Jordan Belfort’s seshes were so legendary that sinking a multi-million-dollar yacht was simply another act of depravity that Martin Scorsese could weave into The Wolf of Wall Street’s preposterous film adaptation. Those familiar with The Wolf of Wall Street book will have read Belfort’s account of this in closer detail, but the backstory of the superyacht Nadine is a lesser-known tale with some unexpected twists.
Despite Jordan’s notoriety for unbridled bacchanalia, Nadine was sunk by natural forces far greater than even the most ferocious carousing he could muster. Amidst a pedestrian Mediterranean cruise, a storm unexpectedly whipped itself into a raging tempest with gale-force winds and huge swells to send the Wolf’s pride and joy straight down into Davey Jones’ locker.
In fact, this type of storm is so specific, it has its own name. Mistrals are named after the wind patterns that blow down off the French Alps into the Med. This convection cycle is caused by hot air rising off the African deserts and colder air of the Alps rushing down into the vacuum for sustained fetches that range from 12 to 40 hours. Nothing like an unrelenting strong wind to generate dangerous swell. And the kicker? Mistrals are hard to predict.
En route from Riva de Travino to the island of Sardinia, off the west coast of Italy, what should have been a routine run (which typically takes about seven hours) ended in the fiasco that Yachts International described as ‘Mayday in the Med.’
“When we departed,” says Captain Mark Elliot.
“The forecast told us to expect some wind and a choppy but small sea.”
Knowing it wouldn’t be an ideal crossing, the captain asked if the guests wanted to delay until the next morning. The answer was an emphatic “no”, as they were all keen to get to Sardinia for a round of golf the next morning. So, they cast off and set course for another slice of paradise.
Hours later, guests were enjoying the sunny afternoon weather of another dreamy day in the Med… when a rogue wave crested the bow and wheelhouse, drenching one stewardess from head to toe. Just after this harbinger made contact, a transmission was received on the radio warning of unexpected gale force winds in the area. The mistral had announced itself. Swell heights doubled, winds intensified, and shit got real.
However, before Belfort threw next-level parties aboard his elegant vessel and chartered her across the Mediterranean to Sardinia on that fateful day, Nadine had already lived many lives. In truth, the luxury yacht seen in The Wolf of Wall Street film is nothing like the vintage vessel Jordan Belfort owned. Scorsese hired a yacht called Lady M for these scenes, which was originally built by Intermarine Savannah in 2002.
In contrast, the real Nadine (or Mathilde as she was originally known), was built in 1961 and delivered by Dutch yard Witsen & Vis for none other than fashion mogul Coco Chanel. At the time, Mathilde boasted five staterooms in dark teak, outstanding dining facilities, and a helipad.
“In those days, she was the biggest yacht on the East Coast,” recalls Captain Mark Elliot.
“Nobody had ever seen anything like it.”
After Coco passed in 1971, the yacht was renamed Jan Pamela by her new owner, Melvin Lane Powers. While not quite as decorated as his predecessor, Powers was an infamous ostentatious Houston real estate developer, known to sport crocodile skin boots and drive a gold Cadillac after being acquitted from the murder of his lover’s husband. The New York Times described his 1966 trial as “one of the most spectacular homicide trials ever.”
Powers commissioned a huge refit and extension of the vessel. By 1983, he hit rock-bottom, and Jan Pamela was sold before being renamed Edgewater. In 1989, it was Bernie Little’s chance, and he bought her sight unseen. She then endured another refit, before emerging as Big Eagle under Mark Elliot’s command once again. In this form, she caught the eye of Jordan Belfort, who took ownership in 1995. Of course, he had to set about his own additions and renovations, before rechristening the vessel after his second wife, Nadine.
This historic yacht’s reincarnation as Nadine was to be short-lived. After 35 years of leisure, cruising the finer coastlines, and hosting the who’s who of the time, mother nature would have the final say.
Back in the Med, a few nail-biting hours later, roaring gusts snap the $100L tender off its towlines. Captain Mark Elliot makes the call to abandon the yacht, as turning Nadine against the cresting waves would have courted disaster. Abandoning course to try and outrun the mistral was out of the question for the same reasons. They’re in it now – every captain’s nightmare – with seventy-knot winds, and 35-foot crests to negotiate.
Then, Nadine’s ‘perfect storm’ moment reared its formidable head. The enormous wave crashes over the entire ship, ripping hatches and fittings off the deck, unleashing a death knell that can only end in a mayday. The remaining tender smashes into the dining room window, caving it to pieces with wave after wave inundating the salon.
“I knew at that moment that Nadine had been struck a mortal blow. Once I had assessed the damage, I made my way to the bridge and used the satellite telephone to contact the Italian Coast Guard known as “Gruppo Marine Italian,” says Captain Elliot.
Emergency stations. Guests are assembled in one safe central location and escorted one at a time to their staterooms to collect passports and any valuables that will fit into one small bag.
Half an hour later, a rescue helicopter attempts to lower a diver to retrieve guests. But the gusting wind proves too vicious, and after almost losing said diver, the chopper aborts. Imagine the gut-wrenching sensation of those onboard Nadine, as the coast guard abandons ship, defeated by the raging elements, and heads back toward the safety of the coast as the sun sinks below the horizon and night sets in.
Hurricane-force winds, severe flooding, and fifty-foot seas are now battering the Italian coastline in what will come to be known as the storm of the century. So tumultuous is the situation, that when a large merchant ship tries another rescue attempt hours later, it almost crashes into Nadine, before heading off and again, abandoning the frantic crew and guests.
The life rafts are deployed as a cautionary measure… until the roaring wind rips them out to sea as well, leaving the crew utterly stranded onboard.
Below deck, the flooded galley has become an electrified death trap. Both the chef and engineer receive jolts from the live current before hauling arse out of there to the (relative) safety above. It’s worth noting, that this is probably around the time a deranged and drenched Leo screams at Jonah Hill with the unforgettable line, “Get the ludes downstairs! I will not die sober! Get. The. Fucking. Ludes!”
Crunch time. With no remaining options, Captain Elliot makes the call to dump the chopper off the deck in order to clear space for another rescue attempt. He unhooks the tie-downs, and rolls the ship twenty degrees, throwing the expensive piece of equipment overboard, and into the Mediterranean, where its rusted skeleton no doubt lies to this day.
Around 5 AM, the coastguard returns and begins to hoist guests, then crew to safety in the reassuring light of dawn. The weather has eased as the winds and waves abated – the damage was done. As the last one to leave the vessel he has commanded for so many years, Mark Elliot takes stock of the wreckage before finally accepting his loss, shutting down the controls from the engine room and grabbing the lifeline extended to him by the coastguard.
Nadine is swallowed by the sea, just ten minutes after Captain Elliot departs her decks.
While all guests and the crew of 11 survive, the prestigious motor yacht and her collection of toys (including eight jet skis, four motorbikes, diving equipment, a helicopter, and a seaplane) sink to the bottom of the Med in over 1,000 metres of water.
“The insurance paid immediately because it was the storm of the century,” says Captain Elliot.
Back on dry land, Mark Elliot was lauded as a hero after displaying courage and leadership in such a dire situation. He was subsequently offered the command of Bernie Little’s famous yacht Starship, and today works as a broker in Miami as one of the most experienced and capable men in the industry.