Written by Scott Alle
Princess has only enhanced its longstanding reputation for luxury and craftsmanship since Antony Sheriff took the helm in 2016.
His focus on melding innovation and design with traditional Princess values is apparent in the large spaces and small details that will invariably please the most jaded motor-yacht type.
Sheriff came to Princess from McLaren Automotive and he’s successfully integrated development, manufacturing and project strategy approaches from the car sector, while noting that yacht brands and shipyards have a level of efficiency in how much they are able to develop from relatively limited resources.
His time at McLaren also imbued Sheriff with an intense focus on design that has been readily embraced at Princess. As he explains, it’s not so much about executing outrageous concepts and breaking the mould, though they have done that in a couple of cases, but rather concentrating on design quality, elegance and surfacing.
Ocean’s Associate Editor Scott Alle spoke with Antony Sheriff – who is in Plymouth in the UK – about new design directions and market conditions.
Antony, good to talk with you again. Firstly, what’s the situation with production?
We are obviously going to be guided by what the government advice is here in the UK. The way boats are built is very difficult to achieve within two metres of social distancing so we’ve spent the last two months putting this in place.
The key has been to move everything to two shifts and halving the number of people in the factory. We’ve done boat-by-boat studies so we know exactly how many people we can have on. We have a completely different cleaning regime and have worked out a system so no-one comes within two metres of another.
At the moment, just over 20 percent of our workforce has returned and we are planning to be back in full production very soon.
Let’s run through some of the great new Princess designs. The Y85 is described as heralding a new interior/exterior design look for the Y Class range. Can you explain the ethos here?
The Y85 is definitely a step forward in our motor yachts. I wouldn’t say it moves toward an S Class, but it has certainly shown we can take the Princess brand very confidently into the future without losing the key attributes of elegance and understatement.
A lot of work has gone into the shape of the boat and the fluidity of form. It’s very sculptured but it’s still very much a Princess. You are going to see that taken to another level with the Y95; we are focusing on a much higher level of design quality.
There’s been a strong response from our customers, too – there’s big order book for the 85s.
What about the X95, the first of the new X Series, what is the buyer profile for that boat?
It’s a mixture of owners downsizing from a larger superyacht and those coming out of smaller models. The X95 represents a completely different type of yacht architecture. What we’ve tried to do is reinvent what a motor yacht could be in a much more informal way that generates a lot more usable space on the boat given the footprint of the hull.
The interiors are on par in terms of space with a 35-metre superyacht so it attracts a lot of people who are moving up. They are very happy and often comment, ‘I wanted to go up one size but this feels like three sizes for the price of upgrading just the one.’
We’ve also had existing long-term Princess customers who are completely taken aback by the X95’s dimensions.
The X95 has been dubbed the luxury SUV of the seas. Do you think it will have broad appeal across what are quite different markets from Europe to the United States?
I think we’ve managed to do things that appeal in every market. The enclosed Skylounge really works for the Asian market. There is the ability to put the dining room up on the Skylounge as well, which creates a big lounging area. And there’s a massive space on the upper decks, including the flybridge that extends the full length of the boat. This really appeals to European customers who like the outdoor lifestyle.
For American customers, we offer a variant with a huge country kitchen and dining area at the front of the boat so as you walk in, it’s one big convivial family space. It’s multifaceted and appeals to different customer groups.
I recently tested the F70 in a decent two-metre-plus swell off Sydney Heads and was reminded just how good Princess’ hulls are. I guess that’s reassuring for owners who don’t want to get caught in – but may still find themselves in – really bad weather?
Building yachts in Plymouth in sight of the notoriously fickle English Channel, sea-keeping is the trait – beyond anything else – of a Princess. If we had to wait for good weather to do a sea-trial here we would never make it out of the harbour.
What kind of things are the design teams focused on at the moment?
You can see where we are heading from a design standpoint with yachts like the Y95. We’re not just about saying, ‘Wow look at that boat,’ from an engineering standpoint. In conjunction with Olesinski, the design office behind Princess’ lines of motor yachts, we are constantly looking at ways to refine our hull form, reduce drag and increase efficiency.
Each time we do a new hull we have to ask, ‘What does it give us?’; it’s not an excuse to change the layout.
What is the difference in the design ethos between the X95 and the Y95?
The X95 is really unique in terms of layout and has a very different shape to traditional yacht designs; it’s for people who are open to something a bit different. The Y95 takes many of the attributes of the X95 and presents them in a traditional, very beautiful and elegant way.
What about the way people are using their boats now as COVID-19 eases?
People are increasingly looking at taking their boats away on holiday. There is a shift to heading out on the water for a week or two. There are a lot of things we don’t take for granted anymore – why not enjoy yourself and do it in a safe way with your family?
Do you think we will see consolidation or a spate of mergers in the sector?
I think it’s possible, but it always takes two to tango. I do think there is too much fragmentation in the industry. There are lots of small players and I think it would be helpful for everybody if there were a few larger players.
That said, there is no reason why a small company can’t figure out how to be successful in this environment, but it all depends on what happens in the market. It’s been much more robust than we would have expected given the situation and we are cautiously optimistic about where it is going.
On a bigger macro-economic scale, there’s going to have to be a massive amount of capital injected into the whole industrial system to get everybody up and running again.