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Palm Beach 45

The Power of One

Boatbuilder Mark Richards of Palm Beach Motor Yachts knows that success for his company is gained through quality, not quantity.

Before I properly introduce you to this special 45-foot express boat, I have a concept that I’d like to run by you. Don’t get too excited, it’s far from earth shattering. It’s certainly not something as awesome as combining peanut butter with jelly in the same jar. Man, that was pure genius. No, this is a bit simpler and far less innovative. 

My little personal thesis is that true boatbuilders—passionate souls like Mark Richards of Palm Beach Motor Yachts—belong on their shop floors with a light coating of sawdust from head to toe, a sharpened pencil resting behind the ear, with one eye always monitoring the surrounding beehive of activity. And the private-equity bankers and accountants that descended upon the boatbuilding business a decade ago belong in the boardroom. 

Mark Richards

Local Hero

Australian Mark Richards began his boatbuilding apprenticeship at 16. He went on to earn his place among the sailing world’s elite, participating in three America’s Cup campaigns and serving as captain on the maxi Wild Oats, winning a record four consecutive Sydney Hobart races. And six total, including the 2012 race where he broke his own course record, which was set in 2005. He’s also the only skipper to ever take “the treble”—winning line honors, first overall, and the race record—twice in the race’s 67 years. 

For movie buffs, grab a copy of Wind, and see if you can spot a 22-year-old Richards, trimming sails, or having dinner in the grand dining room of the Elms, in Newport, Rhode Island. His passion for boatbuilding perfection runs just as deep as his love of the sea. Mark has been directly involved in the construction of several high-tech maxis and America’s Cup designs. This experience in lightweight, cutting-edge construction combined with a hypercompetitive spirit spawned on racecourses around the world is the genesis for the creation of Palm Beach Motor Yachts. 

Visitors to Palm Beach Motor Yachts most likely will not find Mark in an office surrounded by his trophies, but on the factory floor with his mates and employees, fine-tuning every new launch, developing new models, and crawling in and out of bilges and engine rooms to ensure that every Palm Beach is perfect.

I mean no disrespect to the latter. After all, my former business banker was a godsend and eventually became a friend—well, right up until my venture crashed and burned. However, I just don’t see boatbuilding—I’m talking the practice of honest-to-goodness craftsmanship—as a financial enterprise where large investors are going to extract healthy yields to satisfy their own investors and consistently generate big-time profits. Lord knows folks have tried. 

There are no columns on those bankers’ spreadsheets to account for innovation, skills, and most importantly, passion. Frankly, most of the large financial plays have unraveled, all the while certain folks like Richards have kept their heads down, their pencils sharpened, and gone on producing beautiful boats for discerning, like-minded individuals. 

My friend, boatbuilder Mark Pearson—son of fiberglass boat pioneer Everett Pearson—enlightened me on his philosophy of boatbuilding as a business during dinner in Rhode Island some years back, “Some years will be good, and you’ll make money,” he said. “Some years you won’t, but if you can keep good people employed and do what you all love, then you’re ahead. People will never understand that.” Well, Mark Richards does.

“I don’t want to be the biggest, I just want to build the best boats for a dozen or so people a year and I’m happy,” he told me last spring while we were leaving Southport, Australia, along the country’s Gold Coast, onboard the new 45. And this latest creation will certainly help lead the charge in that pursuit. 

Since starting operations in 1995, Richards and his team have perfected and evolved his hull design. If you’ve perused enough boat reviews, you surely have read a line about a boat’s hole shot and time required to plane. Well, this sort of thing is not exactly appropriate in a review of the new Palm Beach 45 Express. The waterline grabs hold of the surface with a vengeance during the entire speed curve. When more power is applied the bow doesn’t shoot skyward, the boat just moves faster with a seakindly motion. This is a result of Richards’s slippery, warped planing-hull design that keeps the bow down without the need to apply any trim tabs at all, even with pod drives.  

Palm Beach is essentially a custom yard, although on the 45 Richards is hoping to achieve a little more standardization since the smaller the boat, the smaller the margin. The yard accommodates a variety of propulsion systems based on owner preference, including conventional shafts, IPS pods, and Zeus pods, as well as jets. A pair of 435-horsepower Volvo Penta IPS600s powered our test boat. The engines are placed just abaft amidships and employ jackshafts that connect the engine with the pods located beneath the cockpit. This distributes the weight appropriately and enhances the aforementioned, fine running characteristics. During our test, we achieved a top speed of nearly 34 knots at 3600 rpm. However, I found the sweet spot at about 83 percent load, or 3000 rpm. This produces 25 knots while burning a total of 25 gallons per hour. And it’s so damn quiet at these speeds that I kept looking at both GPS units in disbelief.  

The Palm Beach 45 benefits from Richards’s extensive sailboat-racing background, where weight reduction is the name of the game. Composite construction and high-tech laminates keep the 45’s displacement down to a featherweight 26,880 pounds. All bulkheads and furniture are bonded to the hull and deck for added strength. Richards approaches mechanical and electrical systems through the eyes of an offshore sailor, where simplicity and serviceability are key to both safety and success. Every filter, pump, and piece of equipment is arranged for easy access. I tested another Palm Beach a few years back that Richards built for a die-hard sailor and the boat was innocent of almost all extra mechanical equipment, such as air conditioning, generator, or extra fridges. It got me thinking.…

The interior of the 45 is a departure from the builder’s traditional all-teak fit out. (In my opinion, the craftsmen of Palm Beach are some of the best in the world, bar none. I try and try to look for a flaw, just one little raised joint or blemish, and can never find anything.) For this model, Richards eliminated some teak and introduced exquisitely finished and stylishly painted fiberglass and composite components trimmed with satin-finished teak accents. The result is a lighter build, less cost, and a fresh, contemporary look. A more traditional teak interior is available as an option. 

Our test boat featured a single-stateroom, galley-down arrangement. Several layouts are available, including a two-stateroom version. Without the galley, the saloon is huge and benefits from overhead hatches, opening windows, and almost completely unobstructed, 360-degree lines of sight. The aft-galley arrangement also works well and places the food-service area directly at the cockpit. Drop the bulkhead window and you’re in business.

The 45, however, is not just a delicate flower, better suited for wine and cheese sojourns in the next cove. She’s designed to cruise. During our test, I kept thinking about taking this boat to repeat a trip I took up the Inside Passage a few years back, terminating in Wrangell, Alaska. The layout, the wide decks, beefy hardware, well-engineered anchoring system with Muir windlass, the abundant stowage for necessary items such as spare parts, tools, food, cases of beverages, and more, make the 45 a better cruising boat than some boats that are marketed as such. Yes indeed, anchored in the deep waters of Santa Ana Inlet with my crab trap over the side, a pot of coffee brewing on the stove, what could be better?

Australia’s emphasis on outdoor entertaining and family time parallels America’s. Our test boat had a semi-permanent canvas top tightly stretched on stainless steel vertical supports. This option would be more than suitable for the cold cruising scenario or the tropics. A telescoping unit is available if the lines of the more rigid top offend your aesthetic senses. The 45’s spacious cockpit also features an L-shaped settee, a transom door to the large swim platform, a refrigerator, and loads of stowage. The space flows seamlessly up one step into the saloon.

Richards offers express and flying bridge models from 45 feet to 65 feet, and I’ve been fortunate to drive them all. Better yet, I’ve been fortunate enough to sit down and talk shop with a boatbuilding addict who knows success will be gained by building the best boats, not the most.

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This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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