COMING ROUND THE MOUNTAINS TO THE THAMES
It’s a rare boat that journeys from Switzerland over the Alps to end up on the Thames at Chelsea but that is the feat managed by the MS Mouette, as remarkable a journey as that undertaken by Hannibal and his elephants.
After plying the placid waters of Lac du Neuchatel in Switzerland for some 65 years as a pleasure ferry boat, Mouette was spotted by Wolfang Steck, who it might be said fell in love with her. With a graceful design inspired by Bauhaus principles, and built in Germany just before the start of World War ll, the boat represents a slice of maritime history, and the young Wolfgang longed to possess her.
“When she came up for sale in 2003, I immediately placed a bid. But Swiss Air had deeper pockets, and so I was disappointed. But then some months later, I saw that Swiss Air had gone bankrupt. I telephoned the boatyard where she had been moored, to learn that she had remained there and never been delivered to Swiss Air. And so I was able to buy her.”
An earlier love had been London, to which he came from Bavaria in 1984 as a student, and where he had remained. So the boat had to come to London, and being young and in love, the prospect of bringing a new love to his old one was undaunting.
Yet this was a major operation, involving cutting the vessel in half and transporting her through narrow village lanes in the Alps, putting her back together to sail along the Rhine, then crossing the Channel one stormy November night, much to the incredulity of the harbourmaster at Ramsgate. “ ‘You sailed this from over there?’ he asked us,” Wolfgang recalls. “A lake pleasure boat is not meant for the high seas, but we just did it.”
Above, coming round the mountains, to the Thames. Below, Wolfgang Steck enjoys a final champagne on the boat.
Since then, the boat has been moored on the Thames at Chelsea, Wolfgang’s home in London. Hard by Cheyne Walk, with fabulous views both up and down river, it is the dream boat of legions of young men who aspire to living on the water in the heart of the city.
Described as a pied-a-terre (when it is actually in the water), it is the ultimate bachelor’s pad, with king-sized built-in bed in the one large bedroom, and a large reception room that accommodated 100 guests for a river-side view of the Queen’s pageant during the Jubilee celebrations.
But Wolfgang is no longer a bachelor and his business life is now centred in Zurich, and so he has put the Mouette on the market.
“Yes, it will be a wrench to sell her,” he admits. “But I’m not here so much and she deserves to be lived in, not left alone. I have many wonderful memories…”
At 34 metres long, meticulously restored and modernised but retaining many original features, all gleaming mahogany flooring and hand crafted maple wood, it is a vessel that should soon attract a new lover. It would be possible, of course, to create more cabins from the present large staterooms – but for a young man-about-town it might seem just dandy as it is.
The Mouette is for sale through Harrods Estates, price £1M.