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PETER LÜRSSEN

2023-12-13 11:23

Antonio Vettese

People,

PETER LÜRSSEN

INTERVIEW Peter Lürssen by Antonio Vettese

by Antonio Vettese

«On a smaller yacht, you have to move things around and try to get it, squeeze it in. In a vessel, you've got wider spaces, more choices and you can use different technologies».

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«When my great-grandfather Friedrich founded our shipyard, in 1875, he wrote a little sentence: My firm shall be known as a leader in both quality and performance». Peter Lürssen, current leader of the iconic shipyard, says. 

That was almost 150 years ago, he had a pretty good foresight. Then throughout the years the company developed: naval ships, coastguard vessels, special type of vessels and today they design and construct purely bespoke superyachts. Boatbuilding was already anchored in the family, Peter Lürssen’s great-great-grandfather already ran a small boatbuilding business. The year of birth of the founder Friedrich Lürssen, 1851, was a fundamental year in the history of boating and perhaps in the history of contemporary Europe. In 1851 the first universal exhibition took place in London and one of the collateral events was the regatta which offered the Hundred Guineas Cup, later becoming the America’s Cup.

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Founded in Bremen (Germany), the Lürssen shipyards started building small boats, but in their growth they became strategic especially during the war period when they began building frigates, torpedo and fast patrol boats. In 1964, they even developed an experimental hydrofoil. 

The shipyard's ability to build large ships became strategic to firmly penetrate the world of mega and giga yachts: now they are world leaders. In their long history Lürssen went into every aspect of innovation and technology. You are looking for foiling powerboats? You can find those in the «family album», as well as a number of on board solution as the lateral terrace. «We made it well before the others - Peter says - but considering NDA agreement with the owners we didn’t communicate the features».  

Heir to a family with deep roots in shipbuilding, Peter Lürssen is one of the most important characters of contemporary shipbuilding and is the man who turned his family business into a luxury yacht brand thanks to his great experience and brilliance. Lürssen has not only made history in German shipbuilding. It is one of the most important superyacht builders in the world. In this interview we could not miss the opportunity to ask him about the future of boating: in regard to tradition, design and sustainability. The last iconic launches of megayachts are often on the first pages, and almost every boating passionate knows names as Azzam, Dilbar, Octopus, Apho. Each megayacht is a challenge, each one is the result of a long building and conceiving process that involves designers, owners and shipyard. Each one, we can write, is a kind of masterpiece. 

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MR LÜRSSEN, WHAT ABOUT YACHT DESIGN? 

The design of a yacht is what sells the yacht. Yes, any yacht must function, but first and foremost, we present to clients a project, and the appearance of the yacht is a very important step into convincing a client that this is the yacht that he or she likes to have. So, we have a very good and very intense relationship with a lot of designers from England, from Norway, from Italy. There are a lot of people that are working on it, and it’s the natural challenge between the designer and the shipyard to transform the project into something achievable. And obviously some designers have a lot of experience. They know that you need to have technical space for the engine room and other technical equipment and some other designers just say, «Look, I design the boat, you have to make it work». And then we have to tell them that we do need space for the engine somewhere.

 

THE BIG ISSUE OF THE MOMENT IS SUSTAINABILITY, YOU ARE RUNNING IMPORTANT RESEARCH ON IT. 

I have to say, the clients actually are very much aware of the environmental impact of their yachts. Compare a modern yacht with a cruise ship. The yachts have always used very clean diesel fuel. They have never used any of the dirty fuel that the big ship utilized. We installed the suit filters before the car industry even thought about it.

All of us shipbuilders have a strong interest to reduce emissions. We can achieve this in two sectors. One is the propulsion power and the other is the power needed for the «hotel load»: air conditioning, cooking, lights and so on. So, we see a clear trend to reduce the power requirement for both quite dramatically. And there are a lot of small things that in summary do help a lot to reduce the footprint and to make the yachts more sustainable. The condensate from the air conditioning is collected to clean the decks, for example. There is an impact, but we try to minimize it as much as possible.

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WHAT ABOUT HYBRID PROPULSION WE ARE ALMOST INVADED BY? 

The combination of diesel and diesel electric does help a lot, especially when driving at lower speeds. But we have other ways to reduce the impact and fuel consumption. The insulation of the windows helps to reduce the required air conditioning load. You can use the heat from the main engines and reuse it for other areas and other functions in the vessel, such as heating the pool. There are many small things that make today’s yachts much more sustainable than those built 10 or 20 years ago.  We are all clear that we do not want to engage in so-called greenwashing. And I am not going to say that a yacht is completely sustainable. It takes energy to produce it. You need material and you need energy to operate it. But within what’s possible, a lot has been achieved and the industry is researching a lot more to improve it further. We have been involved in the research of methanol fuel cells and in a huge German government program for 15 years. For example, we are going to install a methanol fuel cell on a yacht and that fuel cell will allow the client to anchor carbon neutral for 15 nights, or cruise 750 miles at slow speed without a diesel engine. Sustainability is a fundamental trend that has been already developed some years back, as owners were really concerned about the environment. They accept that a yacht consumes energy to run and operate, but they want to explore technologies that will significantly reduce this consumption. The good thing is that owners are willing to pay for development and they’re ready to also accept the risk.

So, now it’s a question of risk and cost sharing between the owner and the shipyard. And I have to say, that many of our owners are very supportive in the quest to reduce the power consumption of the yachts. We try very hard to reduce the power consumption. We will try very hard to clean up the exhaust gases. A couple of years ago, we developed our own exhaust filtration system. I can’t guarantee to have the first yacht without the combustion engine in 2026 but I’m working on it.

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WHAT ARE THE PERSONAL REQUIREMENTS OF THE OWNERS?

We have owners who spend six, seven or even eight months on their yacht and as soon as they realize that the lifestyle on the yacht suits them perfectly, they no longer  use their holiday villas anymore, they just stay on their yacht. It’s much nicer, you can choose your neighbors and decide for yourself with which view you wake up in the morning.

And we have owners who offer their yachts for charter. They enjoy their yacht but don’t care which week they use it and are flexible with the timing. Chartering can cover all the operating expenses for the year. Some people want to go to Greenland or Iceland and have never been to Saint Tropez. Others like the lifestyle near Ibiza and Sardinia. A yacht really offers the perfect solution for your individual holiday. And that’s what is important to the clients. 


HOW DO THE AMERICAN OWNERS COMPARE AGAINST THE OTHER CLIENTS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD?

I would say the US client is much more relaxed, casual, informal. It starts with the way they interact with the crew, and also relates to certain characteristics that you would say are very typical for US clients.

 

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Country style kitchens, for example. They like to walk in, grab their own coffee, maybe make a sandwich, casually, like an extension of their home. Madsummer is a good example. The owner has already built two yachts with us and the second one is slightly larger than the previous one.  She is designed by Harrison Eidsgaard on the outside and Laura Sessa on the inside. She is a fabulous yacht: the moment you walk on the yacht, you feel like you are on holiday. You can take off your shoes, take off your formal dress, put on a t-shirt and swimming trunks and just relax. Laura has the great ability to combine the relaxed feeling with a really fantastic chic. It’s Sessa’s chic, which is a gift she has. She creates that feeling and at the same time it is super elegant, very Italian. You wear casual clothes, but you’re very elegant at the same time.

Peter Lürssen joined the company in 1987 and turned his family business into a luxury yacht brand. Now he’s aiming to develop sustainability on megayachts: «My great-grandfather built the first motorboat in the world in 1886. I can’t guarantee to have the first yacht without combustion in 2026, but I’m working on it».

SPEED AND COMFORT OFTEN GO OPPOSITE WAYS: WHAT’S YOUR CHOICE?

Realistically we start with yachts that are over 1000 gross tons. We want to offer the client the best and the safest product.  And of this size we are able to give a good performance with very low noise  and very low vibration values. These values ultimately depend on the installed power. If you want to go very fast with a 60-meter yacht, it would create more noise because you have to add engine power. But most clients realize that it doesn’t make a huge difference whether you go at hull speed, which is about 12 to 16 knots on a 60-meter boat, or really fast. The comfort at sea and at anchor of a displacement yacht is so much better than on any other hull form high shape. You can safely say that on a 60 meter you have enormous comfort.

 

THE BEST-KNOWN YACHT BUILT BY LÜRSSEN IS PROBABLY OCTOPUS. SHE BRINGS US BACK TO THE JAMES BOND MOVIE EVEN WITH THE NAME.

Octopus was built for Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, and designed by Espen Øino. She has special features, like two helipads, an ice-classed-hull, a huge toy list including seven tenders, an ROV and even her own marina; she is a real ship that can also navigate through icy waters. The way she was set up with the big stern dock and the garage was actually inspired by a James Bond movie when they enter the big ship with the submarine and a gallery and all that.  Over the years, I think this is a very good example of a client who has done a lot of philanthropic work with his yacht. He discovered many shipwrecks and did a lot of research. Today many yachts are doing it. But he has done it 20 years ago, it’s quite impressive. 

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IN 2015, PAUL ALLEN AND HIS SUBMARINES RECOVERED THE BATTLECRUISER HOOD, WHICH HAD BEEN SUNK WITH SIMULTANEOUS FIRING OF THE CANNONS BY BISMARCK, THE SHIP THE ENGLISH WERE HUNTING. HISTORY COMES IN ONCE MORE: BISMARCK WAS BUILT BY BLOHM & VOSS, A SHIPYARD THAT WAS ACQUIRED BY LÜRSSEN.

Yes (Peter Lürssen smiles). Anyway, Octopus is one of the iconic ones we built. The owner basically had a brief that he wanted to operate a large submarine and large tenders and he needed a helicopter with a hangar: in those days that was an unusual requirement. We were lucky that even though the client had owned yachts built by others before, we were invited to submit a proposal and our proposal was actually the one that appealed the most.


CORAL OCEAN IS A «OLD» BOAT, BUT STILL YOUNG. 

Coral Ocean (at that time Coral Island) was one of the very first large yachts we built. Actually, she was delivered in 1994, 30 years ago. She is a 73 meter-superyacht we built following the exceptional design of Jon Bannenberg, and only recently this superyacht has been completely refitted. You can see the attention and the care that has been put into each and every single detail.

Originally she had an ethnic beach-house style interior. Today she has a completely different, more modern interior. When the current owner bought her and after the first couple of weeks of use decided to modify her and bring her «up to speed», through a substaintial modification, we were all very nervous because she was quite iconic for her style of interior, but I can really only compliment the owner and his team. They have achieved a great modernization and the result is an elegant modern interior. The area on the sundeck has been smartly used. They managed to create an open and flexible space. I really love the surrounding glass. Nothing blocks the view and you can really enjoy the whole environment.  When you walk on the board today, you might think: «She was built a year or two ago». Look at features like the opening shell door in the main saloon. Today, that is considered «in» or even «chic». 

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ANOTHER BIG BANG BOAT WAS AZZAM, AT THE LAUNCH THE BIGGEST PRIVATELY OWNED BOAT.

It was a big challenge, a 180 meter yacht. When we try to visualize the yacht we see 2,200 square meter of surface, which is equal to half a football field. There are 95 kilometers of aluminum and steel profiles to stiffen the hull and superstructure. We have 50 kilometers of piping, and if you have a chance to look at the picture of the actual 3D drawing showing all the pipes on the yacht, it may give you an idea of the complexity of putting in the system and then finding the space to route the cables throughout the whole ship. There are 560 kilometers of cables. You realize it when you see some of the pictures of tons of cables hanging from the deck. That should illustrate the kind of quantities we work with: the paint we need is enough to paint 38,000 cars. Then there is a second aspect: occupation. Azzam needed about 1.5 million man hours in the yard, construction, design and so on. Statistically, for every labor hour in the shipyard, there are three hours in the supporting industry: carpenters, painters, the engine and air-conditioning manufacturers, the cables, the steel. The total amount of working hours grew up to 6 million. If you translate that in days, you realize that Azzam created employment for 4,000 families. Not too bad, nowadays. 

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If someone would say, «I give you so much money that you can give employment for 4,000 people and keep their families alive and happy, I think everybody would be very cheerful for that». Azzam was also a technical challenge. She reaches 34 knots while you’re still able to discuss and have a proper conversation in the main saloon above the engine room. The design is from a very good and competent Italian office, Nauta Design by Mario Pedol and Massimo Gino.

IT SEEMS THAT WE ARE ALMOST AT THE END OF THE SIZE RACE. 

As I said many years ago, I think the race for size is over. Very few people define themselves by the size of the yacht. We have never really experienced that as a motivation for someone to build a bigger yacht. What we see is a very conscientious decision by the client to define the size. The size is determined by the features, such as the number of cabins, helipads yes or no, cinema, etc. These are the decisions that drive the size of the yacht. It’s no longer designed from the inside out. At the same time, it is a concern that many ports and marinas can only be accessed by a limited size of yacht, especially in the Bahamas and certain ports in Europe, such as Portofino. Saint Barth’s is another example. They’re getting very strict in enforcing the maximum size. Squeezing many features in a small envelope is more complicated than in a big ship where you have more choices. But there is no ideal size, by definition, a private yacht is the ultimate private holiday. She gives the best privacy you can imagine. For example, on a motorboat, but not on a sailboat, you can create spaces, like on the sundeck or certain other part of the boat, which the crew cannot access unless they are requested to come. The owner can lock them off. This is the ultimate privacy. 
 

YOU SAID LENGTH IS NOT IMPORTANT. MAYBE YOU HAVE TO TAKE MORE CARE ON DESIGN…

Definitely! The owner needs to be happy with the balance of the design. The size of the yacht today is purely a function of the features and the space requirement inside the yacht. We’ve seen a number of clients who have the means to build yachts and would have no problems if they were bigger. But they say I don’t need a bigger boat.

  

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MR. LÜRSSEN, THERE ARE EARLY SIGNS OF ECONOMIC RECOVERY BUT THE SLOWDOWN IN THE MARKETS IS THERE FOR ALL TO SEE. THE OUTLOOK WITH THE WAR AND RISING TENSIONS IN THE WORLD ECONOMY DOESN’T LOOK ROSY AND ESPECIALLY DOES NOT INDUCE OPTIMISM. WHAT’S IN THE AIR IN THE LÜRSSEN SHIPYARDS?

The economy has experienced ten years of enormous recovery first and then growth. The last ten years have actually been very good. But I have to say even in the crisis period we have been very lucky: we had a number of clients who all continued to build. It was a crisis for the industry, but our clients continued their projects and we made it through the crisis without any problems.
 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, YOUR SHIPYARD IS A «FAMILY» OWNED ONE. DO YOU FEEL THIS IS AN ADVANTAGE WITH CLIENTS?

Buying and building a yacht is a very important event for each client. I think it gives the client added comfort to know that there is a Mr. De Vries or a Mr. Lürssen, standing behind the product. The clients can call me directly when there is an issue. They all have my mobile number and I can tell you they do call when they feel there is an issue. Family owned businesses are more willing to go the «extra mile» to achieve better quality, ultimate quality, because, it is a very personal thing. And we try to push this family feeling at all levels, not only the management heads, but also with the engineers and even the people on the shop floor.