BOAT TEST PALM BEACH 45
Superlatives have no choice but to roll off the tongue when it comes to Australia’s finest, the new Palm Beach 45 express cruiser. A gobsmacked JEFF STRANG explains
It seems as if the recent months have produced a long procession of outstanding vessels. And while I could be guilty of cherry picking the best for myself - as editor, surely that is my prerogative - in the name of editorial integrity, I have always endeavoured to present these very good vessels as I've found them, highlighting the good and pointing out the bad where I believed it was warranted. Even so, on some of these vessels the faults have been hard to find.
Commenting on this conundrum to a colleague recently and mentioning that I was concerned my work was beginning to look too much like PR, he asked if I had stepped onboard a Palm Beach motoryacht yet? Replying no, his only comment was, "you ain't seen nothing yet."
If you consider yourself a boating trainspotter and you haven't heard of Palm Beach Motor Yachts you must literally have been living under a rock. This Pittwater-based builder of luxury custom motor vessels is the brainchild of sailing legend, Mark "Ricko" Richards. Mark's stellar career includes two America's Cup challenges, world match racing victories, and numerous Sydney Hobart wins at the helm of vessels as legendary as <I>Wild Oats</I>.
In 1995, at the conclusion of his professional sailing career, Mark pursued a childhood dream and launched boldly the Palm Beach stable with his own funds. As of today, a mere seven years later, the company is firmly established and has built a reputation in producing what many consider to be Australia's finest recreational vessels. It seems the Australian boating public are not the only ones impressed. Palm Beach is also amassing an impressive international following, particularly in the US where the brand has claimed the Best New Power Boat at the Newport International Boat Show two years running, with the Palm Beach 50 in 2010 and the Palm Beach 55 and 2011.
INFLUENCES & INSPIRATIONS
Mark, a qualified shipwright, is a man who knows boats. Seldom do I meet someone with such a comprehensive knowledge of what it takes to be the best, and yet is so unassuming and comfortable with his achievements. I could tell within minutes of stepping onboard that this would be an afternoon to remember.
Educated observers fairly comment that the Palm Beach looks American West Coast inspired. Mark acknowledges most of the design influence came during his time sailing competitively over there, although he does go on to mention the effect an earlier Halvorsen restoration project had on his motivation.
For me much of the beauty of this vessel comes from its, uncluttered, sweeping lines. Unencumbered as it is by a jumble of stainless steel bowrails the Palm Beach 45 allows itself to shout from the hilltops in a barely audible murmur. And much like many of the racing boats Mark would have skippered over the years nothing unnecessary has found a home onboard. The low-profile lines suggest high levels of efficiency, and so it would prove.
This first PB45 out of the shed has been named <I>Ammonite</I> by its delighted new owner. At first I thought the word ammonite (which is a type of prehistoric shellfish much like a nautilus) might be the name of the paint colour. Turns out the tone does not have a name, just a number, Mark agreed that as a name it might just stick.
Whatever it goes by this rich, dark bronze colour works beautifully with the more traditional cream topsides and varnished timber trim. The depth of the finish is difficult to portray in photographs, but take a look at that transom shot. ****insert selected photo*** Head photographer, Ellen Dewar, loved the way it worked with the evening light.
Some reason I expected the interior to be much more ostentatious than it is. Much like the exterior it's refreshingly simplistic, without slipping towards the austere. Think Bentley and you'll be pretty much on track. It is easy to picture those laser cut badges on the grille or the steering wheel of that esteemed luxury ride.
Mark describes the vessel as being a glorified dayboat, which I think is unfair. Sure, in terms of accommodation it is a little lean - only featuring a single master cabin - but that cabin is all class and is supported by a luxurious bathroom finished with lashings of varnished Burmese teak and a brilliantly well-appointed galley. Although this Palm Beach 45 can only sleep two in purpose-built beds, those two lucky passengers are accommodated in absolute style and comfort.
MANIFESTATION OF GENIUS
It is pointless to start listing the features that stand out, such is the attention to detail everywhere you look - just opening the cutlery drawer is an experience of its own. A more valuable use of time is to talk about the way the whole package comes together.
In terms of trim both Ellen and I independently commented of the delightful blend of contemporary and traditional styling. Vanished timber cabinetry meets perfectly finished glass headliners, while minimalist furnishings accent modern curves and oversized tinted windows.
Like all Palm Beach vessels the 45 is hand-built with craftsmanship that is second to none. Every detail has been studied and reviewed repeatedly to allow incremental changes and a constantly improved result. A management consultant would call this process "continual improvement" and herald the factory as a shiny example of kaizen manufacturing practices - but he would be wrong.
What you are observing is the physical expression of the darkest recesses of the professional athlete's mind. Perfection is never good enough for the very best because they know that hanging your hat on a single victory will ensure a loss is not far away - an unacceptable outcome for the pathologically competitive. Five minutes in Mark's company is all it takes to know you are in the presence of a fierce competitor.
Not that it is in any way off-putting. Mark is a charming and thoroughly likeable guy. I personally observed the close relationship he has with his customers. Clearly they see themselves as part of the family. After all Palm Beach Motor Yacht is more akin to a living entity than an inanimate asset.
POETRY IN MOTION
While unmistakably a powerboat there is something about the Palm Beach 45 that suggests a mast would not look completely out of place. The on-the-water performance is not un-yacht-like either. When we talk about planing hull performance the term "transition" is often used to define the point when the hull climbs out of the water onto the plane. This intermediate phase is usually a point of terrible inefficiency, punctuated by the production of excessive noise and fumes.
Compare that process to a high-performance racing yacht - a Volvo 70 is a good example - capable of exceeding 30kts. A raceboat of that calibre clearly exhibits performance that could be described as planing travelling at more than three times its displacement hull speed, yet there is absolutely no in-between phase to observe. The speed comes on effortlessly and the hull continues to accelerate as the power increases, devoid of the perception of a laboured transition onto the plane.
The knife-fine entry and semi-displament hull of <I>Ammonite</I> allows her to perform in a similar manner. With effortless acceleration, she is reputably capable of more than more than 30kts, yet disconcertingly smooth. The hull's attitude remains close to dead-level at all times, even on hard turns, and the lack of wake suggests the hull is highly fuel efficient, although at the time we did not have the instruments connected to check this. We do know the hull form has been exhaustingly tank tested so I doubt there will be too many surprises in store when the numbers are run.
It is no surprise <I>Ammonite</I> is fingertip light on the helm and with IPS pod drives, augmented by a pair of side-thrusters, no tight manoeuvring situation either at speed or in close quarters will trouble the captain.
One of the more fascinating design aspects of the Palm Beach 45 is the blend of high-tech pod-drive hardware with a more traditional view of load placement. By that I mean rather than push the powerplants as far aft as possible in order to create the extra mid-stateroom common to pod-drive vessels, Mark's team has opted to keep the engines centrally located as they would be in a conventional shaftdrive boat, and employ jackshafts to deliver the power to the pods.
If your first instinct, like mine, is to assume the Palm Beach has missed an opportunity to build an even better boat then think again. Saying so is akin to suggesting an Aston Martin DB9 is a lesser vehicle because it does not have a back seat. Like the aforementioned sports car the Palm Beach 45 has performance as its highest priority. Leaving the engines (and the fuel tanks for that matter) amidships is key to producing such a perfectly balanced hull. And quite frankly, the results speak for themselves.
In a move bound to win the approval of marine engineers across the globe Mark has elected to completely separate the motors from all the other stuff normally found in the engineroom.
This engine-well houses only the powerplants. All the electronics, and anything else that could pay harsh penalty from exposed to salty air, has been shifted to a completely separate and sealed compartment. Both spaces are relatively easy to access and are presented in a manner aimed to make servicing as simple and clean as possible. For me this forethought highlights the "every little detail" approach so evident in so many aspects of the Palm Beach 45.
CUSTOMER IS RIGHT
When I quizzed Mark about the involvement his customers have in the design process, with a wry smile he replied: "It's their boat, they can have whatever they want." Indeed such a philosophy is much easier to say than to actually deliver on, but at the end of the day you don't ask someone like Ricko to build you a boat then tell him how the job should be done.
Most of the customer feedback is apparent, internally showing up in the choice of trim, soft furnishings, lifestyle appliances and the like. <I>Ammonite</I>, for example, has a forward galley, whereas the next 45's kitchen is likely to be aft servicing the cockpit. I suspect Mark secretly loves the challenge of a problem that is difficult to solve seamlessly and in perfect keeping with his vision for the Palm Beach philosophy.
I should mention that I have it on good authority (but not confirmed in person) that this ultimate customer service ethos extends to informal to an agreement to fix minor issues at virtually no cost for the lifetime of the boat. Apparently Palm Beach boats simply do not break down.
TO BE CONTINUED
To date I can honestly say the Palm Beach 45 is the most inspiring vessel of its class I have ever had the pleasure of driving. It is without doubt a strong contender for Australia's prettiest vessel under 55 feet and it has the substance to back up its good looks.
Some readers may be disappointed I did not go into more descriptive detail about things like storage, and the seating and the like, but since the next boat is likely to be completely different there is no need. All I can suggest is that if any reader serious about being an owner of one of the world's best recreational vessels, contact the team and take a look for yourself otherwise don't waste their valuable time.
And lastly what a feat that would be if the Palm Beach 45 took out the Best New Power Boat award at Newport for the third year running. I suspect this is not the last time <I>Trade-a-Boat</I> readers will get to see of the Palm Beach 45.
PALM BEACH 45
<B>$1,180,000</B> (base boat with twin IPS 400 only)
MATERIAL: Handlaid fibreglass
TYPE: Planing monohull
LENGTH OVERALL: 15.1m
WEIGHT: 11,140kg (dry)
PEOPLE (NIGHT): 6
HOLDING TANK: 200lt
MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Volvo Penta IPS 600; 2 x IPS 400 (standard)
TYPE: Six-cylinder turbo-diesel
RATED HP: 435 (each)
DISPLACEMENT: 5.5lt (each)
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 428, June-July, 2012. Photos by Ellen Dewar.
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