A real head-turner

Mark Rothfield | VOLUME 22, ISSUE 6

We took a pair of Princesses out to see if beauty really is, in fact, just in the eye of the beholder.

“She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud. She [was] famine, fire, destruction, plague … the only true begetter. Her breasts were apocalyptic; they would topple empires before they withered. Her body was a miracle of construction … she was unquestionably gorgeous. She was lavish. She was a dark, unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much.”

The above words are not mine, I must admit, but those of the late, great Richard Burton, uttered upon his first glimpse of a 19-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. I dips me lid to him though, for, as I stood dockside at a Sydney marina recently, I understood precisely how he felt.

Only this lady was blonde, moulded of fibreglass and her name was Princess P67.

With the Princess range – and Liz to a lesser extent – we’re talking the best of British engineering; the pinnacle of production motoryacht craftsmanship. In the 67’s case, a 35-tonne waterborne Bentley, minus the wheels.

To be honest, it is beyond my capacity to dispassionately appraise and find major fault in such a craft, especially in the allotted time frame. But I defy any owner to be seriously aggrieved. Criticism would come down to personal taste and preference, because at this scale, few sacrifices are made.

Space is no object, nor is money. A stairwell, a passageway, a bathroom, any feature or fixture for that matter, can be the optimum size without compromising other layout aspects. Small boat designers aren’t afforded this luxury.

On paper and from afar, only fine nuances separate the Princess from other European royalty such as Sunseeker, Fairline, Azimut and Ferretti. Of these marques, the Princess errs slightly on the side of tradition and conservatism, with its ancestral lineage differing more through generational increments than genocidal leap.

Rather than starting with a blank page, newer models improve on perfection where possible, which means older Princesses remain relatively timeless and thus maintain their resale value. Put another way, it’s about intelligent design meeting gradual evolution in an immaculate conception; a concept with might well leave religious zealots confounded.

NAUTICAL NUPTIALS

Perhaps the most significant change in recent times, from an Australian perspective, has come not in product development, but in retailing. Having been handled for numerous years by a relatively low-key player, Princess is now under the market umbrella of Riviera Marine’s national R Marine dealership network. The marriage is seemingly made in heaven: one of the world’s premier production vessels being sold and supported by arguably the best after-sales team in the business.

Both companies enjoy symbiotic benefits. R Marine gains instant access to a highly reputed range of motoryachts with 40-year standing. For Princess, which has seen rivals erode its market share, the arrangement solves its servicing and resale concerns. We hear there will also be some technological exchange between the manufacturers.

Riviera chief, Wes Moxey was candid in his assessment, admitting that his company was keen to offer its army of clients a bigger, Euro-styled vessel, while retaining their brand loyalty. The notion of developing its own range was flirted with, but Moxey believes the timing isn’t right.

“I have 1200 employees to consider and right now we have to stay focused on what we do best,” he said. That focus is the renowned sports convertibles, which have sold at an unprecedented rate throughout the domestic boat show season, and the new sports yachts, of which the Riviera 4700 is a prime example.

R Marine brings a formidable dowry to the union. “A car dealer once said to me that if you want to emulate Lexus, you’d better have a lot of stomach, because they throw a lot of money at it,” Moxey said. “But we’ve been pretty successful to date – we don’t always get it right, but we certainly want to do everything right in terms of servicing, support and resale.”

Princess sales numbers here have been modest; around a dozen a year out of a total factory output of 350-plus, but it’s nevertheless a good starting point. R Marine has four models immediately available, including the P67 and a 21-metre, and if potential buyers can be unearthed for these multi-million dollar craft, the Princesses will certainly sell themselves.

Big things impress, of course, such as the Herculean performance manifest in the 67-footer’s ocean-bred hull. At the same time, it’s the small things that amuse a small mind like mine because, for all their size and grandeur, it’s the attention to detail that sets the tone. If a builder gets the little things right, you know they didn’t take shortcuts elsewhere.

I spent several minutes admiring a chromed bollard, evidently the fruit of someone’s 2am inspiration. The way it curved into the coaming while elegantly forming an elliptical arc had me transfixed. Extra trouble, extra expense, but a thing of beauty in its own right, even if the owner is less likely to tackle the mooring duties than make his own cappuccino.

The stern bollards, meanwhile, are concealed inside a hatch and assisted by Lewmar powered winches. Also hidden (beneath the port-side cockpit stair) is the telescopic passarelle that, at the touch of a remote control, protrudes to its full 2.9-metre length.

I was similarly intrigued by a switch that electrically transformed the galley’s glass partition from clear to opaque. Before this innovation came along, Princess (and other manufacturers) buried the galley in a pit, so as not to interrupt the visual flow for’ard. It meant, though, that the chef’s head would poke out – Dicky-Knee style – and guests would look down upon them. Now, the galley feels better integrated with the saloon and adjacent dinette, facilitating both conversation and the serving of meals.

The galley can be described as ‘Orient Express’. Set to starboard and C-shaped, it offers generous bench space and storage, along with stainless steel appliances (a ceramic 4-ring cooktop and convection microwave), extractor fan, single sink, under-bench dishwasher, a full-height fridge (200-litre) and freezer (71-litre). Both the dishwasher and fridge doors are concealed behind light cherrywood panels, while the heavy and hardy ‘Avonite’ benchtops do a marvellous impersonation of granite.

The saloon has a six-seater settee to starboard, serviced by a timber coffee table and a two-seat chez lounge to port. A Sharp Aquos TV resides permanently on an entertainment cabinet, out of the way if not out of sight. It’s at perfect eye level for the main lounge.

Adjacent to the flatscreen is the spiral staircase leading to the flybridge, stunningly rendered in cherrywood and carpet, with a leather-clad handrail. Next, you come across the dinette, with its intricately crafted table and wrap-around lounge. Its floor is carpeted, whereas the 21-metre has the more practical and eye-catching option of polished timber.

FROM THE THRONE

The internal helm is immediately opposite the dinette, so guests can sit and have a drink or snacks while enjoying the ride. Deeply padded and slide-adjustable leather bucket seats pamper the skipper and passenger, and spread before them is a three-tiered helm console, with a Furuno 1944C radar/chartplotter centre stage, flanked by a neat array of Raymarine and engine gauges. Falling easily to hand are a tilt-adjustable sports wheel, electronic throttles, trim tabs and thruster controls. Switches are flush-mounted and there’s even storage for paper charts – remember them?

The helmsman has excellent vision forward through the large safety glass screen, aided by the use of charcoal-coloured lining for the dashboard that reduces reflected glare. If the galley glass is frosted, it’s not possible to see aft, however a video camera could serve as the eyes in the back of your head. Also, an aircraft-style hatch gives the driver direct access to the sidedecks.

Moving down to accommodation level, the day head is at the base of the stairs, just where you want it. Inside is a walk-in shower cubicle with circular door, vanity with Avonite top, and

Vacuflush loo. An ensuite door leads to the portside guest cabin, which has two single berths, spacious wardrobe and bedside table. The laundry is on the other side of the corridor.

The fore cabin affords five-star comfort to the VIP, with a queen-sized island berth, generous storage (including two under-berth drawers) and the obligatory dressing table. The ensuite is of similar proportions to the day head, but a different arrangement – the sink is larger and the shower has a conventional door.

It prepares you, in a sense, for the master stateroom, which is located amidships and occupies the full beam (5.23m). The previous Princess 65 didn’t have this, nor does the current 61.

The bed is king-sized and the wardrobe double width. To port is a dressing table that could serve as a study. To starboard is a two-seat lounge plus the ensuite, and naturally there is a personal entertainment centre and climate controlled air conditioning.

With four picture windows each side, the cabin is blessed with light and water views. Halogens, concealed lights and reading lamps do equally well at night, yet for all the radiance, there is a muted warmth to the ambience by virtue of the panelled headboard, soft furnishings and cabinetry. Princess has used just the right amount – not too much – of everything, treading the perfect line between austere and ostentatious.

Displacement is several tonnes heavier than the 67’s nearest rival, but the quality of finish must be seen to be fully appreciated.

QUIET ACHIEVERS

Passion is nothing without power, however, and in this case 35 tonnes of pleasure machine is spirited to 30-plus knots by twin 1200hp MTU diesels. Like everything on the Princess, they go about their business exceptionally quietly, thanks to advanced sound proofing and a two-stage water-cooled silencing system for the under-hull exhausts. The engine beds are bonded to the hull to absorb vibration, as are the engineroom bulkheads.

The MTUs sit relatively close in the deep vee hull, separated by a checker plate walkway that facilitates servicing access. Marinemet stainless steel shafts spin through dripless shaft logs to keep the bilge spotless.

Five air-con condensing units reside on a shelf to starboard, while the Onan 17.5kW generator has its own sound-shielded room, with underwater exhaust. Twin fuel tanks (2045 litres apiece) are centrally-mounted to ensure hull balance is unaffected by fuel level.

Propeller tunnels further reduce bow lift under acceleration and also improve top-end speed. On the sheltered reaches of Middle Harbour, we recorded a maximum burst of 32 knots, revving to almost 2500rpm. All good boats have a sweet spot and with the P67 it’s around the 1800rpm mark, where it pulls 23 knots.

The design notes point to “revolutionary” curved chines and “moulded spray rails configured to roll water away and reduce frictional resistance”, and certainly this is supported by the on-water performance. The ride is dry and soft, allowing coastal miles to be devoured, and trim tabs are available to poke the nose down in a head sea or level the ride.

At rest, it still feels well settled, allowing for the fact there is five metres of boat above the waterline, 1.37 metres below. Bulwarks and thigh-high handrails let you move along the side decks in total safety.

Tight cornering barely brings the knots untied, momentum and efficiency carrying the Princess through. Indeed, when I first drove the P67 on the Gold Coast last year, I did the usual gentle superyacht turn, mind ful of spilling the champagne, only to be told “No, really turn her”. A handful of lock (power-assisted, of course) had the hull cornering like a nimble runabout. It tracks truly and enjoys great responsiveness from the high-speed balanced rudders.

Five-bladed props and powerful bow and stern thrusters enhance close-quarter manoeuvring, to the extent where an experienced owner could reasonably manage most berthing situations. That said, there is separate crew accommodation available – a hideaway accessed from the cockpit lounge – and enough ongoing maintenance work to keep a skipper gainfully employed.

Such unyielding largesse carries a lavish price tag, though not without considerable justification when you consider that Burton, romantic fool that he was, went on to purchase one of the world’s largest diamonds to express his devotion for Taylor beyond words … not knowing that she’d sell it 10 years later to fund a hospital in Botswana.

The precious stone and the Princess have obvious parallels, too. Both took many months to painstakingly carve and polish. Both are flawless inside and out, possessing a lustrous beauty that stamps them as rare. And both are priced in excess of $3.6 million, the only difference being that more fun can be had on a 67-foot cruiser!

Perfect step-up

All of us need something to aspire to – even the owners of 67-footers – and the Princess 21M is it. In the words of Tim Shaw, “But wait, there’s more” … more space, more luxury, more cost.

Less than a metre of hull length separates the 21M (at 21 metres) from the P67, but volume is ramped up by virtue of greater beam and draft. With that comes a six-tonne leap in displacement and higher power demands. Twin 1200hp MTUs are standard, but MAN V12 1360hp diesels would be preferable.

If the 67-footer’s layout works well, the 21M is better. It gains a second VIP cabin amidships, with ensuite access to a bathroom that’s shared by guests in a portside bunk room. The master stateroom has an apartment-sized bathroom with bidet and a shower large enough to invite a friend.

Where possible, finishes are upgraded, such as granite benchtops, for example. A dedicated cocktail cabinet is housed opposite the galley, next to the stairwell, cradling bottles and the crystal glassware with the utmost care.

The flybridge is of similar proportions to the 67’s and shares the wetbar/barbecue module, wrap-around lounge dinette, and tender stowage (operated by crane). Added touches on the 21M include a sunpad and electrically-raised dashboard panel.

The engine room and crew cab have even better access, stairs leading from a door in the cockpit stair moulding. At 41 tonnes, you’ve entered the realm of compulsory professional skipper, so if you like the 67 and have the extra money, the 21 is the perfect step-up.

SPECIFICATIONS: PRINCESS 67

LOA: 20.75m

Beam: 5.23m

Draft: 1.37m

Displacement: 35 tonnes

Fuel: 409lt

Water: 909lt

Standard power: 2 × MAN V10 CRM 1100hp diesels

Test power: 2 × MTU 8V M93 1200hp diesels

Test boat courtesy of R Marine 7 Seas, tel; (02) 9960 7444.


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