Has Princess Yachts built the first true supercar of the seas? Andrew Johansson takes the new R35 speedboat for a spin to find out.
Smooth, supercar style is exactly what you expect from Pininfarina, the studio behind some of the most famous automotive designs by Ferrari and Alfa Romeo – and exactly what you get in the R35 speedboat. Here it worked in collaboration with Princess Yachts’ design studio and everything about the profile exudes a feeling of speed, from the strong sheerline and slender windshield through to the forward-slanting rear shoulders that conceal the air intake, to the engine bay. It certainly looks the part, and things only get better as I step on board this 10.8 metre – the smallest boat in Princess Yachts’ portfolio.
Twin Volvo V8 petrol engines, each producing 430mhp, open their lungs
and release a pleasing tone and volume
In open water at Mandelieu-la-Napoule near Cannes, with the sun beating down, I put the R35 through its paces. Twin Volvo V8 petrol engines, each producing 430mhp, open their lungs and release a pleasing tone and volume. Apply juice through the twin Volvo Penta throttle controls – which include Volvo’s IPS joystick control system – and the response is instant as the sterndrives get to work. In calm conditions with little wind, the R35 reaches a top speed of 41 to 42 knots, eight knots short of the 50-knot top speed, but that’s to be expected with a fully specced boat, laden with people and a full fuel tank.
“This started off as a marketing exercise, to create a poster pin-up of Princess Yachts, something that would produce an emotional response,” explains Kiran Haslam, director of marketing at Princess Yachts. It was an idea reborn in a different guise following the appointment of Antony Sheriff as the executive chairman. Sheriff, the former managing director of McLaren Automotive, saw potential in the proposal, and work began to redefine the perception of Princess Yachts using the R35 as the starting point.
The wraparound walkway, cockpit and aft platform are laid with Esthec
The R35’s performance is largely due to constructing the boat from “99.99 per cent carbon fibre, which is a first for a serious luxury manufacturer”, says Haslam, who also reveals that due to this, the R35 is approximately 30 per cent lighter than if it had been built from glass fibre. “We are using a material called sprint, which is a resin film infusion,” adds chief technical officer Paul Mackenzie, otherwise known as Mr Carbon, and formerly responsible for carbon fibre development for the McLaren Mercedes SLR at McLaren.
“So rather than having fabric fully wetted out, you use dry fabric with a film of resin. With dry fabric instead of wetted, there is a path for the air to come out of when it is put into a vacuum. As the pressure builds, the resin bleeds out and self-impregnates the fabric, at which point you put it in the oven.” By using only the minimum resin needed, Mackenzie explains, sprint offers a saving of 20 per cent in cost and weight over the standard carbon fibre method.
Add to this aerodynamic packaging from Pininfarina and meticulous calculations and computational fluid dynamics by another member of the project, Ben Ainslie Racing Technologies (BAR Technologies), and things get really interesting. “[Antony] had a dinner conversation with Martin Whitmarsh,” says Haslam. “Martin used to be responsible for McLaren F1, and has now been made responsible for BAR Technologies, and he’s got some really interesting software, actuators and foils that he uses on his America’s Cup challenges.”
Lowering the cabin table and adding an infill turns the seating into a double berth
Drawing on its extensive experience, BAR Technologies developed a key element of the R35, the Princess Active Foil System (AFS). It deploys retractable foils as soon as the engines are turned on, works to create stability and predictability in the boat’s behaviour and essentially gives it traction control.
This traction control operates in two modes: comfort or sport. When travelling at more than 35 knots, the system automatically switches to sport and keeps the boat planted in the water, while in comfort mode the AFS puts greater limits on the angle of list. In sport, the helmsman can attack turns as aggressively as he or she likes, up to the point at which they would lose performance or control. It might explain why two of the 27 orders for the R35, at the time of writing, have come from clients that have never owned a boat. As I begin turning manoeuvres, the R35’s AFS system works continuously to keep the boat moving and maintain grip. And there is a significant difference in feeling and response between the settings.
The R35’s top speed is 50 knots. In our test, fully loaded with people and fuel, it hit 42 knots
So how does it work? A pair of T-foils are positioned towards the stern of the boat. Instead of lifting the hull, the system uses the lift to dynamically adjust the heel and running angle to create a feeling of grip. Each foil can move independently forward and aft by up to five degrees either way, multiple times a second.
But it’s not only performance that has been carefully planned – the R35’s cabin is modern and well considered. The U-shaped seating includes a central table that can lower to sleep two. This deceptively spacious area includes a head-cum-wet room, sink, fridge and a narrow screen mounted at the top of the cabin, behind the bow. Connected to the screen is a live feed from a camera mounted in the bow, to create a near uninterrupted 180-degree view. The same technology is used to observe the retrieval of the anchor that deploys via an extendable arm concealed behind a hatch in the bow.
Carbon fibre is an amazing material but it isn’t the quietest on water, and noise can be an issue in the cabin, whether at anchor or on the move. “We built a prototype of the R35 as there was a lot of technology on this boat and there were concerns over things such as noise,” says Mackenzie, who reveals that no special measures were taken to insulate the cabin from sound. “It is one of those questions that we didn’t have an answer for and one of the reasons we did the prototype. Those types of things are very hard to simulate.” Out on the water I was pleasantly surprised and comfortable sitting below deck as we made 20 knots.
It may have a particularly stylish skin, but this seems to be a boat that wears its luxury down to the bone: the R35 may well be the first true supercar of the seas.