The 2008 release of the Princess 85MY ushered in a yachting experience that lets guests enjoy their drinks without the rocking and rolling
In these newly credit-crunched times, where running costs are perhaps more of an issue than they used to be, the chance to spend time at sea is also becoming more highly valued. There are many among us who are beginning to re-evaluate our cruising needs. Is it any longer so absolutely vital to be docked alongside a swish marina by five o’clock? Or are there more important things to do with your time – such as simply surrendering to the irresistable rhythms of the sea, and the pleasing routines of a blue-water cruising yacht?
Maybe. Certainly there are those who feel that the recent economic earthquakes we have endured are likely to change not just habits, but attitudes.
Stable at sea
One of the key components on this new Princess 85MY was the American Bowthruster TracStar, an integrated hydraulic system that controls both thrusters and stabilisers. It’s not a cheapest option, but according to Princess, this intelligent stabilising is not just one of those nice-to-have pieces of kit, but something so capable that it can fundamentally change the way boats like this are used.
In the calm November conditions we encountered – calmer than I’ve seen it off Plymouth on many a summer’s day – it wasn’t possible to give the fin system a proper trial. It was possible, however, to get a true feel for their effectiveness.
One area where the larger Princesses tend to excel over some of their Mediterranean-built rivals is in handling. Princess’ naval architect Bernard Olesinski not only believes that boats should go where you point them, but also that the act of pointing them should be satisfying. And sure enough, dialling in full lock at maximum speed on the 85MY did produce the expected tight turning radius – rarer than you might think on boats of this size – but without the common heeling effect. It didn’t lean in towards the turn, nor outwards, as a displacement boat would. It just turned the corner with all the serene assurance of a classic double-decker bus leaving the depot. So serene in fact that it felt slightly unusual. But it showed that the Tracs were earning their keep, and if a preoccupied guest had carelessly left her highball unguarded on the table, it wouldn’t have moved an inch.
The TracStar system is designed to significantly reduce motion at rest, making lunchtime or overnight anchorages a lot more comfortable. It is also claimed to completely eliminate roll at speeds of 12 knots and up – and on the basis of this trial, I believe that it probably can.
It’s all in the numbers
That 12-knot figure is significant. No planing hull feels wholly comfortable at displacement speeds, and yet in anything other than millpond conditions, planing can also be quite tiring for guests – not to mention stressful on the owner’s wallet. To be able to cruise quietly and economically at 12 knots without the hint of a roll opens up entirely new possibilities for yachts of this nature. Lunch can be served at sea without guests feeling that they’ve strayed onto a Japanese game show set. The crew could get the yacht under way at dusk, serve dinner on passage, cruise through the night while owner and guests sleep peacefully below, and drop anchor at dawn 150 miles away.
You could even argue that such effective stabilisation gives you the best of both worlds – a fast planing boat when you’re in a hurry and a steady, solid, displacement motor yacht when you want to relax. And if you put it like that, maybe the TracStar system shouldn’t be regarded as an option at all, but as an essential item in the cruising inventory of this 85.
Of course, there is a downside to having the TracStar system, and that’s drag. Two big fins sticking out into the water flow, however clever they might be, do nothing for the boat’s high-speed efficiency. According to the designers, they cost the 85MY about a knot and a half. Our test boat’s heavy hard top – another option – had a similar effect on top speed. And when we did our speed trials, I noticed that both fuel and water tanks were full, adding seven tonnes or so. Then there was a 3.85-metre Williams RIB in the garage – another 750 pounds. With all this extra weight, it seemed slightly superfluous to note down on my test sheet that we also had seven people on board.
So under the circumstances, the top two-way speed we recorded, at a whisker under 25 knots, seemed quite impressive. With a less heavily loaded stock boat, we’d expect to see 28 knots or maybe more. More importantly, the 85MY has a wide range of cruising speeds on the plane, from about 16 knots upwards.