Historical Guests

Portofino, a World apart
February 2009

Guglielmo Marconi in Portofino.

Only out of respect for chronological order have we waited until now to remember in this review of personalities connected with Portofino, the scientist of world importance and genius of physics, Guglielmo Marconi and his mythical yacht the “Electra”. The great benefactor of humanity was in Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino very often in the years between 1932 and 1937, and the boat, whose fatal name he wanted to give to his daughter, remained moored in the port of Santa Margherita Ligure. It was in fact in the Villa Repellini of Pedale, half way between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, where Marconi with his assisten Mr. Gerald Isted, who was staying at the Hotel Regina and some other Hotels at the time, installed the first parabolic antennae, a forerunner of television.

Even though a vast bibliography on Marconi already existed, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the radio, (1995), Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, along with other municipalities in Tigullio united to commemorate the illustrious guest with a publication entitled “L’ Onda di Marconi nel Tigullio” (The wave of Marconi in Tigullio). This book, which came out at the end of 1995 gives a portrait of him both as the scientist and as a human being and his relationship with people. The book,La mia vita con Guglielmo” (My life with William) ed. Rizzoli, by his wife Maria Cristina gives us a glimpse of his relationship with his family. In 1995The Institute for the Celebration of Marconi” was formed with its center at the Hotel Regina Elena, with the intent of keeping the memory of this great scientist alive.

We remember the Electra” Marconi’s yacht. It was on that yacht that the great inventor was able to realize some of his most important experiments that, without fear of exaggerating, were decisive in determining the course of a vast series of progressive developments. The yacht was built in England in 1904 by order of an austro-hungarian noble. Stephen of Austria, named it “Slowansk”. It was destined to be used for pleasure cruises on the Adriatic and Aegean seas. A luxury boat with elegant lines, it was the product of the most excellent English workmanship gained from years of experience. With the outbreak of World War I it was transformed into a lookout boat for royal imperial navy. At the end of the war it wound up in the hands of the English. Marconi, who in the meantime had received notable incentives from the government of the time, was able to acquire it at auction and transform it into an important floating laboratory and named it “Electra”. This boat must be considered an ally of science and it is because of this that we insist on directing a thought of gratitude to it as we would to a human being. As is known, “blind” navigation was discovered and tested on board of the Electra navigating in the gulf of Portofino. Studies of short-waves, radar, and many other diverse applications were done on this boat. Think of the enormous difference it makes for one who navigates in the fog with the comfort of radar and one who must do without it.

In 1934, while anchored in the port of Genoa, Marconi transmitted a signal to its antipode in Sydney Australia which turned on the lights of that city. The Electra remained at Marconi’s disposition until 1937 when the great scientist died. It was then acquired by the Italian government. During the second world war it was sent to Trieste and after September 8, 1943 it was re-acquired by the Germans and refitted for use as a lookout boat as had been done a quarter of a century earlier. On January 21, 1944 it was attacked by a squad of spitfires and reduced to a wreck that wound up in the hands of Yugoslavia. In 1945 it was returned to Italy and, unfortunately, instead of making a museum out of it, it was dismembered and its parts and furnishings sold, some as souvenirs. Piece of the keel can be found in front of the park of Villa Durazzo in Santa Margherita Ligure but exerts no particular fascination. It would be an important sign of recognition of a person among the most important af our century, inseparably linked to Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino the authorities will takt an initiative to recuperate as much as possible what is left of this yacht that has been dispersed in the world, and give it a more worthy exposition.

(1) The yacht equiped by a dockyard of Birkenead, a town situated before Liverpool, was launched from “Ramage & Ferguson “. It measured 71 metres gauged 632 tons and had the speed of 14 knots.

Guglielmo Marconi
1874 – 1937

Portofino, a World apart.