The Fortunas of King Juan Carlos

Affluent businessmen gave the monarch a 41.6-meter super yacht in 2000

But now he has renounced the vessel for austerity reasons, they want it back

King Juan Carlos (l) on board the most recent Fortuna yacht. / TOLO RAMÓN

In Baltasar Porcel's 1983 book El encanto de Mallorca (or, The charm of Mallorca), King Juan Carlos wrote: "I wouldn't swap a day out at sea for anything. If I did not have to report to La Zarzuela, I would spend my life at sea."

Things are different now. At 75 years of age, the monarch has handed over his yacht, Fortuna, to the state. It's a public relations move, as Spain struggles to emerge from the recession, and probably on doctor's orders after the king underwent a series of operations.

But a group of wealthy businesspeople, who chipped in to purchase the Fortuna for the king, want it back. It is up to the Cabinet to decide whether to give the 21-million-euro yacht back to Fundatur, the entity that was specifically created to raise money for the vessel. Fundatur — Tourism and Culture Foundation — on Thursday formally asked the government to return it.

The Fortuna was the last in the king's line of vessels, which stretches back to 1970, and has included three yachts and a sailing boat, all of the same name. Like his forebears and his children, Juan Carlos is a passionate sailor, who represented Spain in the 1972 Olympics. Far from a mere hobby, the king describes the sea as "a tonic."

"When I feel tired all I have to do is go on board, set the prow to the horizon, feel the air on my face and my energy and vitality returns," he wrote. He even worked sailing into his schedule "to carry out my duties at full tilt."

The king's first vessel was Fortunita, which he sailed at the Munich Olympics

The king's first vessel was Fortunita, an 8.9-meter Dragon-class competition sailing boat that he used at the 1972 Games. It was a wedding present from the queen, who was also an Olympian in 1960 when Greece won gold in the Dragon class. After falling into disrepair and out of the royal psyche, it was discovered in a shipyard a few years ago, restored by some of the king's sailing companions and now resides in the Olympic Museum in Barcelona.

In 1976, Juan Carlos obtained his first yacht, a 20-meter, 30-knot vessel with room for eight passengers. On board, he entertained the monarchs of Belgium and former Socialist Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez. He sold it in 1979 to the Marquis of Mondéjar, who was his sailing teacher on board Fortunita and also head of the Royal Household until 1990.

That year, then-crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia gifted Juan Carlos with his next Fortuna, a 30-meter yacht capable of 40 knots, as a demonstration of the "close friendship" between the royal families. The king had it refurbished, extending it to 33 meters and expanding the cabins to eight. The Royal Family voyaged far and wide in the Fortuna, visiting the Aga Khan in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, and cruising to Motril to reunite with King Baudouin of Belgium and his Spanish consort, Queen Fabiola. Among the dignitaries to caress the wheel of Fortuna were former President Bill Clinton, the late Princess Diana and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar.

But Fortuna soon began to show its defects and one time had to be towed to port with Prince Charles on board. "It's an Renault 4," the king lamented. After a failed attempt to sell it at auction, Fortuna was retired after 21 years of royal service.

The king's final vessel — the one that Fundatur wants back — was one of the fastest pleasure boats in the world. Constructed in Cádiz, Fortuna is 41.6 meters long and cost 21 million euros. A group of 25 Spanish businessmen each put up 600,000 euros toward the bill while the Balearic regional government paid a further 2.7 million euros. The businessmen, unsurprisingly, are now bidding to have the vessel returned to them rather than see it placed in the hands of the government.

On May 16, the Zarzuela Royal Palace announced that the king ordered that the vessel be decommissioned. After finding out that the monarch handed over his boat, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said that the government would find a "more profitable and efficient use" for it.

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