Remember the days when supercars were intimidating, raw, often dangerous vehicles; cars that would oversteer, understeer, break down and perhaps even catch fire at the drop of a hat? To drive a Porsche 930 Turbo or Lamborghini Countach, an owner had to make a serious commitment to the petrolhead life, whilst lessening their commitment to their own. Nowadays that's not the case. Almost anyone could step into a McLaren 720S and, without extracting its full potential, at least get it down to the shops and back in one piece.
The world of marine performance is still waiting for such a vehicle; a vessel which is straightforward to manoeuvre around a marina, comfortable and practical, yet can also allow enthusiasts without experience in the World Powerboat Championship a taste of genuine waterborne prowess. Until now, claims Princess Yachts, which has borrowed heavily from the automotive world in an attempt to deliver exactly that.
The R35 is the first of Princess's R Class performance machines which, built in the UK at the company's Plymouth shipyard, will boast multiple industry-leading advances in an attempt to create an entirely new class of yacht. With former McLaren MD Antony Sheriff - who oversaw the launches of cars including the SLR, MP4-12C and P1 - at the helm, the British firm has looked to processes, materials and names more familiar to the motoring sphere than the marine one.
As Sheriff puts it: "We challenged the perception that limits of performance had been reached for yachts - that there were no more tangible gains in the battle between stability and speed. Just like a race team, we looked for the competitive edge, the last tenth, the supposedly impossible performance gain. And our vision and ambition changed that perception and created the R35."
Princess Design Studio's striking creation is courtesy of contributions from both Ben Ainslie Racing Technologies and Pininfarina; a combination of the supercomputer-powered CFD analysis common to Americas Cup teams and over 100 concept designs from the famed Italian coachbuilder. Power comes from a Volvo V8 engine - two of them, in fact - each an all-aluminium 6.2-litre unit producing 430hp and allowing for both a 14 per cent increase acceleration and a thirty per cent decrease in fuel consumption at cruising speed. Top speed is a healthy 50 knots - or nearly 60mph to landlubbers.
Fabrication, meanwhile, is of the full carbon fibre variety - a first for the company - resulting in a 25 per cent decrease in weight to 4.5 tonnes. That's around the same as two Range Rovers, for a 36ft boat that can comfortably sleep two. Princess's commitment to composite is demonstrated by the construction of an all-new carbon fibre production unit at its headquarters - no mean feat when you consider that McLaren has only just gotten around to building a dedicated facility for weaving the wonder stuff.
Sheriff isn't the only Woking alumnus to be found in Plymouth, with Paul Mackenzie, former McLaren Programme Director and head of MSO, having served as Princess's Chief Technical Officer for the last two and a half years. It's been during his stint that the company has started to look anew at the challenges facing the industry; Mackenzie bringing with him the cutting edge technological knowhow and insatiable desire to improve that speaks to a long career in the upper echelons of the automotive sector.
Princess says its new Active Foil System is one upshot of this new approach, and is the kind of rare development that comes along maybe once in a generation - potentially offering its inventor a priceless edge in the market.
The R35 uses a shallow hull to reduce drag, increase speed and maximise efficiency, but at a familiar cost. The lack of mass in the water lends the boat an inherent instability, a trait not conducive with ease of use and downright dangerous at high speed. The AFS counters this by inserting two foils into the water beneath the stern - but rather than lifting it out of the water like a traditional hydrofoil these pull the boat down, holding the slippery underbelly of the yacht tight against the water's surface and ensuring the most effective contact area is constantly maintained.
That's straight line performance dealt with, then, but to help in the corners the port and starboard foils of the AFS can also move independently by +/- 5 degrees. They do this in response to inputs from an onboard computer, which measures variables such as speed, engine revs and steering input and adjusts them up to 100 times a second. A mode selector at the helm even allows the pilot to choose between Optimal, Sport and Rough weather settings; it's the kind of stability control that will be more than familiar to anyone who's read a new car review in the last ten years. This, however, is the first time it's been seen on a boat.
So, what with there being nearly 20,000 watercraft for sale in the PH Classifieds - bet you didn't know that, did you - when we got an invite to leave London's June gloom and head down to the Mediterranean to try the R35 for ourselves, we reluctantly accepted.
Even beside the multi-million pound yachts of Cannes marina - with more than a few of Princess's own designs amongst them - the R35 is a striking vessel. Powerful, luxurious and thoroughly modern, it maintains enough of its manufacturer's design cues for those in the know to identify its origin. Below deck you'll find a surprisingly spacious cabin, the benefits of the carbon design again being seen in the extra room afforded by a lack of structural ribs. It offers space to relax out of the sun/breeze/way, as well as a table, fridge, toilet and a number of other custom options, and can also be converted into a two person berth.
All of my time aboard is spent above deck, however, where the controls to that 860hp output are located. As a rookie I'm not trusted to manoeuvre the yacht out of the harbour, but using a small joystick to the right of the wheel, it seems to be as straightforward as its maker promised. Once out on the water I'm offered the helm. Thirty seconds later I'm addicted. The power, the speed, the warm sun and the cooling wind; it's as intoxicating a combination as it seems on film. There's a reason that the ultimate depictions of glamour and luxury call time and again on situations such as this. Response from the Volvo engines feels near instantaneous, the power arriving in one enormous wave and accompanied by an unexpectedly sonorous exhaust note. Keep the throttle open and the speed soon follows, 60mph feeling like a crawl on land but seemingly supercar-quick out here, despite the lack of trees and hedges flashing past.
Then we try some turns, a few sweeping arcs and a series of esses, intended to demonstrate the R35's superior handling. Anyone familiar with speed boats or jet skis will know how this goes, turn while travelling too quickly and the craft will slide out beneath you, washing wide and forcing you to reduce the power to keep things on course. Not here. Those Active Foils do their thing beneath the hull, and the result is a boat which turns as if on rails. To have a sensation of 'grip' on the water's surface is bizarre, but also entertaining and confidence instilling in equal measure. Even as a complete newcomer, I have no reservations when it comes to leaning on the yacht's engineered assistance.
Princess hopes it's this level of accessibility that will help tempt potential customers into the market; those with the time and resources to afford a £500,000-plus yacht - they are out there - but who've been previously put off by the steep learning curve involved in actually enjoying it. Once hooked, the firm hopes that they'll progress up through the rest of the product line - an average owner buying a new yacht every 5-6 years, I'm told - in much the same way that a McLaren 570S buyer may one day find themselves purchasing a 720S, or even a Senna.
Whether the tactic proves a successful one remains to be seen, of course - but the course plotted by Princess is worthy of celebration regardless. The R35 represents British engineering again at the cutting edge, setting new standards and continuing to invest in innovation even against a prevailing backdrop of doom, gloom and uncertainty. And in my brief experience, at least, its approach does genuinely seem to have the potential to open up the industry to an entirely new audience. This may only be the beginning but, certainly where the R35 is concerned, I can tell you one thing for sure; as someone entirely new to the world of performance yachts, if I had the resources, I'd be right at the front of the queue.