The return of boat shows in Europe – marked by the Cannes Yachting Festival in September – also meant the return of new models for public viewing. Cannes itself boasted more than 140 new models, among them the innovative Princess X95 and its moderately more conventional sibling, the Y72.
With boating hitting new highs in the past 12 months and with all builders reporting strong sales, Princess Yachts wasn’t alone in announcing a strong order book across its range. What was remarkable, however, was that Executive Chairman and CEO Antony Sheriff reported that the X95 has already sold 20 units, while the Y72 has already sold 50 units.
“Everywhere is booming,” Sheriff told me. “The US is off the charts. Hong Kong is off the charts. Greg Haines and his team are doing an absolutely mega job in Australia – they’re now one of the bigger distributors we have. They have a huge appetite for boats, and we just have to get our act together and supply them! There are a lot of models in the 60- and 70-foot-plus range that are heading down to Australia.”
Princess Yachts’ news isn’t only about big sales numbers however – there is talk of new models, and supply chain problems; of a desire to make the factory more sustainable, and of introducing a hybrid option for the X95, for example. Ocean talked to Sheriff to get more detail on where this Brit superbrand is heading next.
Ocean magazine: You’ve mentioned measures you have put in place and some of the steps you are taking to make the build side more environmentally conscious. What sorts of things are you doing and what does Princess have planned for the future?
Antony Sheriff: If you look at it from a very high level we can do certain things to make our boats more efficient in the way that they run through the water. And that’s partially power train based, but also we have plenty that we can do on the performance of our hulls to reduce the resistance, for example.
The second element is the materials we actually use on the boat. So we’re not going to make a difference [on our own] if instead of using 20 metres of toxically tanned leather, we use 20 metres of environmentally friendly tanned leather using organic materials. However, what we do achieve is we set a standard for other people by which to operate.
We’ve become, in many ways, a symbol that you can do this as a luxury brand, and this material is not only acceptable, but for us it’s better. We’re leading by example.
Third is how we operate. Making boats is heavy industry with a lot of chemicals and resins, so how can we do this in a more controlled manner? We’re looking at the energy we use to run our facilities. We generate a degree of organic waste, wood and other things, so let’s not send that into landfill but use it to generate energy with biomass furnaces, which will actually heat the building. We’ll also be doing solar panels – boats take a lot of area, so our buildings have to be large, so we can use that surface area.
Fourth, we can look at things that we can do to reduce waste. For example, on the areas of boats where we’re going to be cutting out panels, we put a much, much thinner layup which is the minimum to maintain the dimensional stability of the boat [while it’s in build]. We’re starting to reduce materials, eliminate waste, and manage our footprint in a much more sustainable way.
Is running around in a luxury yacht a sustainable venture? Well, no – but not much is if you want it to be purely sustainable. But you can do it in a much more intelligent manner, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Ocean: Does the somewhat radical rethink of areas on the X95 translate to other models or potential models in the range?
Sheriff: We’ve created a new class of boat for ourselves and it’s very different from anything we’ve done and from what others are doing. The 95 has translated extraordinarily well to an 80 and slot one of the X80 is in build. We have replicated a lot of the X95 on the X80, so essentially by placing the helm station on the flybridge and creating a sky lounge, we end up with a huge main saloon area, a huge flybridge area and a second closed saloon with the helm station.
As you get smaller and smaller in size, a lot of those things are not achievable. We’ve got it to work really well at 80 feet, but I think it’s going to be challenging at smaller sizes. We are looking at ways to do something clever on smaller sizes, but we’re still of working on that.
Ocean: You’re offering a hybrid version of the X95 – when do you think hybrid will become de rigeur for any new build?
Sheriff: At the moment it’s for somebody who is an aficionado of these things and wants to do certain things that will lower their footprint. In terms of having a boat like that and saying it has a dramatically reduced carbon footprint in all operating conditions, it’s not really true, and the technology isn’t there yet.
So we’re using this very much of a testbed to understand the technology, and to put on a boat something that can, if operated in the correct way, save a lot of fuel. If you’re operating it the same way you operate another boat, it won’t save a lot of fuel. But you have that option to operate in a very efficient way.
We’re also conscious that we that we want to offer a product that’s fun for customers, otherwise they won’t buy it.
Nobody’s going to buy it to be sustainable, they’re going to buy something because it’s also sustainable. So we were trying to find the right balance on that now.
The future will probably, I suspect, be around fuel cells. If you wanted to electrify an X95, you could reasonably do it and have a handful of nautical miles of range – not enough to get you anywhere reasonable, but enough to get you in and out of port and then you fire up the engines.
Or you can travel great distances but at seven or eight knots – but if you’re happy at that speed then you don’t need to fit the big engines and you could immediately save fuel. But most people would want to be able to still go 25 knots.
Ocean: You’ve hinted at potential models above the 95 – what are the plans for the upper end of the range?
Sheriff: There aren’t any at the moment, but the reality is that we’re selling so many 95s that we’re soon going to have a lot of customers who are looking for something bigger – we already do have, in fact, so it would be natural for us to build a bigger boat.
We do not have the capacity at the moment, nor do we have the footprint – every possible square centimetre that was used to build 30M, 35M and 40M is taken up by a rapid moving assembly line of 95s that is pumping out almost a boat a month, and that’s phenomenal. So we need to build a new shed, and we’re thinking about how we do that.
Ocean: You have said that supply chain issues are ongoing and you don’t know when those are going to be resolved – is that proving something of a handbrake on any expansion plans, as well as being frustrating?
Sheriff: It’s all frustrating! We have an unbelievable amount of demand, and we just aren’t able to fulfil it, at the moment. We have demand for the bigger boats which are not component generated, but that’s constrained by the space we have.
So we’re looking at a new facility, we are hiring people at a pretty terrific rate at the moment – what we need to do is find out a solution for how we build a bigger boat, and also we have probably three times the demand for the smaller boats than we’re able to supply. if we can turn that up dramatically, we can also grow dramatically.
Ocean: The Y72 had its global premiere at Cannes in September, but didn’t you say you’d already sold 50 hulls?
Sheriff: Yes, 50. It’s insane! It hits a point in the market where it’s more upmarket than the F70 but it’s a bit cheaper than the Y75 was and it gives 90 percent of what the Y75 had. It’s pretty, and it’s predictable in its in its layout. It’s what people expect in a Princess, plus, plus, plus. And we’ll have other variants on the same hull that are also going to be phenomenally pretty.
What we’re excited about is that we’ve managed to have success not only with boats that are easy to understand like that, where I think we’ve really gotten to a great a great level of execution, but we’re also having success in boats that are extremely unusual and only more tenuously a Princess.
When you look at the X95, you say: ‘That’s not a classic Princess.’ No, it’s not, but it espouses all of the values of Princess in a very different package.
The X80 is the next one, and it’s fantastic – it’s an 80-foot boat with an ample main deck master. And if you don’t have the main deck master, it’s just a phenomenal living space, and a huge flybridge with a sky lounge and a forward flybridge area where you can sit properly. It has all the things that make an X95 an X95, just to a smaller scale.
Below that 80-foot size you start to lose the forward flybridge, and the saloon and sky lounge become more like slots. It starts to become less and less convincing, and we don’t want to do something if it’s not convincing.
Ocean: What can we expect next in terms of new models in the near future?
Sheriff: A lot! We’ve got the X80, and we’ve also got a brand new V50 in build at the moment. We have three other things coming in the fall, and next year we’ve also got a pretty full line-up – mostly boats in the 60s and 70s – plus the Y95 that’s just gone into mould now so should be ready for September 2022.
Then we’ll have pretty much renovated our large boat line – the replacement for the 85 will come in two or three years. And then we turn our attention to what we’re doing in the small boats. As I’ve said before, we didn’t take our foot off the throttle when COVID-19 happened.
Ocean: You’ve also now got the X series and the Y series – is there a Z series in the offing, and what would it be?
Sheriff: Maybe yes, I just don’t know what it is yet! You’ve got to find the right idea. Maybe a multihull… in my mind, but nobody else’s though. I went on holiday on a cat last summer and I got really excited – I was like, we can make a fantastic catamaran. We may get some design students and have somebody do a project just for fun to figure out how that would be…