I scoured Europe’s best boat shows looking for a new flybridge and this is what I chose

Henry Firman spent two years trawling through Europe’s best shows in search of a new boat, but could anyone tempt him away from Princess Yachts?

When looking for a new boat, my first port of call tends to be the Southampton Boat Show. There are lots of boat builders in attendance so it’s easy to see what’s out there.

Another great event for serious buyers is the British Motor Yacht Show in Swanwick. Unlike Southampton, it’s mostly attended by boat owners so access to the exhibits is often easier, enabling you to step pretty much from one boat onto another.

The only problem is that these shows tend to be UK-centric and, as I’m constantly reminded by my European cousins on the YBW forum, there are plenty of well-established European builders worth considering.

In a bid to address this imbalance, we also attended the Cannes Yachting Festival and Boot Düsseldorf for two years running. Both shows highlight manufacturers rarely seen in the UK so, much as we love Princess Yachts, we thought it might be a good way to find someone new to supply our next boat…

Viewing the competition

Ferretti is a big name in boat building. The GRP work is lovely but the Ferretti 550 felt a bit small and angular. The 2023 replacement at Düsseldorf, the Ferretti 580 was better but it still felt a bit cramped and visibility from the lower helm was still quite restricted.

We tend to spend a lot of time at displacement speeds and the ability to do some serious passage-making really appeals so a modern trawler yacht like the Absolute Navetta 52 looked promising.

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While stylish on the inside, there was good storage and space too. IPS engines wouldn’t be my first choice, though, as I’m a traditional shaft-drive fan who likes to keep things simple beneath the waterline.

For my money, the quality of engineering and installation probably wasn’t up there with Princess either and I’m not convinced we would have saved any money once the finished package had been optioned up.

As for Azimut, I’ve always felt the designs try a bit too hard and that they risk dating prematurely. That said, the Magellano range was interesting for the same reason as the Absolute Navetta.


The Sirena 58 impressed Henry, but the lack of a UK dealer network was a dealbreaker

And one brand that really did tempt us was Turkish builder, Sirena. I hadn’t heard of them until Düsseldorf but they offered a very cost-effective boat for the size, the Sirena 58. There was lots of space to play with but we didn’t really want to buy a new boat without exceptional factory/dealer support on our doorstep here in the UK.

Prestige was another interesting brand that caught our attention. As part of the massive Beneteau Group, I was intrigued to see what they brought to the table.

On first inspection, prices seemed to be keen but there were a lot of optional packages to add before you could actually use the Prestige 590 in anger, so in terms of outright quality, I think we might have been taking a step back from Princess for little real saving.

British builders

Try as I might, we kept coming back to the UK builders. It turns out they’ve spurred each other on to build some good boats when judged on the world stage and there is no worry when it comes to dealer or factory support.

For me though, Fairline felt just a little too small inside – and while I’m interested to see how their new Squadron 58 turns out when launched at Southampton this year, that discounted them from the running.

Sunseeker made it to the final stretch and we had an intense session with their sales team at Southampton but ultimately there were a few areas of concern for me – in particular, side access along the gunwales and the position of mooring cleats, which causes lines to rub on the fibreglass.


The F55’s large galley was a key selling point

Styling-wise, they are also quite bold and non-classical for me. So we found ourselves back at Princess. The previous Princess 52 and Princess 56 didn’t have large enough galleys and lacked the full-sized refrigeration needed to pry us away from our Princess 50 Mk3, but the Princess F55 seemed to hit the spot in all departments.

The Princess F55

Our previous two new boats had been dealer stock so it was just a case of handing over the cash and away you go. For the F55, there were contracts to sign, options to decide on and all that was happening while we were still operating our old P50 on charter. So having handed over a deposit to secure our build slot, the process began.

Alan Knight from Princess Motor Yacht Sales was our point of contact throughout the whole process and I have to say he was excellent. At no point did he try to upsell options but there were times when his experience proved invaluable. He was also there during factory visits.


Seeing the build come together at the factory in Plymouth

We went to Plymouth just after placing the order and then a couple of times during the build and it really helped cement our affiliation to the brand. It’s one thing seeing the outer veneer at a boat show, but quite another to see the level of attention they pay to unseen areas as each element of the boat is created.

Covid was still an issue during the build so the factory had been forced to make some changes when major components missed their delivery dates.

Thankfully, the supply chain issues had mostly been resolved by the time slot 135 went through, so the only real deviation from the plan was the fitting of a Whisper generator in place of the specced Onan model.


Regular visits were a great way to get to know his new boat

At times it was a bit overwhelming, seeing the enormity of work involved in building an F55: wiring looms, mechanical components, cabinetry and the various home comforts.

But the workforce always seemed calm and efficient and eventually the day arrived when the factory declared their sea trials complete. It was time to move her from Plymouth to Swanwick on the Hamble for final pre-delivery checks.

I decided to ride along and, once again, Alan went the extra mile, driving me from Swanwick to Plymouth so my car wouldn’t end up in the wrong place.

The delivery went smoothly and, having averaged around 28 knots, we soon found ourselves back in the Solent. Handover day was imminent and after 18 months of work, I finally allowed myself to get excited.

First published in the September 2023 issue of MBY.

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