Palm Beach 32 Review

Issue: January 2004

When we had a run on the Palm Beach 50 (MB April/May 2002)  quite an experience, because there is no boat quite like it  I reckoned you could compare the slender 50- footer to a turbo Bentley. Why ? Because the Bentley is a big car, exclusive, fast, but with strong traditional values. I saw the 50 again recently and I now reckon I was way off; the 50 is far more exclusive than a mere Bentley. It is more like the Maybach, the hyper-exclusive big car built by Mercedes. A Bentley is way too common. Which makes the new Palm Beach 32 a topend BMW, say a 540. And it would have to be a convertible. 

The 32 is the boat which will take Palm Beach Motor Yachts beyond its current role as builder of specialised, exclusive, nearcustom craft. In their four-year history the company has built four 50s and a surprising 17 of the 38 footers. None are cheap the 50 costs around $1.3 million, the 38 about $495,000 but extensive tooling has been developed for the 32 and at a starting price of $295,000 the boat will appeal to a much broader market, while retaining the style and hand-built feel of the larger craft.

The 32 shares a family resemblance with its bigger siblings, but the parentage is different. For this latest design PBMY principal Mark Richards went to Norman R. Wright & Sons in Brisbane; the 38 and 50 came from the computer screens at Murray Burns & Dovell just down the road at Newport in Sydney. ‘We have had a great relationship with Iain Murray’s office’, says Mark, ‘and we will go there again, but I wanted to try something different’. 

The 32 is a fast boat, the prototype shown here with twin 230hp Yanmar sterndrives (the top end of the recommended power and the company’s first to be fitted with sterndrives) is good for 34 knots. It banks into turns a little more than the others in the range, but still substantially less than a deep-vee. The lasting impression is that this is a lively, responsive, agile boat for, perhaps, a younger audience, certainly for a wider audience.

Naval architect Adam Evridipou from Norman R. Wrights, said due to the possible high speeds with the maximum power we opted to use a hull that was efficient at cruising speeds and stable at high speeds. ‘We decided on a warped-plane hull. Deadrise amidships is 21 degrees and, at the transom, 12 degrees,’ he explained. ‘There is a continuous chine with a wide chine flat along the length of the vessel to optimise performance. The large built-in spray chine forward helps keep the vessel dry, as does the large amount of flare. 

The hull has a traditional sheer with a small amount of tumblehome aft, so we didn’t reduce the beam in the cockpit too much’. The prototype boat shown here was fitted out to its owner’s specifications, so it has a lovely timber coffee/cocktail table in the dinette area, while the production boats will have a bigger, more conventional table, which will lower to form a double bed. This first boat has no cooking facilities; the production boats will have a microwave in the food preparation cupboard on the starboard side. The only other major changes will be to trim ‘ there will be less timber in the final version and more practical, easier to maintain upholstery fabrics. The open-bulkhead arrangement is perfect because everyone on board is involved with everyone else and because at all times you are near the outdoors. For protection during a lengthy stay you can set up the cockpit canopy, a simple arrangement easy to rig on a tubular frame. 

If security is an issue you can specify a lockable bulkhead. The lounge deck at the stern extends the full width of the hull, but the cushion is split so that if you need access to the transom you can pull the smaller cushion out of the way (so you don’t tramp dirt into the fabric ‘ gorgeous off-white leather here, more practical canvas in the production boat) without disturbing the sunbather on the port side. The transom cutout is a one-piece liftout, which hides the stern shower that is mounted in the transom in the actual cutout area. Mark Richards reckons that at low speeds the sterndrive trim is not as effective as the trim tabs on the shaft drive boats (this special-order boat is the first sterndrive they have built, and Mark expects most of the production boats to have shaft drive). But lowspeed response did not seem to be a problem and you can push the 32 up to speed without major nose lift ‘ like all good modern hulls there is little perceptible transition to the planing attitude. 

At cruising speed the trim lowers the nose beautifully, but at no time does the nose obscure vision while accelerating from rest. Sterndrives are quicker than shaft-drives ‘ Mark reckons drag on a sterndrive is six per cent lower than a shaft drive arrangement, because of the greater drag of both shaft and supporting strut. The hydraulic steering is sports-car direct, quite high-geared so you need less lock than you think. The hull seemed faultless ‘ it banks modestly, holds on well and, in the admittedly small wave action on our test day, had a beautifullycushioned ride. She throws no spray into the cockpit. Engine noise was modest at all times. This 32 is quick ‘ the twin sterndrive Yanmars are good for a top speed of around 33 knots. Like the other hulls in this range you can cruise at any speed ‘ 1800 rpm generates 14 knots, 2300 is 22 knots, 2500 just under 25 knots, 2800 is 29 knots, 3200 is 31 plus. Engine options range from 150hp to 420hp. ‘You can put in a smaller engine and still have a beautifully-performing 22- 23 knot boat’, says Mark. 

The first production boat ‘ 10 are on order ‘ will have a 315hp Yanmar six, which should produce an interesting ratio of power to weight. All boats have their engines in the stern; the shaft setups will have a vee-drive, running forward and then back. The designers seem to have got everything right. You can loll around on the stern lounge at full speed without getting wet ‘ those prominent spray chines do the job ‘ and the cabin coachroof acts as a windbreak so 33 knots of wind is not a problem. They have got the styling right, too; this is a pretty boat, quite an achievement, because it is difficult to make a traditionalstyle coachroof with full headroom work aesthetically on a smaller hull. I forgot to measure headroom, but Mark Richards must be more than 6ft and did not bump his scone. My only reservation about the 50-footer was that it has only one (lower) helm station ‘ it would occasionally be nice to drive outside. The 32 has a flybridge option and now, so do the 50 and 38 as well as the next in the line, the 42, still two years away. But the need for a flybridge on the 32 is not as pressing. 

The open-bulkhead layout and those lovely vertically-sliding electrically-operated saloon windows mean the skipper is never far from the outdoors anyway. The Palm Beach 32 had no minor niggling faults; it is an appealing boat, agile to handle, but with an interior which is easy to move around and it would be easy to live with. Boats have an atmosphere which is created by the relationships of the various internal spaces and which is also affected by interior trim and fittings. I don’t think people design these intangibles; they are the result of a juxtaposition of factors, which create a boat, which can feel ordinary, or welcoming and relaxing, or just plain fun. Although it is a fine and rare object, it strikes me that the Palm Beach 32 will also be a happy boat. 

Words: Barry Tranter