Life looks pretty good from the flybridge of a Princess 21. As we motored out under Sydney’s Spit Bridge, with peak hour traffic roaring overhead, it dawned on us that we were going to the ‘other side’ for just one day. It’s true, there are not many of us with a spare $5 million to spend on an extravagant water toy, but there are enough local buyers to keep this elite end of the marine market ticking away. Hugh Latham from R Marine 7 Seas, explained that last weekend on a perfect pre-summer day there were half a dozen ‘big boats’ anchored around the popular spots inside North Head.
And I though it was meant to be lonely at the top ? Hugh also noted how big these boats were, compared to the bulk of the pleasure craft on the harbour and explained that everyone had a right to enjoy the water.
With that in mind, we slowed down to 22 knots and cut through a fleet of tinnies fishing off Middle Head – I looked back and noticed that none of the anglers had gone overboard because of our 1.5m wake. But Hugh slowed to idle at around 5 knots and everyone was happy. On the weekend Hugh finds the slower displacement speeds easy to manage in the harbour, because it just gets so darn busy with all those sailing boats and small boats darting about.
In open water this 41-tonne vessel can hit 28 knots, but cruises effortlessly in the low 20s. Like many vessels at this end of the market you need a big hip pocket to run it. And a quick calculation from the MTU engine specs has the rated power fuel consumption for the two engines at 550lt per hour!
So, how do you tell what’s good and bad at this end of the market? I guess it comes down to personal preference and the fastidious demands of specific owners. Origin does have an impact on the vessel’s style, because boats of this genre come from many places. There are locally built products, Asian, American and European imports. It’s not hard to work out the differences, because as the type of timbers, quality of finish and engine choice often reflect where they are built.
Princess boats are built at Northampton in the UK, which is not far from Cambridge North of London and quite a distance from the sea. These boats don’t get too carried away with glitz and glamour, but reflect a sophisticated old-world English refinement.
In most cases plastic gives way to soft timber finishes and the use of premium carpets, lighting and upholstery produce a vessel that’s befitting of a well-heeled owner. The finishes are faultless giving the vessel a genuinely timeless feel.
I was up in that part of England last year staying with some of my sister’s friends, who just so happen to live in a 14th century castle. We started chatting about work and I explained that, among other things, I wrote boating stories. “Oh, they make lovely boats down the road.” said my sister’s friend. “I’ll call them… I know someone who works there, you should be able to pop down and have a look.” It was a Saturday and I was leaving the following day, but the next thing I knew she had me on the phone to the friendly foreman in the Princess factory. He offered to show me around if I was ever up that way again.
This Princess 21 didn’t suffer from an oversupply of flat-screen TVs and mirrors, although it had what was required. She did have teak-laid decks, oversize deck fittings, four bathrooms, three generous staterooms, a bunk cabin and crew quarters. The boat also had internal and external stair access to the flybridge, where there’s enough room to stow a tender and an extra watercraft (using the Italian-made Opacmare Davit). The amidships owner’s stateroom was well planned and sophisticated and the bathroom was one of the best I’ve seen on a boat for a long time. It had a generous teak-finished shower room and a wide, granite vanity with cupboards, but no drawers. The other three bathrooms on the Princess were all finished to the same standard. One feature that looks like it could be fun is the remote-controlled passerelle, or hydraulic gangway, that pops out from the stern to pick up passengers from the dock. I can think of a few other uses for this piece of equipment, the main one being ‘the plank’ for any misbehaving kids onboard to walk.
On the more practical side, this craft has a few simple features that will make life easy for her new owners. The crew quarters are top notch and roomy, so if you do decide to have a skipper, you don’t have to feel guilty about sending them below. I have seen a few boats where the crew quarters were so cramped and clinical that the owners often had the crew use the guest’s berth when they were not on the vessel, but the Princess 21’s set-up keeps everyone happy.
Another handy feature is the pop-up flybridge dashboard. It’s very ‘James Bond’ and also quite easy to keep clean. The helm is equipped with all the gear you need from radar, bow and stern thrusters, autopilot and rudder angle gauges. The only thing missing was the fuel consumption data, which is a handy tool for working out cruising ranges. Twin MTU 10V M92 1360hp 10-cylinder diesel engines power the Princess 21. There were no fuel consumption figures available for the vessel, but generally speaking, vessels of this size and style from Europe have a shortish range around 260 nautical miles.
At the vessel’s rated power the manufacturer’s stated consumption is 230lt per hour, per engine, which equates to a cruising range of 260 nautical miles from her 5000lt tanks. Pulling speed right back would increase this range dramatically. Engine noise is well contained at cruise speeds. Stairway access to the engine room is via the aft cockpit, which allows the saloon to remain undisturbed during engine work. Access to the crew quarters is also via the engine room stairway.
The Princess 21 clearly offers a level of sophistication that matches its price tag. The boat has so many features that it would take some time to get familiar with all of them. But if you’re in the market for one of ‘the best money can buy’, hop onboard a Princess and see what it feels like to be royalty.
Words : Andrew Richardson