BOAT TEST: PALM BEACH 50 CLASSIC
TONY MACKAY finds his match in the perfectly executed Palm Beach 50 Classic, a picnic boat par excellence
The international glitterati and jet-setting types, tiring of the chill of a European winter, pack their jewels and cocktail shakers and head for Palm Beach, Florida, for the social season. In similar fashion, well-heeled Australians head to our own Palm Beach, north of Sydney, and settle in for luxury holidays and superior soirees. The two words - Palm and Beach - are evocative of sparkling waters, fabulous views and, hopefully, a luxury mansion, perhaps with a few efficient and caring staff. However, it will not be long before boating types tire of their balcony lounges, find the allure of these pristine waters too strong, and purchase a suitable craft in which to explore the neighbourhood.
Enter a picnic boat of perfection, the namesake Palm Beach 50 Classic. During the last decade this type of luxury cruiser has been refined and styled by many boatbuilders, particularly in the US. But as testimony to our version - and in a case of selling sand to Arabs or Coal to Newcastle - the Palm Beach 50 Classic just won the best boat of the Newport (Rhode Island) International Boat Show, said Palm Beach principal Mark Richards when we spoke to him, mid-Atlantic Ocean, on the said boat
Meantime, back at our luxury beachhouse, our hero is not looking to replace his house with a huge cruiser that requires a legion of crew to move. Instead, he will be trained in the old school of smart boating where your boat "drinks six, eats four and sleeps two."
Crossing oceans is also not needed, although the ability to make fast and comfortable coastal passages will be a requirement. Basically, it is all about mooching about, lunching in luxury, a few days in a secluded anchorage, chasing the yachts or an afternoon nap.
In my considered opinion, there is no better boat for the above agenda than something in the range of Palm Beach motoryachts now from 50 (the 55 is underway after six were presold) to 65 feet. Incidentally, a 45 is also in the pipeline after they stopped building the 32 and 38. But all of them are just purely and simply fabulous and this is from an acidulated critic with a beady eye.
As I stepped onboard, the crew at Rowell Marine in Sydney challenged me to find a fault, knowing how painfully fussy I am. It was an exercise in futility, although I was triumphant in finding a tiny rattle in a sliding door - if you stopped and pressed your ear to the bulkhead and had the hearing aid turned to full! Other than that, you would not bother looking. The crew at Palm Beach Yachts has tuned their quality control standards to Rolls-Royce levels.
It is rather interesting to peruse the owners of these boats, not that an A-List was requested or forthcoming. Virtually all are experienced boat owners, many of whom have had and tired of trophy boats and the endless stream of freeloading guests. They look to solve very specific issues of performance, styling and comfort, and the Palm Beach 50 fits a niche market like a Savile Row suit.
These buyers will also be accustomed to superyacht finishes but they're not likely to be disappointed here. The whole is far greater than the sum of the parts and very few boatbuilders in the modern age will have given their products such style and finesse. Someone involved must have their heart in it.
That someone is the aforesaid Mark Richards who founded Palm Beach Motor Yachts in 1995, initially with a 38, then the 50, the 55 in construction, the 45 in development, and the spectacular 65. All follow the same formula of luscious looks, high-technology construction, outstanding quality and lightning performance, none of which is new to Richards. When not in the Palm Beach factory on the NSW central coast, he doubles as the race-winning skipper of the <I>Wild Oats</I> series of racing yachts particularly famous for their Sydney to Hobart victories. Given his understanding of how a maxiyacht needs to be conceived and constructed to spear through sometimes alarming seas at frightening speeds, one can have complete faith in the development of these motorcruisers to achieve similar results, mercifully, for me, at the turn of a key.
Techno types will love the E-glass axial glass matting, the vinylester resins, the hard-chine vee-bottom and all the stuff that contributes to the fabulous performance, handling and integrity of construction. For the average fellow like me, I will leave all that to the experts and be very confident that, like a Boeing 747, all that superb engineering will perform beautifully and allow me to concentrate on the very serious issues of destination and menu planning.
Similarly, the electronics and navigation equipment are the latest generation, yet will not overpower any owner who should really be concentrating on the pleasure of the sea and the scenery swishing by - pity to lose the moment. From bow to stern, every little detail has been thoroughly and perfectly attended to, minimising trouble and maximising efficiency. The subtlety of all this is an enormous pleasure to enjoy - what one would call "pared back luxury".
A quick glance at any of the photos hereabouts shows the hull with a beautifully flared bow, graceful straight sheer and the reverse tumblehome transom, all contributing to an arrow-like styling that's more than slightly removed from the boat's old lobster boat or Down East look. The cabin design is perfectly adapted to enhance the racy lines, the dark tinted windows and oval ports adding to a slightly shark-like menace. She is flying even at a standstill.
A very traditional wire pulpit rail allows the lines of the hull to stand alone without compromise, although some may be slightly fearful of using the foredeck unless in calm waters or stopped. Realistically, and with the 31-knot performance on offer, no one should be on the foredeck at speed in any case.
COLOUR YOUR STYLE
The Palm Beach boats are usually in dark colours - Flag Blue, British Racing Green or a rather snappy Alfred Dunhill Claret - although some look particularly smart in a soft crème. The first Palm Beach 65 is a dazzling silver blue and these choices reflect the very individual requirements of this type of owner. It is all about style and the confidence of colour.
The latest models have a soft canvas awning for the cockpit, which particularly pleased me. There is nothing quite like sitting under the soft light of canvas, gently wafting in the breeze and lulling the occupants of the cockpit into the most relaxing stupor, presumably assisted by a chilled drink of choice. Indeed, the cockpit has now been engineered for entertaining and a huge L-shaped sofa crosses the transom and continues up the port side.
Plump stripy canvas cushions invite immediate testing - a superb teak drop-sided table will receive the contents of the galley. A starboard sideboard unit conceals fridge, icemaker and wetbar. The forward cockpit cupboard will hold glasses and a variety of storage items.
Laid teak decks are a particular favourite of mine and the huge swimming platform immediately entices, seamlessly and on one level, passing through the cockpit door to the spacious self-draining cockpit. Two huge hatches are almost invisible but open to reveal fully lined storage lazarettes for fenders, lines and the custom-made swimming ladder.
All the cabinet doors are of gloss varnished teak and the whole appeal of the cockpit space is enormously appealing. One simply wants to plop down and relax, or even enjoy the roar of the wind and spray as she blasts along at flank speed. Either way, the cockpit is a supremely comfortable space for guests.
However, it is worth the walk forward to inspect the saloon and accommodations. A door is offset to starboard and immediately the galley beckons to port. This is so superbly styled to look more like furniture than a galley. And no lonely chefs. Press a button and the whole aft window to the cockpit lowers to connect galley with guests by day. Left raised, it will insulate against the evening chill, as dinner is served in the saloon.
Another L-shaped sofa to port replicates the cockpit, this time being forward of the galley. Excellent storage, more refrigeration and the helm station are to starboard, additional electric side windows lowering silently to bring outdoors in. It is a very practical and appealing layout.
Monsieur or Madame Master Chef will rather enjoy this galley, every convenience at hand and most discreetly concealed by the furniture quality cabinetry, including a two-burner ceramic cook top, convection microwave, voluminous refrigeration in three locations, and a dishdrawer-dishwasher to clean up all the muck. And they call them galley slaves! Not to mention the 360-degree views and ability to connect with skipper at the helm, guests inside or out, or simply commune with nature while shelling some prawns.
Every cupboard seems tailored for the appropriate piece of equipment to be close at hand and well stowed. My only gripe is the microwave, which I would have dropped over the side for a 'float test' and replaced by a traditional oven. Don't mind me, but microwaved food has little appeal. Ick! (ED: looks like a convection combo oven to me).
At the helm, our skipper has a stylish station with a generous twin-share bench seat and only the essential buttons at hand. Our test boat, destined for LA and a Hollywood golden boy, was powered by twin Volvo turbo-diesels of 435hp each coupled to the marvelous IPS drive system.
The Palm Beach handled like a Porsche and executing the sharpest turns induced a gravity-defying swoosh like a competition sportsboat. Power steering, a custom-made helm and electronic controls completely eliminated any sensation that there was 50 feet swirling in ever diminishing circles. Precision control of the svelte 12.5 tonnes will carry you over the top of the waves at 31kts. As for fuel consumption, I cannot imagine any buyer of this boat being even remotely interested in how much it costs to run.
The very, very nervous who blanche at close-quarters handling will dramatically improve their meager skills with the aid of Volvo's IPS control pod that deftly positions the boat with the mere twiddle of a knob, so to speak. Much has been written about it and it is all pathetically easy to operate. Garmin navigation equipment was fitted to the test boat, however, any type or level of techno gear can be installed as required. This is a bespoke boat after all.
Despite the very raked windscreen, visibility is not impaired thanks to the very flat running angle. Trim tabs make minor adjustments in the interest of performance rather than visibility. The large side windows also give a wide arc of vision, although the dark tint on the side windows does diminish the outlook at night - best to lower the window to get a sharper view in the dark. The tinting will work particularly well in the blazing Australian sun and also inhibits sticky beaks from inspecting onboard activities. All the interior window frames and walls are in satin varnished teak and the styling and finish is particularly pleasurable to admire.
Moving forward and below to the accommodations, a twin-share cabin to port has upper and lower bunks and a sliding door to open the cabin to the companionway. A guest head and shower are opposite and is identical to the head and shower en suite for the forward master cabin. These bathrooms require close inspection to appreciate the attention to detail and very smart and stylish touches, which give a feeling of expensive quality. As I said before, it is very pared back but this actually increases the luxury. Many imported boats should pay attention to this perfectly-styled solution, rather than banging on more bling in a sometimes dismal attempt to emulate quality.
The master cabin has a queen-sized bunk, rather less of an island berth than one that uses the full space in the bow. Given the fine entry and sleek exterior one loses the walkaround access but not the space, which would otherwise be a double if it were an island bed. Hanging lockers, overhead hatches and more of the superb trimming makes this a delightful cabin whether asleep or awake. The designers also claim that they have solved the 'slip slop' of the hard chine hull, which is often very debilitating for light sleepers. Can we do pyjama-party sleepover tests? Just a thought…
The cabins are most suitable for luxurious weekends away, and if you have paid attention to my six, four, two theory you will not be encumbered by snoring guests or rancid children upsetting the peace and quiet, particularly with our slop-free hull. The smart couple will be mixing with friends with other boats and not be forced to deal with other people's rather doubtful personal habits. In which case, the trunk cabin will be for luggage and an afternoon nap spot for someone. The main saloon sofa will convert to a double should you feel the need.
Many critics have been quick to jump up and down about the bowrails and previous lack thereof, however, I can report some interesting details. Firstly, the Palm Beach 50 Classic has without doubt, the best non-skid deck surface that I have ever encountered. Shoes and even bare feet stick like Velcro and one can really feel surefooted when zipping up the deck. Secondly, the handrails on the cabin are both secure and well placed for comfortable use, eliminating any fear. Should one have to attend to anchoring or mooring in less than favourable circumstances, the foredeck locker opens up to reveal a full and proper 'well deck' that one can stand in with complete comfort and safety. It reminded me of the forward cockpit often fitted to American commuter launches, which were lots of fun, unless you wear a wig or heavy mascara. This well deck has the anchor rode forward, fenders stowed and a small, laid-teak deck to make it all look snappy and sharp. An excellent idea.
Peeling back the carpet in the saloon exposes a large engine access to what can only be described as a surgically clean place of worship. If you ever manage to get aboard a Palm Beach, head straight to the engineroom to see how it is done. This is a fully lined room, perfectly clean and uncluttered bilges, with two pristine white Volvo's connected to Racor fuel filters on the forward bulkhead and a stainless steel hot-water cylinder. And that's it. Totally unique and immaculate
All the electrics, Kohler generator and pumps are located separately. Frankly, once you see the way this has been done you almost feel like just forgetting all that engineering stuff and realise that they have set it up in the very best fashion and who are you or I to do it better. As Dale Carnegie famously said, "Stop worrying and start living."
FACTS & FIGURES PALM BEACH 50 CLASSIC
The editor will probably shoot me for not supplying the fuel consumption figures but it works like this. At 8kts you will sip a little, and at 14kts you will double it and cruising at 26kts you will be having such fun you won't care. Passing ex-friends at 31kts will be worth every penny, 870 horsepower doing its stuff. Just push the levers down, relax and fill her up later.
PRICE AS TESTED
Flying bridge, custom electronics, and more
TYPE: Vee-bottom, hard chine
LENGTH OVERALL: 16.45m
HULL LENGTH: 15.24m
WEIGHT: 12.5 tonnes
HOLDING TANK: 100lt
MAKE /MODEL: Volvo IPS 600
TYPE: In-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel
RATED HP: 435 at 3500rpm
PROP: Volvo IPS twin-prop contra rotating
Heron Cove Marina,
Queens Parade West
NEWPORT, NSW, 2106
Phone: (02) 9997 1674
Fax: (02) 9997 1121
Even if you don't have the beach house and all the trimmings, the Palm Beach 50 Classic will delight the senses and be a magnificent tonic for those who work hard and want to wind back on our magnificent waterways. We cannot imagine that anyone would be doing it better than this.
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