Step on board the classic superyacht Leander G with Sophia Wilson, as she explores why this 75 metre Peene-Werft motor yacht has become a favourite of the British royal family for their offical tours and unoffical trips...
The Queen shed a public tear in December 1997 as her beloved HMY Britannia was decommissioned. After a career spanning 44 years, the yacht had travelled more than a million miles, but it was political pressure around the price of her upkeep that, ultimately, caused her to be withdrawn from service. This was not to be the end of the Windsors’ yachting forays, however, as Leander G stepped capably into the breach.
Leander G's observation lounge. All Imagery courtesy of Mike Jones/Waterline
Owned by the late Sir Donald Gosling for more than 20 years, the 75-metre yacht was a hub of gracious entertainment, part of yachting culture, something that Gosling felt had been slowly disappearing from the superyacht scene. “In my early days of ownership, yachting was certainly more friendly,” Gosling told BOAT International back in 2013. “It would be normal to go alongside any vessel and send the owner a note with an invitation to come on board and have a drink. As a result of yachts getting larger, I feel the camaraderie has disappeared amongst owners.”
Like the Windsors themselves, Leander G has German heritage: she was built at the Peene-Werft facility in Wolgast on the Baltic coast, with the late Claus Kusch in charge of her build and exterior design. She was commissioned as the third yacht in the Katalina series for the colourful Brigadier Timothy Landon and was the first private yacht to be built in the East German facility. Construction started within weeks of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and, as the shipyard had previously built only military vessels, Kusch had to take a handful of his workforce to Monaco to show them what a superyacht was.
The spa pool positioned aft on the upper deck of Leander G.
Pauline Nunns was enlisted to bring British style to the interiors. It was the first superyacht project for the British architect, whose career had concentrated on grand country piles. Landon wanted to create a “home from home” and Nunns spent three “fascinating” years visiting the yard. “No one spoke English and it was like stepping back into life pre-1940,” she recalls. “Decent hotels or petrol stations did not exist. Our office was a shipping container, meetings were held in corridors and we had to lean against walls in lieu of chairs.”
Gosling, who had purchased the original 48.8-metre Katalina, went to see the 75-metre project just three months into construction. “Something Sir Donald and I used to do all the time was just go around boatyards,” explains broker Peter Insull. Six months before the yacht’s completion, the brigadier’s circumstances changed, and Kusch asked Insull if Gosling wanted to buy the yacht. “Three months before the boat was finished, Sir Donald took ownership,” explains Insull. “It was as if the yacht had been designed for him, even though it hadn’t. The only changes made were that Katalina was going to have a white hull and Sir Donald wanted it to be blue, and he wanted a bar added to the upper-deck lounge.”
The splendid lounge on the main aft deck.
Nunns’ classic but comfortable interiors – with 10 cabins for up to 20 guests – were the perfect fit for Gosling. “In old jargon, she is the ultimate gentleman’s yacht,” says Insull. One of her stand-out spaces, and Nunns’ favourite, is the dining saloon. “It was a particularly difficult space to design, being long and narrow, running from port to starboard with an awkward alcove halfway down,” Nunns says. “I decided to put a balustrade in front of the alcove and have a huge mural of a view painted on canvas to make it look like a balcony. I put mirrors on the opposite wall so people with their backs to the view could also see.”
The mural, depicting an 18th-century sailing scene, remains in the dining room, which can host up to 30 guests. The English “country house decor” continues throughout the yacht, with antique mahogany furniture, damask patterned rugs and floral wallpaper. Gosling also added some of his own touches. “There was an abundance of nauticalia around the yacht because Sir Donald loved to collect it,” explains Captain Julian Cope, who spent 15 years at the helm of Leander G. “He was a keen and accomplished sportsman and used to do a lot of shooting. There were also statues and paintings of Labradors that were dogs he either had personally owned or that looked like his.”
A huge painted canvas mural adorns the dining saloon.
After the yacht was launched in the Baltic in December 1992, Leander G embarked on a Mediterranean and Caribbean cruising schedule. Originally designed for circumnavigation, she was quiet and solidly built, with an impressive range of more than 8,000 nautical miles at 15 knots. Broker Nicholas Edmiston recalls her creating quite a stir with her striking navy hull and classic lines when she first arrived in the South of France. “I remember going on board and she was very, very impressive,” he says. “She was one of the largest yachts around and built to a very high standard.” The quality of her build also means she is exceptionally comfortable at sea, according to Cope. “If you were sitting in Sardinia at anchor in 60 knots of Mistral wind, almost everyone else would be blowing around like corks but Leander would be sitting gracefully, sailing easily to her anchor.”
She remained under Gosling’s ownership for more than two decades and was sold three years before his death at the age of 90 in 2019. Leander G was the largest in a series of yachts he had owned. His passion for the sea and sailing had started at a young age and in 1944 he joined the Royal Navy. Although he left shortly after the end of the Second World War (having spent two years on board HMS Leander, hence his yacht’s name) and went on to co-found National Car Parks, he was a long-time advocate and benefactor of the Royal Navy. He spent four years as chairman of the White Ensign Association and from 2012 was Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom. Gosling’s strong naval connections meant that he expected Leander G to run to military standards.
The upper deck piano saloon.
“We had a reputation for doing things in a proper and seamanlike manner and Sir Don would always be watching,” recalls Captain Cope. All deck crew had to be smartly turned out, including navy caps when leaving or entering port, or in the ship’s boats. “We took great pride in this. As soon as you left the dock all the fenders would be taken in, and by the time the yacht had cleared the harbour entrance she was looking ready to go to sea with all the flags flying.”
As per Royal Navy dictum, this also extended to the tenders. “Sir Don wanted the tenders to be driven carefully and professionally. We spent a lot of time training crew how to drive the 30ft tenders in a sedate and controlled manner with no big wakes to annoy our fellow yachtsmen,” explains Cope.
The double cabin, situated to port on the lower deck.
The structure of life on board was partly what allowed for Leander G’s part-time role as the unofficial royal yacht. She was used for private holidays by various members of the royal family, and in 2008 Leander G’s involvement became more official when she was used by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall for their royal tour of the Caribbean. During the 11-day trip the couple visited the Commonwealth islands of Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Montserrat and Jamaica. “Prince Charles loves being on the water,” says Cope. “He was very interested in everything that was going on all the time.”
Following the success of the 2008 tour, in the run-up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Her Majesty gave her approval to use Leander G for a circumnavigation of the UK. “It was not good for me commercially because the boat came out of the charter market for the whole year,” jokes Insull. In the weeks leading up to the start of the tour, however, plans had to be adjusted owing to the Duke of Edinburgh’s health. The Queen’s visit to six ports culminated in a stop at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight.
A spacious twin guest cabin on the lower deck aft.
“The Palace very much moved the model that had been so successful with Britannia on to Leander,” says Cope. “The level of planning in these tours is literally down to the minute and there is a huge entourage, including secretaries, security and chefs that also come on board. They have the formula down to a T.”
At the end of 2012, Captain Cope was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) by the Queen following his services to Her Majesty. He went to Buckingham Palace to receive his medal. “When I looked around the rooms and spaces at the Palace, I thought they were quite like Leander’s. It is a very relaxed decor in their private residences.”
More than €25 million has been spent by the current owners since they bought the yacht from Gosling in 2016, with a full repaint carried out in 2018.
During Gosling’s ownership, Leander G was also a popular charter yacht that once completed more than 100 days in a season. With guests ranging from George Lucas to Saudi royals, she had a high repeat rate, with one charterer returning 22 times. “One of the things people, like the Saudi Princess I used to charter her to, loved about it was that the owner’s suite layout allowed them to live a separate life away from the rest of their entourage,” says Insull. With a separate observation lounge (with oil paintings of Gosling’s Labradors) accessible by private stairs, it was possible for the principal charterer to have complete privacy.
Cope was used to keeping up with Gosling’s demanding schedule. “We chartered but Sir Don also loved spending time on board. We would finish a charter and he would literally be in a hotel waiting for us to prepare the yacht for his immediate return,” the captain says. When on board, Gosling’s social schedule could frequently rival that of any royal party. “I think every First Sea Lord has been a guest on board over the past 20-odd years,” says Edmiston. And his generosity extended beyond just the top ranks. “If we were in the harbour in Palma with Sir Don and a Royal Navy ship came in for R&R, someone would immediately be tasked to find out who was in command of the ship and then 10 or so officers would come over for cocktails,” Captain Cope recalls. “He was also incredibly generous to the ship’s company. He would often organise a run ashore for the whole ship’s company – sometimes more than 200 matelots [sailors] would be wined, dined and entertained at the famous Son Amar [dinner show venue].” Gosling went one step further during the Kosovo crisis, using Leander G to offer a break for the weary submariners of HMS Splendid.
The interior emphasis remains, as ever, on sumptuous, even regal style, with antique mahogany furniture, patterned rugs and floral wallpaper throughout.
In February 2016 news emerged that Gosling had sold his beloved Leander G and that she would no longer be available for charter. Her new owners, who have remained anonymous, have made minimal changes to her interior. “You wouldn’t notice any difference,” says Insull. “They were personal friends of Sir Donald’s and they wanted it to remain the same.” They have, however, invested more than €25 million in her upkeep. “The new owner spent money on hidden things,” explains Edmiston. “Things like completely new generators, a whole new generator room, exhaust systems and servicing machinery.”
She is now publicly on the market for the first time. “I think her new owner will be someone who understands living to a high standard, with quality and with good service,” says Edmiston. “It’s not a flash yacht, so it’s probably more likely to be an established traditional owner rather than a first-time buyer.”
Leander G is now on the market for the first time.
With a life at sea that has touched royalty, Hollywood stars and submariners alike, there is no doubt that whoever takes on Leander G won’t be short of stories to share about her in front of the mural in her dining saloon. And those that shed a tear when she was taken off the charter market might have reason to celebrate once more if she continues her legacy as a great entertainer.
This feature is taken from the August 2020 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.