The Princess Yachts Story February 2003 Boat News, Review & Advice

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Cruisers Yachts 3650 Aft Cabin boat

The Princess Yachts Story (February 2003)

Trade-A-Boat editor Vanessa Dudley pays a visit to prestige British builder Princess Yachts, where the trend in luxury motoryachts is ever-upwards

When it comes to factory tours, the people at Princess know how to save the best till last. Towards the end of a full day visiting the British boatbuilder’s facilities with Sales Administration Manager Clive Brooks, I’m feeling very impressed, but getting weary. And that’s when Brooks wheels out the big guns. We arrive at the Princess Yachts International headquarters on the waterfront of Plymouth, recently modernised and extended. Brooks ushers me down a lane towards a large covered area and suddenly we’re standing in front of a Princess 25 Metre, the company’s largest model, suspended from a 160 ton travel-lift which is fully undercover.

The boat has just returned from the day’s sea trials and technicians are at work all around the lower helmstation and other parts of the luxurious interior. Equipped with twin 2000hp MTU V16s, the craft has delivered a top speed that day of 32kt, according to the crew busy working on the dashboard.

Brooks tells me this is hull number nine of the 25 Metres, with production of this model running at around four per year. The inclusion of a hardtop over the flybridge — an option adding almost two tonnes to the overall weight of the craft — indicates to Brooks that this boat is destined for a North American owner; the Europeans are happy with a bimini, he says.

Inclusions like a jacuzzi and chilled water air-conditioning say custom-built superyacht rather than production boat. Yet immediately to our left is a high-ceilinged assembly area housing another four or five of Princess’ biggest models in various stages of completion.

It looks more like a shipyard than a boatbuilding factory; these boats are seriously big, and with the 25 Metre alone valued at around 2.6million pre-tax, the accumulated value is pretty weighty, too.

But this is indeed a production boatbuilding facility. With annual output currently around 350 boats across its 15 motoryacht models (the company also builds the Moody range of centre cockpit cruising yachts), and 50-60 boats under construction at any one time, Princess has no space in the schedule for custom building, although Brooks says the ability to meet individual buyer’s specific requests for modifications increases with the size of the boat.

By opting to include luxurious fitouts as standard, however, and with many upmarket options on offer, the modern Princesses might as well be custom craft, a factor contributing to the company’s current popularity on the international market.

THE BEGINNINGS

It wasn’t always this way. As Clive Brooks recounts it, the Princess Yachts story began 37 years ago in Plymouth, when David King, one of the company’s founders and still its Managing Director, decided to have a boat built for himself and, to defray costs, chose a design that would be suitable for charter work.

King contracted out the work to a boatbuilder and the result was a boat called the Project 31 (the company was originally called Marine Projects). Unexpectedly, someone offered King 5000 for the boat, and many more orders followed. Some 140 were sold in the next two or three years, prompting King to begin production of his own boats rather than contracting the work out, starting with the Princess 32.

Traditionally a flybridge boatbuilder, the company’s models gradually increased in size and then split into two separate ranges with the introduction of non-flybridge sportsyachts.

The current models span the flybridge motoryacht range from the Princess 38 to the 25 Metre (above 70ft, Brooks says, the nomenclature converts from feet to metres to satisfy the European snob factor), and the V Class sportsyacht range from the V42 to the V65.

That includes two new flybridge models for 2003 (the 21 Metre and the 57), while three were introduced last year (the 23 Metre and the V46 and V58 sportsyachts).

Brooks says each model tends to have a five to seven year lifespan before it’s replaced by a new, updated design. Each model has its own unique hull and design, he says. Highly regarded English powerboat designer Bernard Olesinski is responsible for this side of the equation.

SEA TRIALS

The deep-vee Princess hulls have always had a reputation for seaworthiness. Stressing the importance of its sea-trialling program, the company makes a virtue of its decentralised location on England’s south-west coast, on the border of Devon and Cornwall — a three or four hour drive by motorway from London.

Plymouth is situated on a vast and beautiful sound that opens onto the Atlantic and western approaches to the English Channel, as well as stretching inland along the Tamar River. It’s an area rich in maritime history. It was the birthplace of Sir Francis Drake, who reputedly played bowls on The Plymouth Hoe in 1588 while the Spanish Armada approached. The Mayflower set sail from here in 1690 carrying 102 pilgrims towards a new life in America.

It’s the place you sail into at the end of the famous Fastnet Race, and it retains its importance in British naval life as the site of the Royal Naval Base.

Beyond all that, it’s the place where Princess takes its new craft to sea. Every boat goes through six to 25 hours of in-water testing, Brooks says, before the company is satisfied that the shaftdrive propellers are pitched correctly and all other equipment is functioning to specifications.

Very rarely do we get flat glass conditions here, so the boats need to be good seakeepers, Brooks says. We test in up to Force Six. With our first-of-line tests we wait for rough weather, Force Eight or Nine.

The hulls incorporate propeller tunnels, with the intention (stated in Princess’ publicity materials) being to increase efficiency and forward thrust, and to keep the boats more horizontal in the transition period from displacement to planing for better visibility and control. Curved chine design is intended to give a softer ride with less vibration.

The company invests in development where performance is concerned; with the new 23 Metre, for example, Brooks says a new design concept has been included, with a bulge at the back to move the rudder further aft for better turning.

Meanwhile the tunnel and flat section at the stern are designed to build up pressure underneath the boat to lift it out of the hole onto the plane, which is at around 14.5kt on a boat like the 23 Metre.

PRODUCTION PRINCIPLES

Besides seakeeping abilities, Princess has traditionally enjoyed a reputation for the quality of its fibreglass reinforced plastic (GRP) mouldings.

The company currently has about 1400 employees spread across six separate sites scattered around Plymouth. Three of these facilities were new in 2002 and total production space is more than 75,000sqm.

Employees work in crews. Some 96% of the workforce are tradespeople, such as carpenters, Brooks says. We take on about 20 apprentices per year and it’s a very competitive process within the city; we get about 500 applications for those 20 jobs.

Staff work from 7.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Thursday, and 7.30am to 12.30pm on Friday, plus any overtime. Some work is contracted out. A company called Fairweather Marine does some of the larger moulds, for example, while outside companies provide other services; one supplies all the props, rudders, peabracket shafts, etc, another provides the teak decks, while the upholstery is also contracted out.

Boats are divided across the different sites; the V50, V58 and V65 models are housed together with the Moody yachts, while the V42s and V46s are in a separate self-contained facility, for example.

All hulls are handlaid using cloth, not chopped strand mat. Hull deck joins are bonded, rivetted and glassed inside. Iroko timber is used for the engine bed; stringers are polystyrene foam.

Laminators are trained for six months before being set to work in that role. We haven’t had an osmosis problem for 25 to 30 years; we believe it’s because we get all the air out of the layup, Brooks says.

The internal structure of most hulls comprises several large GRP tray moulds plus up to 170 smaller individual moulds. The monocoque construction principle means that the company will not cut any tray moulds to customise an interior, on the basis that it could jeopardise the integrity of the hull. There is more room to manoeuvre with the small moulds.

The company uses new technology wherever possible. Five Axis CNC machines are used to produce various smaller boat moulds and dashboards. Curved timbers used for capping doors, etc, are formed using radio frequency technology, which Brooks describes as basically a giant microwave.

The in-house metalshop produces the stainless steel guardrails, stemhead rollers, jetski storage pods, aluminium fuel tanks, and so on. Water tanks are also made on site using polypropylene, because it’s lighter, doesn’t corrode and doesn’t taint the taste of the water.

Wiring looms are made up in-house too, in the loom department. The size of these intricate colour-coded bunches of wire, particularly those for the larger boats, has to be seen to be believed.

The company uses the MRP2 computer system to plan and control its production processes. A 50ft model is generally a 35-day assembly after the moulds have been produced. Assembly of a 25 Metre requires a 64-day slot.

No boats are built as stock. Every boat is ordered, we sell our production before we begin, Brooks says. This can mean waiting times for specific boats. The new V46 has proven popular enough that new orders will not be delivered until the third quarter of 2004, Brooks says. Current figures for annual production are around 38 V42s, 30 V46s and 26 V58s.

MOVING UPMARKET

It’s in the interiors that the company has experienced a major seachange in the past decade. Fifteen years ago the boats were a bit caravan-ish, Brooks says. About 10 years ago the company made the decision to improve the interiors.

Today the boats feature stylish layouts, furnishings and inclusions. Interior timbers are cherrywood, offered in natural or classic (darker-stained) tones. Customers’ selection currently runs at around 60% in favour of the lighter natural tones, Brooks says.

Multiple coasts of varnish are sprayed on to the interior timbers to provide a high gloss, high class finish. Features such as marquetry inlays and quartered grain panelling are added to heighten impact.

Worktops in galleys and bathrooms are Avonite.

It’s not just in the interiors that the boats reflect upmarket values and lifestyles. The V65, for example, has two garages, one for a jetski and another for a jet RIB. It’s essentially a 65ft speedboat; only one owner so far has stipulated an optional hardtop.

So who is buying these boats? (And how can I meet them?) Brooks says they’re generally self-made businessmen. They’re people who are well informed about the boats and the market.

That description doesn’t necessarily extend to all owners. While we’re in the big boat-assembly shed, it transpires that one of the largest new craft on the assembly line will become the royal yacht of a European monarch.

Cruisers Yachts 3650 Aft Cabin boat

POWER OPTIONS

Speed is an essential part of the modern Princess Yachts equation, particularly for the V Class sportsyachts. Powered by twin 1300hp V12 MAN diesels, for instance, the V65 can do 38-39kt full of fuel, water and people, Brooks says. Range is around 320nm at a cruise speed of around 20kt (Princess conservatively estimates cruising range to leave 20% fuel capacity in reserve).

The V58 with twin 1050hp MANs can do up to 38kt.

The new 23 Metre flybridge achieved 33kt with twin 1300hp MAN diesels, while the option to have 1500 MTUs will be available next year.

Up to 60ft the most used engines are Volvos; over 60ft it’s MAN, Brooks says. The US always wanted Cats, but these days they’re taking Volvos. In the Far East, Volvos had a reputation for bad service for a time, but they’re working on it now.

We look at worldwide service of engines and equipment. It’s no good having the best engines in the world if there’s no local service — then it’s the worst engine in the world. As for requests by customers for engines not specified by Princess, Brooks says Normally we try to accommodate people, but we won’t jeopardise a boat with engines that are underpowered or overpowered.

Princess works closely with its suppliers to produce the most up to date boats possible. That 25 Metre on the travel-lift slings, for example, features new Rexroth throttles that produce an audible bleep when the engines are in neutral, as an aid during tight manoeuvres.

HOME AND ABROAD

A part of a relatively recent push into the lucrative North American marketplace, the Princess V Boat range is being rebadged and marketed there as Viking sportscruisers. Brooks explains: Some 54% of the world market is the US, We’ve only been selling there in the last six years. Now we sell about 16% of our production there.

Our biggest market is still the UK — our UK distributor sells about 115 boats per year — but that includes owners who’ll keep their boats in Mallorca, southern Spain, Turkey.

The company currently has 24 distributors around the world. Generally we don’t like to have more than one per country, Brooks says, stressing the importance of the local sales representatives to the long-term success of the marque. It doesn’t matter what boat you have — boats are products in an unnatural environment and you need good support.

Although customers’ major dealings are with local representatives, Princess Yachts welcomes them too, says Brooks. We’re completely open to customers; when they come through they can see what’s under the skin. We do get involved with them — it’s technical support for the sales guys.

With sales to Australia growing to around six to seven boats per year, Brooks says this is a significant market for Princess, particularly given the fact that the boats tend to be the larger models.

THE FUTURE

These days, company founder David King remains a driving force, but ownership of Princess Yachts International has passed wholly into the hands of the Renwick Group, a large South African company with international interests.

Major competitors Sunseeker and Fairline are also based in Britain. It’s good for us to have so much competition here,’ Brooks says, comparing the three companies to BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar in terms of where they fit their markets.

An issue for the company is the current diversification of certification systems around the world. Princess boats receive CE certification from the Italian organisation RINA, but if any non-CE components are put into a boat — which is frequently the case when a boat is built for a US buyer — it cannot be issued with a CE certificate.

Although this does not stop the boat from meeting US requirements, it can be a problem when it comes to resale, especially for bigger boats where the main market remains Europe. Brooks would like to see a worldwide standard for recreational boats, as there is for the aircraft industry.

Meanwhile the trend is certainly towards ever-larger models, with buyer demand strong as technological advances allow production of bigger and bigger GRP boats. Meanwhile, sales of the company’s smallest model, the Princess 38 flybridge, are dropping.

The bigger the boat, the easier it is to sell, Brooks observes. That has determined the company’s direction with the Moody yachts, including the introduction of a new 64 model. As for the motoryachts, Sunseeker has introduced a 135-footer. So how big are we likely to see Princess go?

The new plant on the water is built to hold up boats to 35m, Brooks says. Then he adds We have no plans for a 35 Metre.

Vanessa Dudley visited the Princess Yachts international factory in Plymouth as a guest of the Australian distributor, Euroyachts Pty Ltd.


Published. Saturday, 1 February 2003

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