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The largest production yacht ever launched in Britain, with the largest resin-infused hull ever moulded, the new Princess 40M Yacht of the M Class has been making headlines ever since Princess announced plans for her some three years ago. Now, after a successful schedule of commissioning and compliance to Class and Flag in Plymouth, hull #1, Imperial Princess, is cruising majestically around the Mediterranean.

Keith Willis, the independent Yacht surveyor and the owner’s Marine consultant for the project, tells us the build story of this magnificent boat.

“Right from the start when my possible involvement with the Princess 40M yacht project was broached, I was really interested, not because of the size of the vessel as I have completed build supervision on a number of yachts of similar size or bigger. It was the fact that it was with a yard that had never before been associated with this type of vessel and it was a UK yard. Numerous Italian yards have been building this size of vessel for years and while a project is always interesting, not many of them are quite as exciting as this one.

Right from looking at the renderings and the scale model it was obvious that the finished vessel was going to look superb and the standard specification was impressive. There were obvious challenges though; I had never really done much with Princess Yachts directly and one of the most important things to achieve in any project is the trust and respect of the people that you will be working with for a couple of years and I felt welcome and part of the team almost immediately.

As this was the first tri-deck Princess it also required new facilities in which to build the yacht and in January 2011, a purpose built hangar was erected on the Company’s new South Yard site capable of building two Princess 40M yachts side by side. The hull infusion was already underway in the main factory and once complete would be floated the short distance to its new home. It was at this stage when you could really get a feel of the physical size of the vessel in comparison to anything the yard had previously built, the hull dominated the build shop and I found it very exciting that in a rather inauspicious unit in the main factory, a new era for the yard had begun.

With the hangar completed and the hull transported on site, the project really began to take shape and big steps forward happened on almost a daily basis. Of course there were the occasional issues with the assembly, there always are on new projects, but on the whole it was as smooth as one could have hoped for with the first hull of a new concept.

From an engineering point of view the project had already begun on some excellent basic principles such as inspection hatches in the cabin sole mouldings were placed strategically to give the best access and all efforts were made throughout the project to maintain this line of thinking. There were some interesting challenges on the engineering front too of course. The garage door mechanism was a particular challenge, the brief was to create a drawbridge style door that created a vast ‘beach club’ environment when open yet concealed all moving parts so both aesthetically clean and safe for guests.  This took longer than originally thought but the result is certainly worth all the effort – it’s magnificent.

Another testament to the yard, was in the way they re-positioned both generators higher and further outboard to address our concerns with regard to service access. I was expecting this to be a major issue for them but it was done willingly because the yard agreed it was best for the project.

Christmas 2011 saw the paint contractors move in whilst the yard was on shut down, an operation that took a great deal of controlled preparation, so the first visit of the new year was a slightly tense affair  for me – so high was the expectation. Again, I needn’t have worried the results were exceptional and I would like to thank Nigel Clegg for his input during the paint program and of course the the paint contractors. Once finished, the colours and lines worked superbly well together I would defy anyone to say the Princess 40M yacht is not a beautiful vessel.

The next major event was the first launch and the commissioning program which has to be a detailed and methodical sequence of events. As with all new builds, we gave the yard some breathing space to  carry out its first sea trials. It is potentially stressful enough without the client’s surveyor and captain watching your every move, but it was obvious by the big smiles from all parties that this initial sea trial was very positive – this was again impressive to see.

The weather at the end of the final push to completion seemed to conspire to make life as awkward as possible with no let up in the wind and rain, perhaps the only real downside to building in the UK, so then the day came for her to leave it was a truly special day, not just because we were leaving the weather behind, but because we had reached the completion of something very special indeed – a huge milestone in the history of a great British boat builder.

During her maiden voyage to the Med via Jersey it was the first time she had been truly offshore and we had a Force 4 to 5 Westerly with a decent 2 meter swell on the beam but the vessel handled the conditions well and we actually did a good part of the trip under full load which was very impressive doing over 21 knots in less than favourable conditions.

So as my involvement in the build and commissioning draws to a close I must express my thanks to everyone I have had the pleasure of working with at both Princess Yachts International and Princess Motor Yacht Sales. I have come away from this project feeling very proud of what we have collectively achieved – Imperial Princess is a truly magnificent vessel. I have also made some very good friends  along the way so a very positive conclusion all round.”

Article by: Keith Willis MIIMS (Dip Mar Sur)
Yacht surveyor and Marine consultant
IIMS MCA examiner