November 2019:
Paddle Steamer Captain Kuno Stein

November 2019:
Paddle Steamer Captain Kuno Stein

Captain Kuno Stein, who will be familiar to many who have sailed on the splendid Lake Lucerne fleet of paddle steamers and motor ships, has recently retired after a career on the lake spanning forty five years, thirty of which have been spent as a paddle steamer captain.

Capt Stein joined the company as a Controller/Seaman in October 1974. By 1978 he had become qualified to sail as master of the smaller motor ships and during the following decade expanded his qualifications so that he could sail as master of the large motor ships and paddle steamers. Although the Lucerne captains move around between vessels during each season to provide variety, Capt Stein became principal master of the paddle steamer Schiller in 1990. He moved to the flagship of the fleet, Stadt Luzern on the retirement of Capt Kaufmann in 2008 where he remained until she was withdrawn for a major rebuild at the end of the 2018 season. This last summer he has spent time on the large motorships making his last trip in command of the Schwyz on Sunday 6th October with a morning round trip from Lucerne to Kussnacht followed by an afternoon round trip down the whole lake to Fluelen.

Like all the Lucerne masters Capt Stein is a superb ship handler, manoeuvring the large paddle steamers on and off the tiny piers with minimum engine movements in all weather conditions. And where Lake Lucerne can be idyllic on balmy days, wind, including the notorious Fohn, is a real issue sometimes with the steep sided mountains providing fierce and contrary winds which provide real challenges for the masters particularly with the tiny piers close to what are often rocky shores.

All who have sailed with Capt Stein will also know the warm and friendly welcome he has always given to his passengers.

Capt Stein has had a life long interest in paddle steamers sailing on them since his childhood not only on Lake Lucerne but elsewhere around the world. In this picture he is taking the helm of Kingswear Castle’s in 1991 with Roger Benz (who is now himself a Lake Lucerne paddle steamer captain) on the left. I have also inadvertently bumped into him on several occasions in different locations over the years, not least on Lake Geneva and at Dresden, with both of us doing what paddle steamer captains do in their spare time, namely travelling on other paddle steamers elsewhere.

Capt Stein has been a great international advocate for paddle steamers since he was a boy. Not happy to see the paddle steamer Wilhelm Tell withdrawn in 1970, the sixteen year old Kuno Stein set up a steamship magazine, along with his friends Kurt Hunziger and Beat Herr, to try to change the way the paddle steamers were viewed as at that time they were seen as old hat, past their day and best replaced with new.

When the paddle steamer Unterwalden was withdrawn in 1977 and replaced by a new motor ship which took both her role and her name there was much protest and in the end this campaign to change opinions worked. By the 1980s the paddle steamers were seen as part of the heritage to be restored and cherished and by 1985 the paddle steamer Unterwalden had been rebuilt and returned to service reclaiming her old name with the motor ship renamed Europa. Since then all the Lucerne paddle steamers have had major rebuilds and the process goes on. Stadt Luzern was rebuilt over several winters in the 1980s and is now out of service for yet another complete rebuild. Capt Stein was in at the beginning of this process to change people’s minds and what a success it became.

Over the years Capt Stein has seen many changes aboard the paddle steamers not least in the use of modern technology. All the paddle steamers now have radar and SatNav as well as electric steering controlled by jog sticks on the bridge wings and in the wheelhouse enabling the captains to steer the ships on and off the piers themselves without the need for a separate helmsman.

On his last trip down the lake as master of the Stadt Luzern there were speeches and presentations at various piers along the way. Here at Treib Capt Stein has just received a special Swiss cheese.

I am sure that everyone will wish to join me in thanking Capt Stein for all that he has done for paddle steamers over all these years and wish him all the very best for a long and happy retirement. I suspect though that he will still continue to sail on paddle steamers and other boats elsewhere. Indeed I hear tell that he is already booked for his first post retirement voyage crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 in November.