On Board the Magnificent La Sultana, World’s First Secret Spy Ship Turned Superyacht


It all began at a large shipyard in Varna, Bulgaria. This is where Aji-Petri, the fifth vessel in a series of 12 ships meant for the Soviet Union’s fleet, was born. It was 1962. The 213-foot (65.4 meters) ship, with a sleek hull and enough room for about 200 guests plus 46 crew members, was originally intended for transportation, like the rest of the “Sister Ships”. It would go on to travel between some of the world’s most famous ports, such as Odesa, Sevastopol, and Istanbul.

But it was a tumultuous time in history. The Cold War was casting its net over more and more aspects of the economy and people’s daily lives. Among other things, the Soviet Union decided to use its passenger fleet for strategic purposes. The Sister Ships would now play a very different role, and Aji-Petri was sent to the North Atlantic. Officially, it was acting as a radio relay for the International Telecommunication Union, but its real purpose was to spy on the United States and Britain.

It turns out that the Sister Ships played their part so well, that they became iconic vessels for the nation, and there was even a series of stamps printed in their honor. Oddly enough, after the Soviet Union fell, Aji-Petri simply went back to its prior duties, this time on behalf of a Bulgarian shipping company. But the ship’s movie-like saga wasn’t over.

Decades later, Aji-Petri’s unique history and majestic appearance determined the La Sultana Group to acquire it and give it a completely new destiny, by turning it into a superyacht. The reconversion was a grandiose project that took around seven years to complete. The goal was to transform the renamed La Sultana into a classic yacht with all the modern amenities of luxury boats.

The French naval architecture company Orion Naval Engineering was in charge of the restoration. The aluminum superstructure was rebuilt following the original shape, and completely re-riveted. Changes were made for better stability, including adding a 90-ton keel. All the decks were redone, and the bow was raised, to make room for a helipad and a relaxation area with a jacuzzi and loungers.

The ship was also fitted with modern navigational equipment, a new Mitsubishi diesel engine, and four generators (plus an emergency one), with an output of up to 180 kW each. But, most importantly, La Sultana’s original character and appearance were not fundamentally changed. Also, stunning historic details such as the original portholes and instruments (like a dial embossed with Cyrillic letters) were preserved.

The former spy ship’s interior is breathtaking. Like all classic yachts (those built between the 1920s and 1970s), it displays a lot of wood. Not just any wood, but rare essences from around the world, like mahogany, Brazilian cherry wood, iroko, and ipe. Walls and ceilings adorned with detailed carvings, sculpted glass walls, frosted crystal light fixtures, and oriental works of art create an exceptional ballroom-like atmosphere.

A generous reception area, with a lounge and a dining hall, rules over the main deck. A central staircase, with a banister inspired by the famous “Monnaie-du-Pape” banister by Louis Majorelle, connects the main deck with the upper one.

The Armateur Suite includes a bedroom with a beautiful view and a separate office. It’s joined by two Deluxe Suites and four Prestige Cabins, all of which feature a king-size bed, a dressing table, and entertainment systems. Even the en-suite bathrooms are designed with elegant marble and onyx.

The restored former Soviet ship, with a unique six-deck design and classic décor, can now accommodate 12 guests and 17 crew members. Apart from the modern beach club, jacuzzi, and pool, it also carries an impressive range of water toys, perfect for an explorer with the soul of an Old World gentleman.

After its massive refit that was completed in 2015, La Sultana became available for charter. Now, it’s listed for sale on the prestigious C&N platform, for almost $14.5 million (€12.5 million). A commercial ship that became a secret spy vessel for the USSR overnight, only to be transformed into a luxury superyacht, decades later, La Sultana is a glorious gentleman yacht with a story to tell.


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