for the very best seamanship, reflecting great credit upon the Captain and the officers under his command.”

Photos of the 1934 cruise - If you have a dread of looking at other people's holiday photos never fear.... only a few of the 240 or so photos in the album are included here to give an idea of how the rich and famous enjoyed their cruising.

Crew of Heliopolis
Baron Empain
Some of the guests on board
Passing time on the long voyage out - The arrival of Neptune
The crew appear to be as involved as the guests
Baron Empain
Capt. Cranfield, second left

Baron Empain's father Édouard is credited with establishing the modern Heliopolis (now a suburb of Cairo) and built himself a palace .... using concrete. This amazing building was inspired by Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Hindu temples of Orissa. Baron Empain was eventually buried nearby.

H.M.S. Heliopolis - WWII
Sayonara - Sid Mitchell 01.jpg
Sayonara - Sid Mitchell 02.jpg
Heliopolis tender.jpg
The tender belonging to Heliopolis - Courtesy of Vincent DUCHATELET
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