The Hollywood director best known for his big-budget disaster movies finds valuable peace on his classic 33-metre motor yacht Maid Marian 2. Caroline White learns how he balances high-octane action on the silver screen with a laid-back lifestyle on the water
With a passion for superyachts and a CV that lists some of the loudest, shiniest Hollywood blockbusters of the 1990s and 2000s, it must have crossed the mind of German director Roland Emmerich to make a superyacht-inspired flick? Well, sort of.
“I’m always inspired by what’s in bookstores, and [about 25 years ago] I saw books about the Titanic everywhere – I said, ‘Oh my God, that would be a great subject matter.’ Then I talked to a couple of people and they said James Cameron is already doing one. I was a year too late.”
He may have missed his chance to tell the most famous nautical story of the modern age, but he’s still racked up some of the most successful disaster movies ever made, with Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and White House Down to name but a few. He’s currently deep in post-production on Moonfall after shooting in Montreal with Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, Donald Sutherland and Michael Peña. Due for release in 2022, it’s a film that does what it says on the tin: “It’s about the Moon falling to Earth – but the Moon is not what we think it is,” he says.
With big budgets (a reported $140 million for Moonfall), high pressure and constant travel to contend with at work, what Emmerich seeks from time aboard his classic 33-metre motor yacht Maid Marian 2 is respite. “It’s a great balance because when you’re on a boat, you start to relax after two or three days, which is a great counter-programme to my otherwise hectic life,” he says. “That’s what drew me to boats, especially a boat like Maid Marian 2, which is an old lady, you know, but quite luxurious.”
Growing up in Stuttgart and later studying at the University of Television and Film in Munich (where he wrote and directed the full-length sci-fi flick The Noah’s Ark Principle in the early 1980s) life was rather too busy to think about yachts.
“My first experience with boats was in 2002 when I chartered Douce France, a [42-metre] catamaran, in the Caribbean and I fell in love with being on boats in that one trip,” he says. He was so taken with the onboard experience that he went on to charter Douce France – the biggest sailing cat in the world at her 1998 launch – several times. “My sister and I learned that this is the greatest way to have a vacation, because you have a sort of luxury hotel which moves from island to island. You can be in different places but you still have your home away from home, always there.”
But it was during a Christmas holiday at the Amanpuri resort in Phuket, Thailand, in 2006, that Emmerich found the boat that would shape his yachting future. He asked to charter the hotel’s biggest boat and was introduced to Maid Marian 2. She was launched as Cleopatra in 1931 in New York, and later served as a patrol boat for the US Coast Guard in the Second World War. Her owner retired to Florida after the war and lived aboard in Palm Beach until the early 1990s. Adrian Zecha, co-founder of Aman Resorts, then purchased the yacht and shipped her to Phuket.
“She was built as a steamboat, which was interesting to me,” says Emmerich, who fell in love at first sight with her classic lines. He bought her and enlisted the British interior and furniture designer John Teall for a major refurbishment to return her to her original glory. Teall, who has an eye for the quirky, had decorated Emmerich’s London home with the brief, as reported by The New York Times, to make the place as “non-frumpy” as possible; unconventional enough that “when the neighbours peek in, they might want to call the police”. Emmerich’s taste for political and outré art is reflected in a life-size waxwork of the Pope that sits under the stairs, a taxidermy zebra and his collection of Chairman Mao statuettes. The pair became good friends and when the director asked him to work on the yacht’s revamp, the designer gladly accepted – Teall lived in Phuket for several months during the project.
They made a few modernisations to the design: seating and sunbathing space was added to the top deck; a forward dining saloon was transformed into a double en suite cabin; and two separate saloons were joined to make one open space. They also upgraded the air conditioning and added new bathrooms. “We just tried to remodel the boat like she looked [in 1931], but with a slight modern touch,” says Emmerich.
The yacht, originally built in Douglas fir planking on white oak frames, was largely rebuilt in teak, which was readily available in Thailand. “It made the boat much heavier but also more stable,” says the director.
In terms of furniture and decor, they kept some of the yacht’s original chairs, but beds and other pieces were built from scratch by local artisans in hardwood. Photos of Maid Marian 2’s previous lives decorate the cabins, along with pieces of art that Emmerich has collected in Africa, Argentina and elsewhere. And, of course, “There are a couple of Maos standing around.”
Maid Marian 2 is now predominantly based in Greece. “I’m a big fan of the Mediterranean in general but I realised that Greece is the best for my boat,” says Emmerich. On a practical note, “the boat still has to dock sideways like old-fashioned boats do, and in Greece you don’t have that many marinas – you mainly stay in bays over the islands”. But he also loves the region for its varied and accessible cruising grounds. “You can go to a totally remote place and one or two hours later you’re in the midst of these great restaurants and beach clubs,” he says.
Last year, as Covid-19 complicated and slowed the Mediterranean charter market, Emmerich took the opportunity to haul out the yacht for a further nine months of upgrade work in Athens, including a remodelling of the top deck. This now provides nearly 100 square metres of al fresco space, with a large sunbathing area, a full bar and the latest sound system.
Now that the yacht’s back in action, Emmerich has long-term ambitions to cruise Turkey and Croatia, as well as to repeat a much-loved trip to Formentera in the Balearic Islands, but for now Greece is plenty – and she’ll be available for charter there from July this year.
Emmerich’s favourite spot in the region is Mykonos, which “feels to me like Saint-Tropez did in the 1970s”, he says. The island, with its combination of glamour and laid-back lifestyle, seems the perfect spot for a Hollywood director in search of some R&R.
This feature is taken from the August 2021 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW