For some owners, the joy of ownership is the joy of not doing anything; for Siegfried Steiner, owner of the 44-metre Royal Huisman Lethantia, doing nothing is not an option.
“I am very hands-on when it comes to sailing. I can’t think of anything worse than sipping champagne and watching the crew do all the work,” says Siegfried, who has spent his working life creating, innovating and bar-raising at his hugely successful film production company, and is now developing the MME micro-turbine solution for on-board power to replace traditional diesel generators…
“Our crew consists of the skipper, his girlfriend the stew, a deckhand, and my wife and I. We are experienced sailors and can carry out most maintenance tasks. The boat is relatively easy to sail, even with our small crew – we can set the full sailplan with just three of us on board in 23 knots of wind. We love to cook for ourselves and I like to do some therapeutic varnishing work – it’s a wonderful distraction from my working life.”
As distractions go, they seldom come more elegant than the aluminium-hulled 1994 schooner Lethantia, which has proved the perfect cruising vehicle for Siegfried since he acquired her in 2006. Siegfried’s road to superyacht ownership started early, on the lakes of Munich, where as a boy he got a taste for the hands-on boating that still satisfies him today. Married at 19, he wanted a passion his wife could share, and he found it in a 7.2-metre steel sloop. “This was just the bare hull – the interior fitting I did myself with the help of the carpenter from the studio where I was working. Every Friday evening my wife and I travelled from Munich, had a wonderful weekend sailing, and returned on Monday.”
By this stage, his fledging boat-owning career was mirrored by his fledgling working life. His first job had been as a lighting electrician for the Bavarian Film Studios in the early 1960s, followed by a spell at the Bavarian Broadcasting TV company. “I was fascinated with the cameras, and I wanted to be a cameraman!” he says.
His break in film-making came from a friend who was working as a stills photographer for an aircraft production company. “He called me and said his boss wanted to make a film of the wind tunnel testing of a new aircraft – and would I be interested? Yes, I was! I kept my job in the day and worked on the film at night. It was a success and from there I did not look back,” he says.
With his film production company founded in 1968, his first contracts were promotional films for large corporations such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. They were hugely successful: “We were always ahead of everybody else. Our innovation was ten or more years ahead of the competition.” A film-maker was born.
As his career flourished, his yachts got bigger – a couple of 40ft sailing yachts then a 20-metre Benetti motor yacht. “At this time we were filming a lot in the South of France and the Benetti was ideal as a floating hotel for our team. We could store our equipment with ease. We would film in the day, move location, then enjoy an evening meal on board. She was a great boat, but sadly motor boats are not really in my heart. I became sensitive to the noise,” says Siegfried.
“Our next sailing boat was a Jongert 20DS – I still have her in pristine condition. We had many happy times sailing this boat, but I began to think about a bigger yacht,” he says. Then came Lethantia.
“The moment I stepped aboard her I was deeply impressed. I knew her first owner, and knew his exceptionally high standards, and I also knew of Royal Huisman’s great reputation. I decided not to have a survey and I went ahead and purchased the boat! This is unheard of these days, but Lethantia was in great condition – the quality of workmanship and finish behind the panels was better than you find on the front surfaces of many boats. I asked my electrician for his opinion and he could not believe the thoroughness and clarity of the work, from the cable labelling to the documentation system.”
Off the water, Siegfried’s career was advancing, with his innovations in the film-making process becoming increasingly cutting edge, from creating a special camera mount to capture footage of a new Mercedes to filming from a remote-controlled HD camera under a helicopter for BMW.
It was a safe wager that his innovations and solutions would start appearing on Lethantia. “We have owned her for six years. We started by updating the electrics and electronics, and I have set up remote access via SMS, so I can check the status of everything on board from wherever I am in the world,” he says.
And now has come the biggest innovation of all, with the introduction of his own MME, Micro Marine Energy technology on board in place of traditional diesel generators. “I was searching for something to replace diesel generators, to make the on-board experience so much more comfortable,” he says. The micro-turbine technology means a better delivery of electrical power to the yacht and a reduction in emissions compared to even the most efficient diesel generator. “It’s an advanced yet simple technology that meets my demand for a more sustainable energy source, allowing for greater environmental protection without compromise on comfort. Capstone Turbine Corp in the USA are the world’s leading producer of low-emission micro-turbine generators, and they now build this wonderful piece of no-noise, no-vibration, no-oil kit,” he says. Lethantia is currently the only sailing boat in the world with this technology, and it’s a venture he’s putting his heart and soul into. “Eventually,” says Siegfried, “MME is something that will change the face of yachting. I invited the teams from Capstone and Royal Huisman, who were amazed, and agreed there must be a market for this essential piece of engineroom kit. I am convinced that there will be no diesel generators on superyachts within ten years.”
For this hands-on owner, there is still plenty of charm left in his yacht. “She is great to sail – fast, comfortable, safe and stable. I have never taken long holidays, so it has suited me to cruise in the Adriatic. Croatia is very beautiful, there’s always good wind and it’s never crowded so you can find a quiet bay and drop anchor. Why would I want to go to the Caribbean? But I do have a dream that one day we will sail Lethantia to Cape Town, because I love South Africa.”
In 2010, aged 66, he decided it was time to do more sailing and reduce his workload. “But last year I did a film for Bugatti, and I’ll continue being selective,” he adds. “You can’t keep me away from the camera!” You can’t keep Siegfried Steiner away from the helm, the engineroom or the galley, either – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.