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Late to the party, or bang on time? (Part I)

by John Curnow, Global Editor, Powerboat.World 25 Oct 14:00 PDT
Presence and elegance - Prestige's new M48 powercat © Prestige Yachts

An interesting conundrum, for sure... How to assess the very new Prestige M48? For here is a powerhouse brand, with an enviable reputation in markets around the globe. To this day, Prestige holds the dominant position in the 40 to 60 foot traditional flying bridge segment of the US yacht market. A nice place to be, and one you are going to protect, naturally.

So if you have the venerable, and always sought after, loyal following, yet you want to expand your offering to them, and perhaps also to other, new-to-market buyers, where can you go? Often, trying to put a smile on everyone's dial can leave some, many, or virtually all, with none of the original feeling that got you there in the first place. Not such a good place to be.

Now go back some twenty-five years, and the charter sailing fleets in all the right locations were monohulls. Soon, the cats started, and just like rust in an old Italian car, they then took over. Production powercats started much later. Yes, they are now one of the fastest expanding sectors, but their overall volume is still fractions of their single siblings. More over, the vast majority still owe their pedigree to their sailing cousins from which they descended.

Significant beam, low relative freeboard, and a defined hull speed were kind of overlooked in this first generation of vessels. The market spoke, and the builders responded. There are an ever-increasing number of high volume manufacturers now delivering GenII powercats, but by and large, overall mass remains a problem, as too does outright speed. Open the gas cans, and the monohulls are gone!

Overall, this is the space into which the Prestige M48 arrives, and with its nacelle structure, as well as distinctly motor yacht aesthetic, it could well be time to herald in GenIII of the powercat. Yes. It is that different, and is so utterly attuned to its builder's art de vivre mantra. Big call. So then it would have to be time to bring in Prestige's Vice President, Erwin Bamps, to walk through the reasons why the built-from-the-keels-up-as-a-powercat Prestige M48 is so important.

Defining and creating a place

"I have been selling yachts for over 20 years, and traditionally, this means your clients usually grow in size over time. So you meet a client who'll buy a 45-footer, then two, three years, later if they're satisfied with your services, your product, likes the team and the brand premise, they'll turn up to buy a 60-footer, and then ten years down the road, they're buying their fourth boat from you, and you've built a relationship for life," said Bamps in opening.

"The need for luxury and space on board increases. However, I've noticed that over the years that people realised that going up in size increases the operational costs of the vessel, and not everybody is necessarily eager to do that. Secondly, they lose one of the aspects they appreciated the most in the very beginning of their boating.

"They've lost that privacy on board, because suddenly with a larger vessel it becomes complex to run, to operate, to park, and they need a crew on board. And one of the things I noticed over the years is people who descended back into smaller sizes, where you have an owner/operator model."

"Historically, this is the 40 to 60 foot segment, which has expanded now to become the 40 to 80 foot segment, which will remain a key segment for yachting for years, and for decades to come. This is because it allows you have the comfort on board, have the fun driving that boat and owning it, without necessarily a big crew on board. You can also have the intimacy of your family life, and your ability to separate yourself from the busy daily life with the rest of the world."

So here we are in a world where boats are required to offer more volume without getting bigger, and once you step too much past 70 feet LOA it gets harder to become an owner/driver. This was good news for the cat, of course. "They have found more and more fans with people who have discovered them as the perfect way to have a party with 15 or 20 friends, due to the extent of deck space available. You'll see them at the Great Barrier Reef, Ibiza, and in the Caribbean.

"Of course, commercially, the powercat was ideally suited to becoming a fast ferry to move people and freight/cars. In the recreational space, we had people moving from sailing cats to motor yachts, and the one thing they did not want to do was lose the living space they had become so accustomed to. This meant that until recently most of power catamarans that you see cruising in the world today are converted sailing platforms. Obviously, these were not optimised for the motor yacht owner."

So in defining the space into which the M48 could arrive there were some distinct elements that a non-sailing cat platform could have from the get go. "First of all, we created a completely, full beam Master Stateroom that extends right to outboard edges of the hulls (not just the coachhouse). It's built to celebrate the ownership of a Prestige vessel, and differs from most powercats, where the cabins are in the hulls, and therefore people live in rather narrow cabins, not at all reflecting the same luxury that they find on a typical monohull motor yacht."

The second aspect is that sailing cats are usually wider than really necessary in a power yacht world. Meaning they don't really utilise fully the space that's available to turn it into a liveable area for all the people on board. Due to the mast and sails, they have to look very closely at leverage, centre of gravity, and centre of buoyancy.

"We didn't have these limitations. No need to create a counterweight, or need to stay low in our superstructure, or in the hull structure. Accordingly, we were able to optimise interior and exterior space usage. Invariably, this means that for the same overall length we have a slightly lesser beam for our power cat, but the usable area on board is actually larger."

Very emphatically, Bamps added, "We built the M48 as a motor yacht first, and secondly just happen to use a multihull concept to enhance the living space on board."

Timing is everything (always)

"Prestige was never going to take an existing sailing form and convert it. Overall, it is important to remember that this was just a small market, and also one that was not as clear as it could have been on its exact requirements. The profile of the client that is looking for this concept was also not as well defined. Because powercats were not prioritised, and it was the market talking to the builders who were flat out constructing sailing cats, they only produced them when they had an excess capacity."

Now it is important to note here that the entire, annual, global powercat market in the 40-80 foot space has until recently only been about as big as the largest brand in sailing cats. This relativity is crucial to the whole thrust of what is being presented here. Yes, for sure the acceleration is there, but volume is volume, and production boat builders ARE in the numbers game. It is one of the keys to staying afloat...

The M48 has just had its first public showings. Bamps is clear about what the market has had to say. "Tell me about it - is what they ask. They don't have a wish list, they're very open minded, and at the same at time we see them come coming in from different worlds, such as monohulls, or sailing, and even new to boating. For these latter ones, the sentiment is definitely, 'maybe this is what is going to convince me to finally get into boating'."

"So yes, it has been a very, very interesting journey over the last two months, meeting the people who've shown clear interest, or even already purchased the first units, to see what journey they made, and what thinking process they went through to decide finally that 'this is the one for me'."

Bamps added, "They're coming with a very different set of arguments as to why they think this is a perfect boat for them. For sure the powercat is still an emerging market niche, one which isn't fully defined yet, and this is why Prestige has invested, because we believe that it'll grow continuously, and that with our approach we have the ability to help shape this market segment."

Obviously, Aquila has stormed to number one in the lower end of LOA, and Sunreef in the upper end of the spectrum, but the designs and their mass make them categorically GenII. Yes they pioneered, and undeniably shone a light onto what hitherto had been considered the second tier.

"So our M-Line had to very much align with the existing DNA of the brand. We have built yachts over years that are offering a discrete elegance. They are all about life on board, and making it easy for people to step into yachting. I always describe a Prestige as a yacht that you don't buy to impress others, but rather one that is adding quality of life to you, your family, and your own way of life."

"We position ourselves with the statement that we are the first one to integrate the features in a way so that when you come on board, the people turn around and the first thing they say is, 'Well, it's definitely a Prestige'. It's definitely a motor yacht, and it just happens to be a multihull concept. This is where we feel the M48 stands out; it really is a motor yacht first and multihull second."

Now at 23 metric tonnes wet, there's still a way to go with the scales, but then luxury and comfort does not come cheap, either in dollar or kilo terms! The overarching thing with a powercat however, is that you can still be efficient.

Designing that space

Having geo-fenced the project, if you will, it is important to note that design is not just an ethos, it's an outcome for a way of living! Obviously the French 'art de vivre' has meant the M48 is not a block of flats, and you really get the impression that the latter term was used in all the meetings leading up to the plugs being made, and the first components being lifted out of the moulds. Oh yeah!

This is really important, because the M48 has been made taller and narrower, and doesn't that sound exactly like the very thing you are trying not to become?

Some subtle, and some distinct elements have ensured this to be so. Firstly, the side decks are narrower, not only affording better use of internal space, but greater linkage between hull and superstructure. Next, the nacelle means the Master has the windows on the outside of the hulls, creating both the illusion of an additional deck, and also the very reason for some styling cues to afford grace.

After that there is the wing-like treatment of the flying bridge and its fixed canopy. Notably, the reverse bows deliver a soupçon of muscle, visually stretch the LOA and categorically provide more LWL. All of these elements, and starting with a rectangle, not a square (as you do with a sailing cat platform), deliver the final scene.

One of the more distinct reasons Prestige are where they are with the M48 is because Philippe Briand did the naval architecture, and that inherently introduced a superyacht feel to the theme, as well as the high efficiency. Additionally, long-term Prestige designer, Camilo Garroni, oversaw the total flows, both graphically, and ergonomically, which added coherence and brand friendliness. The way the two lower deck, convertible twin/double VIP cabins operate is one clear testament to this.

Bamps added, "Remember to that we have our in-house team, and that we consult with the other brands in the group, which have huge experience in building monohulls, as well as multihulls. Their feedback has been used in the development of this model."

"We wanted the shapes and the lines to be quite sensual, and at the same time clearly be aligned with the new generation that we are also launching soon in the other families of the Prestige line up. The M-Line is really optimising the lower deck space in terms of height and sheer square metres, which is in direct contrast to the big compromise you are forced to make when coming out of a sailing catamaran concept. This difference gives the accommodation that motor yacht clients are looking for."

To that end, and linking in with Prestige's owner/driver DNA, the space afforded to the owner is something else. There's the mandatory separate entrance as well, and separate head and wet room for a completely luxurious feel. Terms like ease of use, accessibility, life on board being easy and agreeable, luxury and space, boats and designs that are less intimidating, and user friendliness are never far from a discussion with Prestige.

Parking is a key element of this, and a narrower cat is both easier to find a home for, and better to pivot on, simply by virtue of the reduced swinging arc.

We have covered a lot of ground just now, and there is plenty more to come from the Prestige story, and it's new M-Line of powercats. To get a full appreciation for the headline, please see Late to the party, or bang on time? (Part II).

OK. Today you will find that the website has an abundance of material from right across the globe, and if you cannot find something, just try the search button right up the top of the landing page, above our logo. If you cannot find what you want or wish to want to add to that, then please make contact with us via email.

Finally. Please look after yourselves,
John Curnow

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