Anniversaries are always worthy of celebration, and the Emeraude’s tenth anniversary in December was no exception. At that time, we remembered again the origins of the Emeraude’s story. In order to make sure we had the story right, we went back to the man whose dream it was - after he stumbled upon age-old postcards of the original Emeraude (1906 - 1937) in a Parisian flea market - to build another vessel in homage to that other boat. Here’s what Eric Merlin had to say:
After you found those postcards of the Emeraude, what inspired you to build this boat?
I found it fascinating, what was happening in 1910-1915 — fascinating that at the beginning of the last century, there were tourist boats on Halong Bay. My first idea was this — where are these boats! My dream was to come back to Vietnam and find these boats in the mud.
How did you move from that original inspiration, with the postcards, to what we have today?
I built a story in my head, looking at these postcards for many months. They were on my desk, in a plastic folder. And it took some time before I began work on the project. The first real move was some talk with a friend who was in ship building and who could design a boat that looked like the one in the postcard.
I started to really think about this in 2001, and I actually pressed the button in December 2002. We started construction In January 2003. The boat was launched in December 2003. It took 11 months, building in a boatyard in Haiphong.
Along the way, you went looking for the French family that owned the original Emeraude. How did you find them?
After sending out 1,220 letters to all of the Roques in a French telephone directory, I received a lot of phone calls from Roques, maybe 20-30. They all said, ‘This story, it's fascinating.’ They would tell me how it’s a strange coincidence, and about their grandfather who went to Hong Kong! Anyone with a connection to Asia, they were happy to tell me about it.
After a few of these calls, I received a call from someone I’d never met. He was in his 40s. He said ‘Don't look further. We are the family you are talking about. I will introduce you to my father, Xavier, who is the son of Paul Roque.’
I went to visit the Roque’s apartment. They told me about the history. They showed me the China from the original Emeraude, and they gave me a brochure, the original. I copied that and gave them back the original.
How is your boat different from its predecessor?
We wanted to build the new version a bit different. The original Emeraude was smaller, and it was carrying freight and mail on the main deck. There were no more than six cabins and we needed much more. The paddle wheel in the back was nice, but not workable today. Still, we added the housing to keep the same silhouette. We did design the boat based on postcard, trying for the shape to be as similar as possible.
The cost of a trip, then and today, was about the same, when you factor in currency changes. The itinerary was the same. The trip went out over two days, and one night. The advertising then was all about how the Emeraude delivered the highest quality of standard and comfort on the bay. Today, we say the same.