The story of the "Florette" started at Limiti sul Arno near Florence, Italy in the original shipyard of the famous Picchiotti family where she was built in 1921 and was launched bow first in January of 1922. The Florette was built for the Telaro family of Marina di Carrera, who were ship captains and had an interest in the marble trade. Captain Govanni Telaro joined the ship as a boy, became captain at the age of 21, and owned and sailed the vessel until he retired in 1967. When my father took over the Florette in 1980, Captain Telaro came on board and said it was still his ship. He was a fine old gentleman who often visited for a few days and told us many stories until he passed away in 1994.
The Florette was built especially for the transport of large rectangular blocks of marble; she was strengthened with extra longitudinal beams and had two small cargo hatches. The Florette was built as a Brigantine, had four square sails on the foremast, a total of over 600sq m of sail and no engine. She had a crew of 6 men and the Captain. The Captain had a nice cabin aft and the crew lived in the forecastle. When there was no wind the crew used to tow the ship in and out of harbour with a large rowing boat which was always on board.
She sailed with up to 200t of cargo, mostly marble from Marina di Carrera to ports in the Mediterranean. Her record was with a mixed cargo from Barcelona to Viareggio in 36 hrs, which is an average speed of 12 knots. Her slowest voyage was from Viareggio to Palermo which took 3.5 months.
In 1936 her first engine, a two cylinder 60hp unit, was installed to make harbour manoeuvres easier.
The Florette continued her work until 1940 when she was taken over by the Italian Navy. Under Captain Telaro's command, with his 6 crew and another 6 military seamen, the Florette was fitted with a five-pound gun, two heavy machine guns and a radio transmitter. The crew were also armed with rifles. She became a Q/Guard ship for the Italian Navy and took part in the battle of Taranto. She was based off Capri as a guard ship when the Italians capitulated in September 1943 and Captain Telaro, thinking the war was over, set sail for Marina di Carrera as he had not seen his family for over a year.
While sailing along the coast near Civitavechia (north of Rome) Florette was stopped by Germans and ordered into the Port. Captain Telaro had to transfer German troops to Livorno and then receive a cargo of ammunition bound for Sardinia. On the day of arrival in Livorno she was moored on the outer jetty ready to receive her cargo the next day. That night there was an air raid by the Americans and the Captain decided to scuttle the Florette.
Captain Telaro's comment was, "To make a trip with 200t of ammunition to Sardinia with the submarines sitting just outside the harbour was very risky and I did not like the Germans. So the only option left for him was to open the sea cocks and lay her to rest on the bottom of the harbour.
The Americans liberated Livorno in the autumn of 1944 and the next day Captain Telaro returned to Livorno where the masts of the Florette could still be seen above the water. He explained to the Americans how he had scuttled the Florette. They were moved by his story and raised the Florette. They took out the 2-cylinder engine and overhauled it, washed and painted the ship, re-rigged her and made new sails. Six weeks later Captain Telaro and the fully restored Florette were ready to return to sea again.
There was plenty of work for her due to the lack of ships and she was engaged to trade with the British Admiralty, to bring food to Malta and war material to Livorno. After a few years she returned to her old trade. In 1952 to save on crew costs and time a new 4 cylinder 130 HP O.M. Diesel engine was fitted. It weighed in at 7 tonnes and gave her a speed of 6.5 knots at 280 RPM.
Her rig was cut back to a gaff/schooner setup with two large gaff sails and three foresails. She could still sail well and continued to work under the command of Captain Telaro until November 1967 when he decided to retire. The Florette was taken from Carrera to Livorno for the last time where she was laid up and put up for sale. It was the end of sailing cargo ships.
The rebirth of a sailing ship
In 1968 a German called Mr Fumian bought the Florette and spent the next three years converting her into a yacht. A new deck was laid and a new galley built.
Below decks a saloon, two bathrooms and cabins were built. Registered at that time under the Panamanian flag, in 1974 the flag was changed to Maltese with registration no.0064. Unfortunately the owner encountered practical and bureaucratic problems with Florette and in the spring of 1978 she passed into the control of the Elba sailing centre for use as a sail training vessel and was returned to the Italian flag, being registered LI-008ND in Livorno.
My father Ron Haynes Senior at this time was onboard a 40m luxury motor yacht, Calypso, which he had converted from a minesweeper a few years before. He met the owner of the sailing school, the Florette and my mother, who was at that time 18 and working onboard Florette as cook. By the end of the season he'd had enough of the luxury side of the industry and wanted to be with my mother. He was offered the position of captain on the Florette and a partnership.
In the winter 1978 my mother and father were married, the rig of the Florette was changed to that of a staysail schooner, which was easier to handle, and was then slipped at the Sabatini shipyard at Porto Ercole on the mount Argentario.
The current yard owner's father had built ships similar to Florette and the yard still repaired large wooden fishing boats. Over the next ten years, major hull restoration work was done at this yard.
At the same time my father had made contact with Swiss and German diving organisations offering the Florette for one or two week cruises. This was to form the bread and butter of the Florette's work for the next ten years.
The Florette started working and in August 1979, my mother flew home to Munich to give birth to me on the 12th of September whilst my father was chartering around the Aeolian Islands. Two weeks later I joined the Florette as crew and got used to the rolling of the sea.
In November the Florette returned to Elba and my father installed a new 260hp Aifo diesel engine over the winter.
For the 1980 season we changed our base to Porto Santo Stefano, on the mount Argentario, which was to become our home for the next ten years. We cruised to the south of France, Corsica, Sardegnia and Sicily.
During the 1982 season the owner of the sailing school had personal and financial problems and it was decided to sell the Florette meaning our family would be out of work. My parents decided to buy the Florette and since then she has been owned by our family. When I think back, I believe my parents were crazy and many others thought the same at the time. A 60 year old run down tall ship, a large bank loan and a crew consisting of a three year old child and a dog. Nevertheless the Florette was changed to the British flag in 1984 and business went very well.
This was the life of the Florette for 7 months of each year. After a few years the ship was paid for and every winter was spent upgrading and restoring the Florette, which we have done every winter for the last 29 years.
I had a great childhood sailing in the summer months and attending nursery school from aged three until six, full time at Porto Ercole during the winter, where I learnt Italian whilst my parents worked hard on the ship.
When I was almost three I nearly drowned riding my tricycle on the jetty by not paying quite enough attention to where the jetty ended. My father loved to tell the story to anyone who would listen today and said, "On the ship he was safe, but on shore…! He was already a few metres under water, still clinging to his tricycle, when I jumped in. Afterwards all he said was it was dark and there were lots of big crabs."
At the age of six the real world caught up with me, and little Rony had to go to school. My parents had tried to tutor me onboard which didn't work as I was far too busy diving, fishing and driving the ship's tender with the deckhands or playing with the children of our guests.
After that summer I started school in Germany and lived with my grandparents. I spent the summer and all other holidays helping my parents onboard and finished school at 16. I then went on to do a 3 year apprenticeship as a gas and water technician in Germany where my father offered to buy me a business. I declined and said I would like to join the Florette and become the captain of a sailing ship.
On the 28th of August 1985, my sister, Jenny Haynes was born in Germany, whilst my father was sailing around Corsica. She has lived nearly the same life as me, but my father changed the winter berth to Malta in 1991 as it was cheaper, the large hull restoration work had been completed and he wanted Jenny to attend an English school. We still have our permanent winter berth in Malta.
Jenny, after graduating from school in Malta, started university in Birmingham, England and also studied for a year in Mexico. She joined the Royal Navy University Squadron and trained as a midshipman. She always returned on board during the summer holidays, and started an apprenticeship with Carnival Cruises as an officer/captain trainee. Since 2010 she has been an Officer of the Watch and since 2017 she is a Master Mariner with an unlimited ticket. Today she works as a Chief Officer in the superyacht Industry on the lagest yachts such as Eclipse, Sailing Yacht A and Madame Gu.
In the spring of 1998 I returned onboard the Florette and after six months at sea, having logged plenty of sea miles, went to study at the Malta Nautical College over the winter where I passed all modules and exams needed to gain captain offshore licence no0525 with no limitations on size or tonnage. The same winter I met Nicole, a Canadian who joined Florette as crew. She had spent six years in the Canadian Navy and one year cruising as mate in the med onboard a Grand Banks. Nicole was 25 years old and held an officer of the watch certificate. We got on really well and ended up getting married onboard Florette with 120 guests in attendance from over 16 nations, and are now the proud parents of two daughters, Jaden and Amber.
For the 1999 season I was signed on as mate and standby skipper and in 2000, having taken further courses at the Malta Nautical College, I was made official captain of the Florette.
Like every year we were nearly ready for the season and my father said, "You will take the ship up and I will meet you with Mum in Italy." And so I left Malta with Nicole and some friends to deliver the Florette to Vibo Valencia in Calabria for the start of the season. I think this was one of the hardest days for my father, to see us setting sail and seeing Florette leave without him for the first time in over 20 years. On my part, I was a little nervous, but knew I was ready as I'd had a hard schooling under my father and he had allowed me to perform most harbour manoeuvres and make decisions from the age of 16.
My father was at sea for nearly 45 years (he first went to sea in 1958 as a student apprentice with BP tankers), but then he and my mother retired, and my mother now enjoys the rivers and lakes in Germany, where we have a small house south of Munich in Bavaria. In early 2018 my father passed away after a long peroid of sickness and he is deeply missed.
I have now covered more than 95 years of the Florette's history, not including re-planking, laying another new deck, re-rigging and all of the other work, both technical and bureaucratic, that goes into keeping an old ship afloat. That is another story which will be history one day too.
Historical Tallship Sailing Company 2006 a new Company
After many years discussing with the MCA and not having clear guidelines for historical vessels we made the decision to change to the Maltese flag. It was a sad day for my father as the Florette has been under the red ensign for more than 23 years. Malta has entered the EU and published in 2006 a new commercial yacht code, which also respects the European maritime heritage recommendations as most north European countries do today.
After a busy winter upgrading, producing ships drawings, talking with lawyers, surveyors and bureaucrats we have spent a lot of money. We have passed all the criteria and tests and the Florette is now the oldest ship registered under the Maltese flag having the old registration no0064. She is registered as a commercial yacht and historical sail training vessel.
As far as I know we are the last original wooden brigantine left working today. There are around 35 brigantine rigged vessels in the world today, which is about the same number you would expect to have found in Malta a hundred years ago.
I hope to welcome you onboard my ship one day and and share some wonderful adventures with you.
Captain Rony Haynes