Pearl 75By Alan Harper
One Niche at a Time
Pearl Motoryachts may have built a reputation on aft-cabin designs, but this 75 may point to wider success for a host of new models.
It started almost by accident. While Pearl Motor Yachts has been a fixture of the British boating scene for more than 15 years now, its founder and managing director Ian Smallridge says he never intended to be a boatbuilder.
As a mechanically minded superyacht captain whose youthful interest in racing motorcycles led him first to PWCs and then to more substantial craft, he was commissioned in the mid-1990s by a private owner to fit out a set of molds for a 50-foot cruiser. That led to a couple more contract builds from the molders themselves, after which Smallridge, then still in his 20s, acquired the assets of a defunct boat company and decided to set up in business.
To succeed as a small player in the competitive British boatbuilding industry you need a niche. As the big yards chased the Mediterranean market with their flying-bridge designs, for Pearl that niche was aft-cabin boats, and the company made its debut at the 1998 Southampton boat show with 41- and 45-foot models. Smallridge sold his interest in 2001 to entrepreneur and fellow boatnut Tony Whittaker, who has since kept the yard’s finances on an even keel. The mainstays of the current range, the Pearl 50 and Pearl 60, are aft-cabin designs, and both are modestly successful—some 28 examples of the 60, which started out as a 55, have been built so far, and according to Smallridge, eight Pearl 50s have been delivered. Now Smallridge, still serving as managing director, has been able to focus on the boats, and he has raised his sights and intends to take on the big boys with this Pearl 75 flying-bridge motoryacht.
We caught up with the man and his new baby in Puerto Portals, Mallorca, and were able to give the yacht a thorough inspection. On our in-depth sea trial, we clocked a maximum two-way average speed of around 29 knots, which suggests comfortable and economical cruising in the mid-20s. The yacht’s handling was exemplary, and a 3- to 4-foot chop in no way tested the hull’s seakeeping qualities. We felt that sightlines from the lower helm were in need of improvement, and Smallridge told us this is due to be changed, as is the rather tortuous engine-room access.
In today’s competitive market it is crucial to stand out from the crowd, and Smallridge believes that the Pearl 75, from the drawing board of British naval architect Bill Dixon, is the largest British motoryacht yet built to be fitted with pod drives—in this case a pair of ZF 4000-series units, coupled to 1,250-horsepower MTU diesels. Along with the computer-controlled maneuverability that this system offers, it also allows the engines to be mounted well aft in the hull to make space for exceptionally roomy accommodation belowdecks.
Add to that advantage the fact that the yacht has been designed with an unusually beamy hull. According to Smallridge, the hull boasts a clear 8 to 9 inches more beam than typical rivals of similar length, which makes a significant difference to interior volume. The beds are big, headroom is pretty generous in most areas, and the cabins are sensibly laid out with plenty of unobstructed floor space. The overhead sweep of windscreen above the wheelhouse and galley is a noteworthy feature, and one reason the saloon seems so big is that there is no formal dining table—to sit down and eat you have to be either in the cockpit or up on the flying bridge. This will suit owners who like to dine ashore, but if you feel strongly about it, talk to the shipyard—they have alternative ideas to offer.
The Pearl 75’s trump card is its interior design. Smallridge and Whittaker drafted interior designer Kelly Hoppen to put her name to the yacht—a bespoke touch that’s unusual in this market sector. Hoppen is London-based, with a number of high-profile apartment projects to her name, although few yachts so far. Her signature style of Eastern-tinged modernism is well expressed in the Pearl 75, with its monochromatic ambience, multiplicity of textures, and edgy detailing.
This first Pearl 75 has an interior scheme that will certainly be too gray for some owners, but there is no denying the conceptual rigor with which the décor has been thought through (see “Better Boat: A Rich Interior,” on page 72). And as Pearl is a low-volume yard, you are welcome to talk to the company’s designers about your own ideas for the interior or, indeed, bring along your own creative consultants.
There are plans to roll the Hoppen look into the next new Pearl model, a 65, which like the 75 will also feature pod drives—but in this case Cummins Zeus pods on a triple-600-horsepower engine installation. These two new flying-bridge yachts will in due course be joined in the catalog by two more, in the 50- and 90-foot classes, and will constitute a separate product line from the niche, aft-cabin cruisers which the company will continue to produce. “The big brands are so powerful now that you have to do what they do, but do it better,” explains Smallridge.
As well as using designer interiors, Pearl also plans to differentiate itself from the competition with its new flying-bridge range by undertaking a level of internal customization that higher-volume boatbuilders don’t offer. On the 75, for example, this includes alternative layouts for the galley, the option of a dedicated wheelhouse, and the incorporation of a dining area into the forward part of the saloon.
Key to the company’s competitiveness is its unusual construction regime. It was originally founded, and is still headquartered, in Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon. The yard itself, however, is now based in the historic Royal Navy haunt of Portsmouth Harbour, while mold-tooling, lamination, and initial engineering take place in Taiwan. “It keeps the price competitive,” says Smallridge. “It means that we can do small production runs but still compete with the more mass-production yards. It also makes modifications and customization far more feasible.” The yachts arrive in Southampton ready and able to make the short hop’round to Portsmouth under their own steam. Fit-out and finish are done at Pearl’s Portsmouth facility, ensuring the quality standards expected of a British-built motoryacht.
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This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.