Landing Luna: The story of the 115m explorer yacht’s €50m refit
by Stewart Campbell
Pinned to the wall of the well-appointed captain’s office on board the 115 metre explorer yacht Luna is an ambitious plan for a world cruise, laid out in a series of printed sheets, with routes and ports of call marked in red. Included are some of the world’s finest cruising grounds — the Galápagos, Sea of Cortez, Alaska and the endless archipelagos of the Pacific.
Captain Lui Anphin catches me staring. “We’ve been planning it for a while,” says the native of Copenhagen, who has been with Luna since her launch in 2010. In all that time arguably the world’s most famous explorer yacht has done remarkably little exploring, instead sticking mostly to familiar cruising grounds in the Med.
But all that might finally be about to change. With new owners and fresh from a 14-month, €50 million refit, Luna is looking good — and ready to take on the world.
Originally envisioned as a more elegant version of 113 metre Le Grand Bleu, Luna, when launched, made headlines for two reasons: the celebrity of her first owner, Roman Abramovich, and in more specialist press for that long, low aft deck that sacrificed interior volume for sun worship. That famous pool, the biggest ever seen on a superyacht at the time, is still jaw-dropping, especially when empty and its full scale is revealed.
It was designer Frank Neubelt’s idea to devote so much space to outdoor living. “I wanted a real pool, and lots of relaxation zones for friends and family,” he says today.
Luna was bought by her current owners in 2014. They spent a season on board in the Med before releasing the yacht in October that year for an extensive refit that would wrap in her five-year survey.
Almost two years later, Boat International is on board. The yacht's swimming pool is netted, the crew are busy washing the decks and superstructure, and canvas hides all the sunloungers, but the huge spaces that make Luna so special are impossible to cover up.
And even on this grey, overcast day in Gibraltar, her hull absolutely pings: flawless, faired and painted a special new colour christened “Luna Blue”. It’s a marked difference. The yacht’s first owner wanted to reinforce her rugged aesthetic by making a show of her plate seams and welds, but giving her a shiny new coat was the biggest item on the to-do list when Luna was laid up at German Dry Docks in Bremerhaven, northern Germany, in late 2014.
“The previous paint wasn’t very attractive,” says the owner’s representative. “Just a top coat over bare hull. Luna now has the most high-quality paint job to date on such a vessel. It’s a complete mirror finish.”
The work was done by local firm Thraki Yacht Painting and constitutes the biggest single change to the boat in its six-year life. It took 70-80 painters eight months to fill and fair more than 2,000 square metres of hull, while also refinishing Luna’s superstructure. But first the hull was sandblasted to remove any remnants of the old paint.
“We then applied more than 20 tonnes of filler,” says Thraki’s MD Ritvan Metso. “This was followed by two epoxy primers, a show coat and top coat.” The result is an uninterrupted shine as you look down the hull, with no blemishes or movement in the finish. “This is what Luna was missing,” adds the owner’s rep with clear pride.
Neubelt led the design team from German studio Newcruise in defining Luna’s exterior lines. He calls it a “boy cool” look — tough but elegant. It was the first major motor yacht project worked on by the German designer and remains the biggest.
Outdoor life, obviously, was key to the design and, of all the proposals put in front of Luna’s first owner, he was “most amazed by the idea to create a very open outer deck”, says the designer. “So we quit all the earlier concepts with lots of toys on board and I was free to create her style.”
The deck below might not be rammed with superyacht water toys but there is still plenty of room — in fact, more than you’d think. To port, two tender garages sit opposite a gym and behind all of this is Luna’s expansive beach club wrapping round a spa, with steam bath, plunge pool and sauna.
This whole area was changed extensively in the refit. Updated equipment from Technogym has been installed in Luna’s superyacht gym, alongside new mirrored panels lining the length of the space. “Gym equipment keeps changing — and we only like the best,” says the owner’s rep. The glass means you can fold down the huge 12-metre shell door and look out over the water without anyone seeing you sweating inside.
Conversely, the platform means it’s possible to do morning routines outside, with the water lapping almost at your feet. A further shell door opens behind and Luna’s transom door folds up, to create the feeling of a single, open, water-level space.
The teak throughout this area has been replaced, alongside a host of other cosmetic changes: new mosaic on the walls in the steam room, upgraded AV and a new pantry area to ease service. The sofa in the rearmost section of the beach club now faces backwards — with a view of the sea instead of a TV on the bulkhead, in place of which is now a beautiful fish-eye sculpture discovered in Greece on one of the yacht’s travels. “Who wants to see a huge TV in a beach club?” asks the rep. “Luna is a boat to relax on! There are 80 other TVs on board.”
Included in the new sofa design are drawers for storing shoes, the idea being that you board via the bathing platform, sit on the sofa, put your shoes in the drawer… “and relax”, he adds. Luna’s boarding steps have been modified, too: they’ve been opened up to allow guests to walk directly up from the tender, instead of being forced sideways, making it much safer, and easier for crew to assist guests.
Luna’s owner and his family sometimes take breakfast at the beach club dinette to port, a space they’re already planning to change in the next big yard period by adding a large new shell door on the port side — bringing the number of major openings in this space to six — and 18 portholes in the transom, to give a view and let in light even underway.
Beyond the superyacht's beach club, the entire lower deck is dedicated to Luna’s crew, who are well served with spacious cabins forward, all of which were upgraded with new upholstery, curtains and AV/IT. Further crew quarters are found on the deck below, but the main attraction here are the machinery spaces.
Big yachts such as Luna have large, impressive engine rooms, but this one stands apart, not just in the volume dedicated to housing the engines and electric motors, but in the polish applied to it. “It’s the most spotless engine room I’ve ever worked in,” reports chief engineer James Burden — the result of a fastidious owner who regularly visits the crew areas.
As a result, the chequerplate floor is polished once a week and you could shave in the cylinder heads. “We even painted the toolboxes the same colour as the engine to keep things neat,” he adds.
Luna’s seven generators output a total of 15,000hp and they power electric motors coupled to each shaft. “Diesel electric, in terms of operating a ship, is great,” says the chief. “It’s less real estate taken up, it’s less vibration, it’s more economical, it’s more flexible for the owner and it’s more flexible for us to operate.”
She’s got massive power — designed to nudge Luna through shallow ice — and can run at her full speed of 21 knots and still have one generator offline. With all generators engaged and running at full revs, Luna could power a town of 25,000 people. In the yard, the shafts were taken out for survey and maintenance, and seals and bearings were replaced, while air-con was added in a number of the working areas to improve conditions, among a host of other jobs.
The main hot work happened in the living spaces decks above. The lounge fronting Luna’s observation deck has always been a superb place to be when coming into a new port or anchorage, but it’s been made even better by an extended deck cut-out, creating an entirely new exterior seating area.
“You can now walk to both sides, relax or sleep on the sofa and use it for dining,” reveals the owner’s rep, who has spent considerable time on board Luna. “It was incredible being up there when coming into Cuba. The new exterior observation lounge was very useful.”
Other changes have been made to the rear of the bridge deck, with new extendable wind breaks installed to protect this main outdoor dining space when it’s blowing. The teak has been perfectly re-caulked all over the boat and the two helidecks are now clad in Future Teak from Bolidt, embellished with Luna’s name and logo.
Donald Starkey was the original interior designer for Luna but joined the project when the yacht, which is managed by Y.CO, was only about 70 per cent complete at its build yard of Lloyd Werft. He worked hard to impose himself on a boat mostly built and won some concessions — extending headroom throughout the living spaces and adding a dining room, which wasn’t on the original GA.
“I did this by subdividing the upper deck lounge on the starboard side,” he says. “I separated the lounge and dining room by a wall incorporating a fireplace, which can be appreciated from both sides.” The stone-panelled finish to this unit is contextual in an interior that leans heavily to the natural.
“My intention was to try and create an elegant but calm feeling, away from the hard-edged traditional glossy interiors,” he says. This extended to sourcing oak panels in Germany cut from large logs that could be sliced into 70cm veneers, to avoid too many joints. The panels were then wire-brushed to expose the deeper grain and stained pale.
Starkey’s original intention had been to lay the oak floor using antique 17th century beams, but was dissuaded by concerns about splintering and combustibility. Modern oak was used instead and “aged” to create the same effect, which extends throughout Luna and grounds the entire design.
The floor, it should be noted, is also an absolute pleasure to walk on. One of the quirkier design flourishes involves the main deck guest corridor on Luna, with its arched separations, which not only add visual interest to an otherwise straight corridor but also serve to hide watertight bulkhead divisions.
Six years on and Starkey’s interior is still pristine, thanks to an owner with a meticulous eye for imperfections and a crew dedicated to making sure there aren’t any. Some updating was done in Luna’s refit period, including the addition of new fabrics in the corridors and updates to all cabins, but the soul of Starkey’s design is very much intact.
And while the owner gets the pick of those cabins, with its huge views and access to a private terrace forward, it’s the guests that get the easiest access to Luna’s headline feature, through the guest corridor on the main deck that leads straight out on to the aft deck. It’s a proper playground and perfect for the family’s children to run around, in complete safety.
A new raised section of this deck, just aft of the pool, was added in Luna’s refit and helps create distinction on the massive platform. The area can be tented and is a great spot for “tea and fruit in the afternoon”, says the rep.
Throughout Luna’s 14-month refit, around 130 jobs were completed, ranging from the tiny (the installation of new wine fridges) to the tricky (the separation of the ballast tank system) but, taken as a whole, they have managed to improve on a classic.
Until now few people have ever seen inside Luna and, as for being featured in a magazine, forget it. But finally here’s proof of her pedigree — Luna has risen. And if all those plans pinned to the captain’s wall become actual, real-life passages, she’s coming to a port near you soon, wherever you are in the world.
First published in the November 2016 edition of Boat International