Still dividing people even years after his death, Cold War super spy Ryszard Kukliński has returned to the news after launching a celebrity-backed campaign to restore a yacht he once owned.
Often described as “the first Polish officer to serve in NATO”, Kukliński is widely hailed as the most important CIA agent of the 20th century.
“In the past 40 years,” CIA Director William Casey wrote in a memo to Ronald Reagan, “no one has done more damage to Communism than this Pole.”
Born in Warsaw in 1930, Kukliński quickly rose through the ranks of the Polish Army and in 1963 was appointed to the General Staff.
However, his simmering resentment of communism was close to tipping point, and when a series of civil protests in Poland were brutally suppressed in 1970, his patience was finally shattered.
Contacting the American Embassy in Bonn, a meeting was then arranged in Holland. As cover, Kukliński used the guise of a military survey cruise around northern Europe; given the codename Jack Strong, for the next nine years he worked as a double agent and managed to pass around 35,000 pages of documents to his CIA handlers.
With his cover in danger of being blown, Kukliński was smuggled out of the country in 1981 before being resettled with his family in the United States.
An avid sailor, Kukliński was forced to leave behind his pride and joy, a prototype yacht built in 1965 at the Joseph Conrad Shipyard in Gdańsk. Fourteen meters long, the two-masted Opal-class mahogany yacht was the first of its kind produced by the shipyard.
Designed by Edmund Rejewski and Wacław Liskiewicz, the yacht was first purchased by the sailing section of WKS Legia Warszawa, before passing into the hands of the Atol Klub in 1969, a Warsaw-based sailing club which could count Kukliński as a member (and later its head).
For PLN 36,000 – three times the average salary of an officer – Kukliński bought the yacht for his private use in 1980.
Although much of its history remains shrouded in rumour, it is known that Kukliński carried out some of his espionage activities there.
His daring westward escape left the boat in limbo; Seized by the state, she was briefly held by the Central Maritime Museum before being purchased by the Polish Yacht Club of Gdynia in 1986.
However, with the impending fall of communism, the next chapter of the yacht was about to be written.
Acquired by a Gdynia-based company called Atlas in 1997, they spent a year renovating it before officially returning it to Kukliński the following year in honor of his services.
Although he was revered in the west and sometimes credited with averting World War III due to the importance of the secrets he divulged, in Poland many refused to see Kukliński as anything more than a traitor.
Marked by protests, his fleeting return to his homeland was not immune to controversy, so the ceremony which saw his boat return represented one of the brightest and most innocent moments. of his trip.
Looking visibly moved as he clambered around his ship, a sentimental Kukliński is known to have first considered bringing the yacht back to the United States.
For some reason he gave in and he stayed in Poland and in 2001 he changed his will to bequeath him to the Christian Sailing School so that he could serve as a training yacht for a new generation of aspiring sailors .
Although Kukliński died in 2004, his wish had already been granted – renamed Strażnik Poranka (the Morning Watcher), the ship found itself almost immediately put into service as a training ship.
Over the next few years, he would undertake hundreds of voyages, including the seven years he was moored in Croatian waters.
By 2015, however, the wear and tear had set in to such an extent that another renovation was needed. However, after initiating this process, the money quickly ran out and work stopped. Left to rot and rot, the boat had seemed to have enjoyed its last swan song.
Now, however, hopes are high again that he will be reborn after the Jack Strong Foundation entered the frame with plans to revitalize him and return him to his training duty.
Co-founded by Leszek Pochroń-Frankowski and Adam Sobczak, the foundation has announced plans for a two-stage restoration (undertaken at the same yard where it was built) that could cost up to PLN 2.5 million.
Speaking to TFN, Pochroń-Frankowski said: “First and foremost, Adam and I are driven by the idea of creating a training boat that today’s youngsters can learn to sail. This boat particularly stood out since Adam himself sailed there about fifteen years ago.
“But on top of that, we also wanted to save a piece of national heritage while honoring the memory of Ryszard Kukliński.”
Although a lot of work awaits, Pochroń-Frankowski is not intimidated by the challenges. “It probably looks worse than it actually is – when the restoration started the masts were removed, as was the paint.
The interiors were also gutted before the money ran out. This means that at first glance it doesn’t look too good, but when you look at the overall cost, it’s not that much when you think about the kind of money involved in the yachting industry .
Costing PLN 1 million, the repair of the hull was targeted as the first priority, and the duo recruited a number of public figures to raise the profile of the project: singer Natalia Przybysz, legend of sailing Roman Paszke, explorer Marek Kamiński and famous author Professor Norman Davies.
“As a huge fan of his work, meeting Norman Davies in Oxford really lit a fuse,” says Pochroń-Frankowski. “Having said that, having so many other big names also supporting the project, it really helps us believe in what we’re doing.”
Offering different levels of incentives, the different donation packages include the ability to have your name engraved on the yacht, private cruises and sailing lessons. For Pochroń-Frankowski and Sobczak, however, their vision was driven by something altogether stronger.
“I’ve heard people ask why we’re not just investing in a brand new yacht – but it’s the yachting equivalent of a classic car. It may not be perfect, but it has real history and beauty,” says Pochroń-Frankowski.
Moreover, by committing to this project, the duo continues the story of the ship. “Atlas returned this boat to Kuklinksi for free,” says Pochroń-Frankowski.
“He, in turn, also donated it for nothing in return. When we took possession of it last year, it was also free.
“Ultimately, Adam and I want to carry on this tradition by using the yacht to teach young people, before passing it on to someone else.”
Learn more here: wspieram.to/jackstrong