Focus: Princess Yachts Project 31
Princess Yachts International celebrated 50 years of evolution with a unique project: the loving restoration of ‘one of their own’, a Project 31 from the 1960s
Project 31 was initiated to show everyone in the Princess family the journey that the company has been on for the last 50 years,” says Chris Gates, Managing Director, Princess Yachts International. “The idea was to buy one of the company’s original boats, and refurbish it. We found a yacht that fitted the bill, in the Channel Islands, and we put a team together to bring it back to its original glory.”
Project 31 was one of the first models to be produced by the Princess shipyard, formerly known as Marine Projects (Plymouth) Ltd; more than 150 of these boats were built and sold between 1966 and 1969. David King, Director and one of the Founders of Princess, said, “I was delighted to see a Project 31 return to Plymouth after all this time. Although there was a lot of work that needed doing, I was so happy to see her brought back to life!”
Andrew Lawrence, Head of Design, outlined the concept behind Project 31@50, which was the centrepiece of the company’s recent 50th Anniversary celebrations. “Our philosophy was a sympathetic enhancement of the original design by using the skills, materials and techniques that have been perfected at Princess over the last 50 years. Project 31 was a model that helped launch Princess Yachts, so it was always going to be a unique restoration.” Lawrence felt that it was important to look at how today’s technology could be utilised in bringing new life back to a classic yacht.
Project31@50 underwent a complete restoration from the keel up. As well as restoring the engines and electrics, and refurbishing the hull, she was also fitted with a retro interior in keeping with her heritage. “The vision was that she should be fun, but sophisticated fun,” explained Sarah Vervey, Director of Princess Yachts Creative Design, “so we have used vibrant colours to engender the feel of the 1960’s. We drew inspiration from the iconic designers of that era, and added a touch of refinement from the current day Princess Design Studio.”
Vervey and her team created a nostalgic interior concept that paid tribute to Princess’s 1965 original launch specifications. Key features were carefully restored to ensure that the boat stayed true to its origins. The design team utilised modern materials and detail-oriented craftsmanship to decorate the living space, and provide a new level of luxury in a boat that was 50 years old. “For example, we replaced the classic 1960’s gingham laminate dining table with an intricate timber veneer design, hand-laid by Leeuwenburgh Veneer. A new table leg was also hand-crafted from a solid piece of hardwood by one of our expert carpenters. It was important for us to demonstrate that, in a world where computers and technology provide us with great gains in efficiency and quality, traditional skills are still very much in abundance within the workforce at Princess.”
“We selected some beautiful exterior and interior materials from one of our favourite fabric suppliers, Dedar. We chose to keep the main upholstery bright red, in keeping with the original colour palette of the boat, but this time with the addition of a deep purple piping. We also added splashes of colour to the alcove recesses by using a striking basket weave material,” continues Sarah.
“Fixtures inside the yacht now feature beautiful hand-turned, polished stainless-steel door knobs and bathroom accessories from Turnstyle Designs, with leather accents in a 1960’s-inspired blue. The exterior styling is in beautiful aqua blues and off whites, with the theme continued on the hull by way of an elegant aqua blue waterline.”
The refit process was a challenge; the team had to overcome many hurdles, as craft from that era were all unique – no two boats were exactly alike. This was complicated by the fact that several modifications and upgrades had been made to the boat over the years. Princess’s dedicated team of apprentices and retired employees were called in to utilise their skills (and contribute their memories!) in order to refit the boat and restore her to her original glory.
Princess gathered together a group of craftsmen who worked on the very first production of the Project 31 model, and welcomed them back to the yard for the restoration project. Colin Grills was among the first employees at Princess Yachts. “We couldn’t build the Project 31 boats fast enough,” he remembers. “As soon as you had built one, there was someone at the door waiting to buy it.” Grills progressed to management early in his career, and remained with the company until his retirement, aged 60.
Peter Moore joined Princess Yachts in the late 1960s, building Project 31s, and went on to enjoy a career that spanned more than 30 years, becoming Manager of one of the company’s manufacturing sites before retiring. He recalls, “Getting the job done was the most important thing, but there was a lot of laughter. Everyone all mucked in together.”
Colin and Peter, along with former colleagues Dave Cotter, Eddie Rawle and RP Kerslake, returned to the shipyard to share their knowledge with the restoration team. Also working on Project 31@50, and just beginning their careers, were apprentices Callum Wilkinson (19) and Sam Bridgeman (21).
Said Callum, “Working on Project 31@50 was a golden opportunity. It was a one-off job, and it was real challenge. On the new yachts everything is supplied, parts are designated and you have drawings to work to. But with this boat, there were no work instructions, so all the way along, it was a challenge to find solutions. A sort of continuous problem-solving exercise. There were no ready-made parts, either, so we had to craft everything ourselves.” Sam, a fourth year Apprentice Carpenter said, “I’ve learnt a lot during my apprenticeship at Princess, and I’ve been able to apply that knowledge in the restoration of the Project 31. It’s been hugely satisfying.”
Project 31@50 vividly demonstrates how Princess is able to combine technology with traditional craftsmanship, to create some of the finest yacht interiors in the world. Timber parts being renewed on ‘the old boat’, were modelled using Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, then precision-cut on one of the company’s Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines ready for assembly by a skilled carpenter. Princess Yachts’ special in-house Kit Parts Department is home to over 250 highly skilled professionals, machining and handcrafting parts for smaller sports yachts, right up to the flagship Princess 40M tri-deck superyachts.
To commemorate the occasion of the relaunch, Wild Group International wrapped the hull of the boat with the faces of every Princess employee. Today Princess has over 2,300 employees across six sites in the UK, a product range consisting of 23 models, and a complex distributor network covering more than 65 countries around the world. Princess is a leading motor yacht manufacturer at the forefront of the industry.
Project 31@50 was unveiled at the Cannes Yachting Festival in September 2015, where she was displayed alongside eight current Princess models, including the world première of the Princess 35M. It is a fitting nod to her past as she now shares her name with her last owner – Charlotte. In Cannes, Princess Yachts were joined by some of the original craftsmen from the original 1960s Project 31.
Text by Guy Nowell and Suzy Rayment
This story first appeared in Yacht Style.