I was sitting in the Bay Horse listening to some jazz, and during a set break got chatting to the dreadlocked young man on the other side of the table. I don’t know what he had been smoking—actually I probably do—but when he fixed me with an unblinking gaze and said, apropos of nothing in particular, “There are more answers than questions,” I began to realize that his idea of small talk and mine were somewhat at variance. Luckily the band came back on, and I was able to draw a line under our exchange without having to dig too deeply into my stock of cod-philosophical responses.
But he was right, of course. Two long-established British boatyards recently asked themselves the same question: “What should a fast, fun 35-footer be like?” Their responses could hardly be more different.
Gallery: F//Line 33
For Fairline, the answer is a powerful deep-V with its heart in the offshore ethos of the ’60s: An authentic wind-in-the-hair thoroughbred with terrific seakeeping, exquisite handling and a comfortable cabin below. The object of the exercise was to create a moderately priced craft of such irresistible charm that the F//Line 33 would fly out of the sheds at the rate of one a week, securing a firm financial footing for the company while its new management set about revitalizing the rest of the product range.
Princess’ response to the question is a radical machine packed with groundbreaking technology, founded on ideas that are totally new. With its all-carbon construction and unprecedented engineering challenges, it didn’t present the company with a learning curve so much as a sheer rock face, complete with overhangs. High-concept, high-tech and high-priced, the R35 was tasked with nothing less than reinventing the Princess brand image and attracting the attention of a new and younger customer base, who see nothing unusual in having “sport” and “comfort” modes in their cars, and don’t see why boats shouldn’t have them too.
Galley: Princess R35
With their excellent detailing and fashionable plumb bows, as if getting drenched in spray is something that only happens to other people, these are thoroughly modern dayboats. The Princess was styled by the legendary automotive Carrozzeria Pininfarina, and bears the coveted badge just below the windshield. An incredibly involved collection of convex and concave curves, the only straight line anywhere on board looks to be the stem. Tunnels in the topsides aft are reminiscent of the engine intake scoops of a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, and were originally intended to perform the same function, although the R35’s engines now get their air from a grill in the transom. The finish is lustrous: To save weight, there is no conventional gelcoat but instead a 500-micron resin film which is lightly abraded before spray painting. It’s a technique they also use at Aston Martin, apparently.
The cockpit is compact, and dominated by the three-person helm seat. Down below, headroom is just 5 feet, 5 inches at the door. The dinette table lowers to form a berth measuring 5 feet, 10 inches by 7 feet at its widest, and there is also a basic galley and a head.
The beamy little F//Line 33 offers more space on board than the R35, with its roomy convertible cockpit design, fold-down transom and reversible seat, a useful galley and a cave-like mid-cabin that kids will like. Headroom by the door is 6 feet, 2 inches, and the converting forward berth measures 5 feet, 6 inches by a maximum of 7 feet, 4 inches wide. Italian superyacht designer Alberto Mancini saw to the Fairline’s styling, and imbued it with sufficient levels of detailing to add a real sense of quality, from the embroidered upholstery to the velvety, matte vinyl film coating the hull. Construction is not as high-tech as the R35’s, but still sophisticated: The fiberglass is resin-infused, and the hull is molded in two halves to cope with the complex shapes.
The key to both of these boats is the hull design. Fairline went to the renowned naval architects J&J in Slovenia, who drew them a sharp offshore shape with a 22-degree deadrise at the transom, a pad in the keel aft to add some stability, a broad chine and three pronounced spray rails, two of them stopping short of the stern to help the back end stick to the water. This could be a description of a narrow-beam racing monohull, but actually the F//Line 33 is remarkably wide for its length, and the fact that this doesn’t make it seem at all cumbersome or compromised when underway at speed is rather magical.
Princess called in the design services of BAR Technologies of Southampton, England. The requirement was simple: “The most forward-thinking Princess ever conceived,” with a new approach to hull design and dramatic improvements in efficiency. Faced with such a brief, perhaps only a company best known for designing dramatic, foil-born America’s Cup catamarans would immediately start thinking in terms of hydrofoils—although it’s more helpful to think of the R35’s as trim tabs rather than foils because they’re about control, not lift.
BAR set out to design a planing hull that was efficient not just at high speeds, but throughout the performance envelope, without sacrificing seakeeping. So the R35 has a very fine, wave-slicing entry that swells out to full-bellied midships sections, before flattening out aft to a low-drag stern that is barely immersed. The foils, just 20 inches long, are lowered downward automatically from the hull bottom into the water flow, forward of the sterndrives, on computer-controlled carbon struts that move fore and aft by five degrees in each direction to adjust the angle of attack.
Their job is to keep the hull at its optimum angle of trim. To make this possible, the boat’s weight is concentrated amidships; the engines are set well forward of the stern and connected to the sterndrives by two, long, carbon-fiber jackshafts. Screen graphics give the helmsman a comprehensive overview of what’s going on, from the angle of the foils to the level of lighting in the cabin. Change the drive mode from “comfort” to “sport” and the screen changes color.
The R35 was designed around a pair of Volvo Penta’s 430-hp gasoline V8s. These are beautiful engines, smooth, torquey and electronically controlled, with aluminum blocks and cylinder heads, and based on GM’s Generation V 6.2-liter motor. On land, they can be found powering the Corvette Grand Sport. (It’s possible that this sounds more exotic in Europe than it does in the U.S.)
Although Fairline offers a variety of engine options on the F//Line 33, starting with twin 240-hp gasoline V6s or 220-hp diesels, our test boat was fitted with the same engines and drives as the R35. So the comparison between the two boats is fascinating.
Some fast boats just feel right. The F//Line 33 is one. An old Air Force pilot once said to me, recalling the F-86 Sabre: “The plane was me.” To think it is to do it. The little Fairline’s handling is genuinely outstanding. And some fast boats feel overpowered—you know they have another 5 or 10 knots to offer, but you just don’t want to go there. But even with 860 hp on tap, the little 33 left me feeling comfortably in command at all times. It’s a joy to drive. The hull has terrific grip, and a very impressive turning circle even at maximum revs. The incisive deadrise ironed out the chop of our own wake effortlessly, and with one hand on the wheel and one on the throttles, with a slight flex of the knees, for a moment I was Don Aronow charging across Lyme Bay in the 1969 Cowes-Torquay. Not many boats do this to me.
With its 4kW diesel generator and 330-pound carbon hardtop, our test R35 was never going to be the fastest of its kind, but it still managed a lively 43 knots in our sea trial in Plymouth Sound. A boat of such engineering complexity isn’t just about top speed, in any case. Incredibly, the R35 feels like any other thoroughbred sportsboat to drive. I was reminded of the Duke of Edinburgh’s comment on alighting from his first trip in Concorde: “It felt just like any other airplane.” This was music to the ears of the engineers who had worked so hard to ensure that flying at twice the speed and twice the height of any other airliner felt normal.
Ignore the screen graphics and you would have no idea what was going on beneath the waterline of the R35. There is very little trim change under acceleration, and certainly no “hump” as the foils do their job. With no marked trim transition between displacement and planing modes, there is none of the usual penalty in fuel consumption at moderate speeds. Princess demanded efficiency—here it is.
At high speed, the R35 heels and handles like a good deep-V. In “Comfort” mode it is as good as gold throughout the rev range, heeling gleefully into the hardest of turns with a grip on the water that never lets go. “Sport” mode imparts a little extra edge, a little sense that you could get it to misbehave if you really tried—although I never managed it.
When all is said and done, perhaps the most one can say about the R35 is that, amazingly, it works. And so, triumphantly, does the little F//Line 33.
So let’s drink to our dreadlocked philosopher in the Bay Horse: one question, two answers. Both right.
Fairline F//Line 33 Test Report
Fairline F//Line 33 Specifications:
Displ. (half load): 14,800 lbs.
Fuel: 180 gal.
Water: 44 gal.
Power: 2/430-hp Volvo Penta V8-430-EVC DPS
Princess R35 Test Report
Princess R35 Specifications:
Displ. (half load): 13,000 lbs.
Fuel: 158 gal.
Water: 37 gal.
Power: 2/430-hp Volvo Penta V8-430-EVC DPS