The 32M from Princess Yachts heralds the builder’s move into the superyacht fraternity.
Oscar Wilde was being a little unkind when he said that conversation about the weather was the last refuge of the unimaginative. In England, people talk about the weather all the time, and every conversation is different because every time you turn your back the weather does something new.
So there is no such thing as a typical English summer’s day, but even by its own exacting standards, the weather for our Princess 32M sea trial was unusual. Princess Yachts is based in Plymouth, one of the best natural harbors in southern England, and a naval base since time immemorial. Steep slopes shelter its rivers and inlets from every direction except the south, and a huge Victorian breakwater across the entrance pretty much takes care of that. So as we got ready to go out aboard Princess’s first-ever 100-foot-plus (32-meter) motoryacht, we could feel an unseasonable chill in the air, courtesy of a northerly breeze. But even that couldn’t have prepared us for the conditions that awaited us out at sea. They were extraordinary. The wind howled down from the hillsides and the waters of the English Channel looked wintry, gray and foam-flecked, although even several miles offshore there was insufficient fetch to raise more than a three-foot chop. For a hull this size and a yacht this substantial, with full fuel and water tanks—the 32M must have been displacing nearly 120 tons—there was nothing remotely challenging about that. But the spray certainly kept the windscreen wipers occupied.
The wind speed that day was about 30 knots—a solid Force 7—enough to send us scudding along briskly under “double-reefed topsails, jib, etc.,” according to Beaufort’s scale. The rear admiral was often seen around these parts, but what that scientific officer could not have imagined was the apparent wind speed created by battling directly into the breeze. It must have reached 50 knots over the deck at full throttle. With no significant tide running along our course, any speed differential recorded during our two-way speed runs was entirely due to the wind, and it was surprisingly slight—a mere half-knot or so.
Even more surprising, to me at any rate, were the sound levels. In the wheelhouse at full chat, with a buffeting gale outside, the meter logged just 57 dB(A). That’s the kind of quiet a surgeon would appreciate while attempting something particularly tricky.
It was at this point that I began to appreciate what the Princess people had meant when they talked about moving into the superyacht world. It was about much more than merely crossing the 100-foot threshold, they insisted; nor would simply spending more on the interior design and offering better customization options quite cut it. Building the 32M, which has since been followed by the voluminous, 130-foot 40M, and which will be joined in a year or so by a big, new 35-meter, would require some fundamental rethinking from the keel up to ensure that everything from insulation, structures and engineering to the interior design and the quality of its fit-out came up to what Princess perceived as superyacht standards.
As Britain’s oldest production boatbuilder (the company’s first boat, a 31-foot [9.4-meter] motor cruiser, was launched in 1965, and the founder, David King, is still the chairman), Princess folks have a habit of thinking things through. As the 32M and its larger sisters in the emerging M Class were being planned, the company established a new shipyard adjacent to its current waterside site by acquiring the redundant South Yard complex of the Royal Navy’s Devonport base. While the naval architects, engineers and production specialists plotted Princess’s move into superyachting, it was the purchase of the new site that actually made it possible. In one move, it provided several large, modern assembly sheds with plenty of room to expand, a useful 150-foot wet dock and an enormous slipway on which battleships were once built. There are also numerous important historic buildings, for which Princess is now responsible. It is here at South Yard that M Class production is focused.
If the 32M’s extraordinary sound insulation testifies to the solidity and underlying quality of the yacht’s construction, it also underlines the success with which Princess has made its 100-foot-plus transition. But on paper, at least, the move wasn’t that big a deal. The company already had a successful 98 in its model range, which, in turn, had been developed from a 95. It was this yacht’s hull design, suitably lengthened, that gave the shipyard its starting point for the 32M.
There is a huge difference between the 95 and its M-Class evolution, of course. With a separate wheelhouse on its own raised half-deck, the 32M looks like a much more substantial yacht, and feels like one, too. The main deck accommodates not just a spacious salon with the option of a drop-down balcony on the starboard side, but also an excellent owner’s suite forward that fills the full width of the superstructure with a dressing area and expansive bathroom forward, a central cabinet containing an enormous TV and windows on each side commanding superb views.
Down below, the yacht comes with the option of either three or four cabins. Our 32M was the fourth built so far and was destined for a Moscow owner, who had chosen the four-cabin layout. Two good-size symmetrical double suites amidships occupy an area that would make a single massive VIP in the alternative version, while there is another double suite on the port side and a twin berth to starboard. The crew accommodations are aft between the guest accommodations and the machinery space.
With its rich leathers, lustrous wengé floors and gloss-finished walnut furnishings, the interior design of the yacht we inspected had a grandly Russian look about it. The owner had specified the balcony with its sliding glass doors. With these and the generous expanse of windows in the salon, his yacht had a remarkably light and spacious feel, which was in no way compromised by the richness of the décor. He had clearly also spent some time talking to Fendi’s design consultants, an optional part of the service at Princess available to buyers of the bigger yachts. Along with a 10-seat Fendi dining table, there were also various Fendi sofas and lighting fixtures.
Perhaps the owner’s best call was his choice of engines. The M94 variant of MTU’s 2000-series V16s is the largest available for the 32M, producing more than 2,600 horsepower. At maximum revs, we recorded a top speed of just fewer than 24 knots. This is well up toward the top end of Princess’s performance estimates, so if the shipyard’s other information is equally accurate, then the 18 to 20 knots quoted for the lower-powered Caterpillar version might not be enough for many owners.
Gale or no gale, the 32M is solid. Acceleration inevitably felt ponderous. We were almost fully laden with 12 tons of fuel and water on board, but there was an imperturbable reassurance to the yacht’s handling, in spite of the 10 turns lock to lock on the hydraulic steering, which I would be inclined to adjust. In such extremes of wind it was hard to judge things like the turning circle and angles of heel, but the yacht seemed as happy turning upwind as down, and though hardly agile, the steering never felt less than positive. Choppy seas barely troubled the hull, which simply batted them aside, while the occasional sheets of spray that lashed the windscreen were no more than you would expect on such a breezy day.
The air was cold, too. In fact, it was a perfect example of a typical English summer’s day because we all agreed that none of us had seen its like before, and conversation about the weather kept us happily entertained all the way back into harbor. And it really wasn’t difficult to picture this beautifully finished motoryacht slicing a clean, white wake across an azure sea, or sitting quietly in some turquoise anchorage. It just needed a little imagination. What was it that Wilde said?
For more information: +44 (0) 1752 203888; princessyachts.com
LOA: 105ft. (32m)
LWL: 86ft. 4in. (26.32m)
Beam: 23ft. 4in. (7.11m)
Draft (half load): 6ft. 6in. (1.98m)
Displacement (half load): 127 tons
Engines: 2 x 1,925-hp Caterpillar C32; 2 x 2,217-hp MTU 16V M84; 2 x 2,434-hp MTU 16V M93; 2 x 2,637-hp MTU 16V M94
Propellers: 2 x 5-blade nickel-aluminum-bronze VEEM Star-LC
Fuel: 3,426 gal. (12,900L)
Speed (max.): 23.8 knots
Speed (cruising): 12-22 knots
Range: 555nm @ 12.8 knots; 332nm @ 16.9 knots; 297nm @ 20.6 knots (allowing 10% reserve)
Generators: 2 x 40kW Onan
Freshwater: 476 gal. (1,800L)
Stabilizers: TRAC zero-speed fins
Classification: RINA MCA LY2
Naval architecture: Bernard Olesinski Ltd.
Exterior styling: Olesinski/Princess Yachts
Interior design: Princess Yachts
Guest cabins: 5 (10 people)
Crew cabins: 3 (6 people)
Builder: Princess Yachts
Base price: $10,285,000 with Caterpillar C32