The sun appears to be shining at Princess Yachts. After announcing record financial results for 2018, with orders worth more than £700m, the firm’s product development cycle has been remarkably prolific. Having already made a strong move toward fresh markets with the radical new R35, 2019 has seen the release of the V78, Y85, F45 and F50, plus the S62 and S66, as well as the formal unveilings of both the V55 and the prodigiously spacious X95. It’s a compelling illustration of the company’s success – and while the lovely artisan romance of Princess’s painstaking in-house approach to design and build has certainly been at the heart of that, there’s no doubt that technological advances have also played a very major part.
Strength and lightness
Princess runs a variety of dedicated departments across seven manufacturing facilities in and around Plymouth – and one of the most vital of these is the mould shop. This specialised department enables Princess to build its own plugs for each new design and to create its own components using a sophisticated resin infusion process. While the company originally adopted resin infusion in 2005, it is now applying it on everything from the R35 right up to the X95 and beyond, and the implications of that are huge…
The fact that the process is controlled by computer and put under vacuum means that the fibre to resin ratio is always exact. That ensures a stiffer, stronger, more accurate structure, as well as a cleaner, more perfect finish. It also uses far less material, which makes each yacht lighter, faster and more efficient – and the fact that it minimises the need for cumbersome stiffening beams means that designers are able to take advantage of the extra volume with larger, brighter, more versatile living spaces.
With the emergence of the new R35, Princess is also now beginning to take those principles a touch further with the use of carbon fibre, not just as a stiffening supplement but as a building material in its own right. According to Princess CEO, Anthony Sheriff, the use of carbon fibre instead of fibreglass shaved around half a metric tonne from the R35, while also adding significant extra stiffness to the boat’s structure. The R35’s fully carbon fibre construction might have been a world first for a production sports yacht, but it seems reasonable to assume that we will see plenty more of this from Princess in the future.
Third-party technology has also become an important element of the Princess experience, with a range of optional features now available at the point of specifying your new yacht. The company’s Garmin chart plotter and radar screens use interactive streaming which means that, if you buy the latest Garmin watch, you can control your navigation equipment from your wrist. The company’s yachts all now have Wi-Fi, and you can also have CCTV surveillance on board, so you can dial in and keep an eye on things from home. And for even greater control and confidence, Siren Marine’s ‘Connected Boat’ technology enables owners to remotely monitor all kinds of boat-related issues – from checking that the fridges are still on and the shore power connected to ensuring that their batteries are properly charged and their bilges are dry. It means that, when you turn up to use your boat, you can have the utmost faith that it’s in sound operational condition.
While it’s easy to imagine that a classically understated marque like Princess might keep the rate and scale of technological integration on board its yachts quite low and measured, Leon McGregor, Technician at Princess Motor Yacht Sales, insists that Princess owners are thoroughly prepared to embrace such things. “If you look at a top-of-the-line S-Class Mercedes or a Rolls Royce Phantom, which is what our owners are driving, these technologies are already there. Our customers are already enjoying the benefits of fully integrated suites of smart equipment, so nobody is scared by it. On the contrary, everybody wants it – and there’s no reason why yachts at the upper echelons of the market shouldn’t cater for that.”
A test platform with a purpose
The most conspicuous exponent of Princess’s modern technical prowess is the R35. When the boat was launched in September 2018, it was designed to expand the company’s reach to a broader audience – not just by undercutting the smallest craft in the fleet by five feet but by helping illustrate just how innovative the builder could be.
It featured hydrodynamic input from Ben Ainslie Racing Technologies, aerodynamics inspired by Formula 1 and styling input from Pininfarina SpA. It also became the world’s first production sports yacht fully constructed from carbon fibre and it used a foiling system that altered the way the technology was applied. While traditional foils aim to increase running efficiency by lifting the hull free of the water, the Princess Active Foil System (AFS) uses a pair of foils that adjust automatically in collaboration with the hull, optimising the boat’s running attitude both in terms of lateral heel and longitudinal pitch to reduce drag, increase speed and optimise handling.
Despite the fact that AFS is the leisure market’s first active foiling system, the results have been astonishing. With up to 27 adjustments per second, the hull can be perfectly tuned to changing conditions, not just increasing cruising range, but reducing the boat’s environmental impact and radically improving passenger comfort. By ensuring a near perfect running attitude, the boat reduces vibration, improves stability and delivers a drier, more refined and more comfortable ride. And because Princess’s extensive hydrodynamic research has been supplemented by carefully considered aerodynamics, the R35 also channels air over its various surfaces to optimise laminar flow and reduce the turbulent low-pressure zone at the stern, which can so often suck spray back into the boat.
The core caveat: people v progress
As materials, processes and operating systems become ever more advanced, there is a line to be trodden at Princess Yachts. While some builders are happy to associate themselves very closely with the cold, hard efficiencies of technical ingenuity, Princess continues to take great care of the human element of its character. Its reputation is built on the quality of its craftsmen; of people who have grown up in boat building and who care about their work. And today, it remains the human story, as much as the technical rigour, that makes a Princess yacht special. That cultural provenance is likely to remain at the heart of the work Princess does, however ambitious the advancement of technological methods enables the company to become.