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Princess Yachts - the pride of Plymouth

PUBLISHED: 14:18 01 September 2014 | UPDATED: 14:18 01 September 2014

Sailing past the breakwater at Plymouth Sound

Sailing past the breakwater at Plymouth Sound

© sghaywood photography

CHRISSY HARRIS takes the controls of a £1.1 million yacht built in Devon’s ocean city of Plymouth

Chrissy Harris pilots a Princess YachtChrissy Harris pilots a Princess Yacht

The open sea stretched out before us as the sun glistened over Plymouth’s famous breakwater, while above us gulls gently called to each other across the passing fishing boats coming home with their catch.

But enough of all that - I was piloting a £1.1 million Princess Yacht at 28knots and it was awesome!

I didn’t notice the fishing boats or the seagulls because I was too busy pushing down on the throttles and heading for the horizon.

For about two hours, I had borrowed someone else’s life – a life in which I was the new owner of this beautiful machine, which had been fitted with some of the highest-spec, custom built fixtures and fittings on offer.

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The luxurious timber interior contained the whitest white leather seats I have ever been allowed to go near and immaculate polished surfaces.

Below deck were three bedrooms, two with en-suite facilities and one with a sofa next to the porthole (with lovely hand-made cushions, girls).

There was a slick looking kitchen – complete with a dishwasher. “A dishwasher!” I told my friend. “No!” she said. “I haven’t got one of those in my house.”

Yes. This was about as posh as it gets. And to think it was all made right here in Plymouth.

Princess Yachts International has been based in the city since the company started life in a small shed in Stonehouse nearly 50 years ago.

Now, annual turnover is around £300 million, the firm employs 2,200 people in Plymouth alone and has a worldwide presence, with 90 per cent of the craft it builds going overseas. The Princess Yachts brochure reads like a game of Top Trumps with each model bigger, better and faster than the last.

The largest one on offer, for the moment at least, is a 40-metre tri-deck super yacht which will set you back around £15 million.

So who buys these boats? “A spectrum of people” says Ian Duffin, the company’s refreshingly down-to-earth finance director.

“These are high net-worth individuals. Although you do also get people who save for years or re-mortgage their house to buy one, or even a few who don’t have a house and want a yacht instead.”

We are now stood in an enormous temporary boathouse in Princess Yacht’s 20-acre site, part of the former Devonport Dockyard South Yard.

The firm is undergoing a £35 million investment, because, among other things, it needs more space to build its M-Class superyacht range.

Gazing up at one of these boats, which is covered in navy blue-clad workmen spraying, sawing and painting, leaves me open mouthed. It seems like such a lot of boat for one owner.

“I suppose it is a different world at this level,” says Ian. “There is a lot of status to be had from owning one of our boats, but it’s also a hobby. People want to move up through the range. The bigger the boat, the more options you have as to how and where you take it.”

Nicola Basil, communications manager, adds: “A boat offers a unique level of privacy that people really want. You’re away from that business environment and you’ve just got this private oasis.”

Wherever these boats end up, it’s clear that the people who work for Princess are proud that each one of these immaculately finished vessels started life in Plymouth.

Once finished to the client’s exact specifications, every yacht is sent down the same 600ft slipway that has witnessed the construction of some of the most important ships in the Royal Navy.

“I just think there is this beautiful symmetry here of taking this city’s maritime heritage, renewing it and providing employment for Plymouth,” says Ian. Richard Clarke, South West sales manager for Princess Motor Yacht Sales, agrees. He says the city and Devon in general is perfectly equipped for bringing in and holding on to the company’s many repeat customers.

“We get to know our clients really well and it means we can offer a very personal service,” he says. “Clients come back and stop in to our sales office in Sutton Harbour if they’re travelling by. It’s nice to have that relationship.”

Everyone I’ve met so far at this luxury yacht firm has been so relaxed and, well... Devon. They might be making and selling some of the most expensive products money can buy but it hasn’t gone to their heads.

And I definitely haven’t let my brief taste of the Princess high-life go to mine. “So what have you been up to today,” asks a fellow school-run mum.

“Oh, you know. Done a bit of washing and driven a super yacht.”

Princess Yachts: A brief history:

1965 – Princess Yachts founded as Marine Projects (Plymouth).

1974 - the first Princess flybridge motoryacht is built

1980 – Bernard Olesinski, world leading motorboat and super-yacht designer, designs his first Princess.

1996 – the first ‘metre’ yacht is developed.

1997 – New purpose-built headquarters in Newport Street, Stonehouse, Plymouth, are opened. A new site at Coypool is also purchased.

1999 – The Princess 40 appears in the James bond film The World is not Enough

2001 – Marine Projects (Plymouth) becomes Princess Yachts International plc

2007 – Largest project to date launched: the Princess 95 motor yacht.

2009 - New South Yard site acquired on long-term lease from Ministry of Defence.

2011 – Freehold for the South Yard is acquired.

2012 – Princess launch their largest yacht to date – the Princess 40 metre M-Class super yacht

The big one:

Here’s how the Princess 40M measures up:

Length – 131ft 9in (40.16m)

Beam – 26ft (8.02m)

Fuel capacity – 6,455 gal (29,345l)

Engines:

Twin MTU 12v 4000 M73L (2x2938mhp) Speed range 18-20 knots

Twin MTU 12v 4000 M93L (2x3509mhp) Speed range 20-22 knots

Interior features: (can accommodate 12 guests and seven crew)

Drop-down balconies

Walk-in wardrobes

Under-floor heating

Grand central staircase

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