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The 35m yacht club

Modest by superyacht standards, yet with the nimble zip of a smaller model, the new 35m contenders are setting a benchmark for speed, style and spacious design. Alan Harper reports

June 28 2014
Alan Harper

It is an inviolable rule, as predictable as Foucault’s pendulum and as dependable as Newton’s Third Law. It goes like this: houses, cars, yachts and planes. That is the order in which people spend their disposable income.

It is why property developers are always richer than yacht builders, and why it’s better to have a Bentley dealership in the city centre than a Gulfstream concession on the airport perimeter road. And it is also why being a yacht designer is such a difficult job. No client is going to commission the yacht of his dreams without first having secured the home of his dreams. And however spacious and comfortable the yacht turns out to be, no floating home can ever compete with a real one. Spend €10m on a house with five bedrooms, and it will be spectacular. Spend the same amount on a five‑cabin yacht and you’ll be lucky to have showers you can turn around in and doorways wider than your shoulders. If there’s anywhere on board that you can walk five paces in a straight line without bumping into a bed, or a wall, or a sofa, that’s a bonus.

And yet this is the cost of admission to the superyacht club, the starting price, more or less, for a shiny new 35m motor yacht – and it’s a size bracket and a price point that is rapidly becoming a battleground. The economics of boat construction decree that these are production-line yachts. The market’s expectations, however, are that they will be as exclusive, bespoke and hand-built as anything costing €10m simply has to be. And although by superyacht standards a 35m yacht is small, inside it has got to seem as big as possible. It’s all about volume. Never in the field of yacht construction have so many designers spent so much time sweating at their drawing boards to produce so much out of so little. And never has the yacht buyer had more alluring choices. “A 35m is like a compact superyacht,” explains Richard Lambert, M Class director of Princess Yachts. “You’re starting to see the features associated with bigger yachts, such as the full-beam main-deck master suite.”

The British shipyard is about to come out with its first contender in this closely fought sector, following recent 32m and 40m projects. Lambert sees the size bracket as a superyachting benchmark, beyond the point where certain rules and regulations – which add to the price of acquisition and ownership – have kicked in, but falling mercifully short of the stratospheric costs associated with larger yachts. “Once you decide to go past the 24m load-line regulations, 35m is seen as the next rung on the ladder,” he says. “There are increased running costs, but they’re not as extreme as with a three-deck yacht – you can run a 35 with five or six crew.” He points out that a length of 115ft, relatively modest by today’s superyachting standards, will also allow you to get into small, crowded and popular yacht harbours, while bigger boats have to anchor outside. A little less plausibly, Lambert also claims that some owners find 35m to be the ideal length for a second yacht: “It’s easier to use for day trips or weekends than their main vessel, and they’ll often keep it somewhere else.”

These popular and practical proportions bring other advantages, as prospective buyers quickly discover. While a full-size superyacht measuring 50m or more will almost invariably be of displacement-hull form, gliding through the water calmly and efficiently (just not very quickly), there is a greater choice of hull types at 35m: slow or fast, displacement, planing or something in between. The latest generation of compact turbodiesels can propel a 35m yacht not through the water, but over it – at least on a calm day – at speeds of 25 to 30 knots. Of course, there are compromises: higher speeds mean bigger engines and bigger fuel tanks – and less space for beds and bathrooms.

Princess Yachts’ new 115ft 35M model (from about £8m excluding VAT) is a planing yacht, as you would expect from a shipyard that has been building nothing else for very nearly 50 years. It is certainly true, as Lambert suggests, that the master suite aboard the Plymouth yard’s latest project looks suitably superyacht-sized, spanning the full width of the hull at main-deck level. The yacht’s interior can be custom-designed, and there is a choice of three or four guest suites down below: opt for three, and a huge VIP suite can occupy the coveted, wide, midships section, rivalling the owner’s suite for size. The spectacular fold-down balconies on each side of the deck saloon might be on the 35M’s options list but, according to Lambert, every customer so far has, unsurprisingly, ticked that particular box. It would be criminal not to – the balcony is the greatest yachting invention since fibreglass.

The first Princess 35M is not due to hit the water until next year, but it is easy to see in its genes the company’s recent 40M, which, although 132ft long, was justly celebrated for the way in which its designers successfully packed in a class-leading quantity of interior volume, without making the yacht look as though it had eaten all the pies. Judging from the plans and renderings, Princess’s drawing-board crew are hoping to pull off the same trick with the new model. From its big sister, the 35M has inherited the tall profile – partially disguised by bold window lines – that is essential for internal headroom. On any normal yacht, you’re pretty happy if you can stand upright; on a superyacht, even a small one, adequate is just not enough.

They also take headroom pretty seriously at Arcadia Yachts, in the Bay of Naples. Even if the shipyard’s dramatic 115 (from about €10.5m excluding VAT) didn’t look like a floating Bauhaus pavilion, it would have made headlines for the towering height of its interiors, especially on the upper deck, where in places it reaches 2.6m. That’s is way too high to reach up and touch – almost unheard of on a yacht. And the Poltrona Frau and Schiffini-furnished Arcadia has other notable attributes, in particular a remarkably wide beam – nearly a metre more than that of the Princess 35M – at the exact point where the master cabin reaps the benefit, while its full-sectioned, semi‑displacement hull shape also provides extra internal volume. Its comparatively modest 1,200hp engines have far less of a footprint than the bellowing behemoths installed in planing yachts of a similar size.

There is, of course, no substitute for space on board a boat, but making the best of what you’ve got comes a close second. Long sightlines are crucial: uninterrupted views that can be accentuated by low-profile furniture and open-plan layouts. Big windows help, too, and with the Arcadia’s vast expanses of gas-insulated, floor‑to‑ceiling double glazing, including roof panels on the upper deck embedded with photovoltaic cells, no other 35m yacht comes close. It is a breathtaking yacht to be aboard, with barely any distinction between inside and out, and every external wall filled with views of sea and sky. With the midships balconies folded down – they are, again, optional, but it’s hard to imagine ordering a 115 without them – the effect is truly memorable.

On a sunny day those PV cells can generate up to 5kW, enough to power the lights, fridges, freezers, pumps and fans – though not the air-conditioning – which means that you can sit serenely at anchor without having to run the generators. There is a serenity about the 115 when underway, too: although its maximum speed is around 18 knots, the yacht really comes into its own at a more gentle cruising pace of about 12 knots. At that speed, the engines sip the fuel, your cruising range is around 1,800 nautical miles, and the yacht runs in virtual silence.

With its radical design and conservative cruising speed, the Arcadia 115 is a head‑turning creation that’s unique among 35m yachts. It also creates something of a philosophical counterpoint to the Sanlorenzo 118 (from about €13m excluding VAT), which combines its traditional and classically elegant profile with an impressive top speed of more than 28 knots, thanks to a pair of 2,600hp V16 engines. Based in Ameglia, not far from Lord Byron’s old stamping ground of Lerici, Sanlorenzo is a proudly conservative shipyard whose new 118 model has the understated looks valued by the sort of owner who doesn’t wish to be suspected of trying too hard to get noticed. Flashy shapes and dramatic profiles are not the shipyard’s style. “A Sanlorenzo has always been a timeless classic,” says chairman Massimo Perotti. “Our mission is to be a boutique in the boating industry, limiting production to a few units per year, each built according to the owner’s requirements and desires.”

The first SL118 was launched in January, and Sanlorenzo can build them at a rate of two or three a year. Like most rival 35m yachts, the latest Sanlorenzo has its owner’s suite on the main deck, complete with optional balconies, and a choice of layouts down below. Belying its conservative exterior styling, the interior design of this first SL118 is a surprisingly high-tech affair, with grey leather flooring, LED lighting and glass bulkheads that create a disconcertingly see-through lower deck. The consoles in the wheelhouse are designed to look like iPads, reflecting the Mac-based computing power that manages many of the yacht’s systems.

If none of this is to your taste, fear not: you can have yours exactly the way you want. Perotti points out that every Sanlorenzo yacht interior since the yard was established in 1958 has been custom-made, from entry level to flagship models. “For some yachts, mostly the bigger ones, we work with the owner’s interior designer,” he says. Others prefer to work with the shipyard and Sanlorenzo often brings in interior designers such as Rodolfo Dordoni and Antonio Citterio to assist in the process.

Like most 35m yachts, the SL118 mixes production-line manufacturing technology with the bespoke approach and hand‑built craftsmanship that go into genuine superyachts. And it’s in 35m craft like these that you come up against the superyachting world at its most stunning and creative best. The challenge of packing everything into such relatively modest dimensions and building the yacht to a price, while at the same time managing the sky‑high expectations of the customer, inevitably leads to smart solutions and brilliant designs.

And on top of all that, as Princess’s Lambert has pointed out, 35m is a remarkably practical and versatile size for a yacht. Why, it’s almost sensible. It would be easy to imagine, having seen what the market has to offer, that you don’t really need anything more.

See also

Superyachts