The solar-powered Silent 55 catamaran is successfully pioneering renewable power in a quality and seaworthy design.
- Elegant spaces, decor and finishes
- Performance as fast or as slow as you like
- Forever views from the flybridge
- Fuel-efficient hull form
Elegance never goes out of fashion, as this timeless hull from Palm Beach attests.
The navy hull of the Palm Beach 65, low-slung with sheer down to the tumblehome near the elegant transom, looked understated yet distinctive amid the towering box-like fibreglass boats around it. Having been on previous models with Wild Oats skipper Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards, I was keen to do the same again on this Malaysian-built model, a boat that is part of a major new era for the brand since its move there in 2015.
“The new company has brought Palm Beach to a new level because when we were based in Sydney we didn’t have the capacity to build these big boats. Now we’ve gone from hull number #3 of the PB65 up to hull #19 in only three years,” explained Richards.
Available in Express or Flybridge models with a highly-customised layout, our review boat was hull #9 in the Flybridge style. The range goes from the 42 to the Palm Beach 70 (launched in Malaysia for 2019) and includes the popular 55 with more than 35 hulls sold – still built in Australia. All have the distinctive sheerlines and wide transoms that ensures these boats not only look good but also plane well.
Boarding on the aft deck via the teak marlin board, the tone’s established immediately. Sheltered under a classically-styled canvas and stainless bimini, it sets the retro theme throughout this 65-footer. But practicalities abound – such as an hydraulic option for the marlin board – and the twin transom doors.
A large bench lies between these doors so that diners can enjoy sitting at the glistening Burmese teak table. Outdoor furnishings use Ultra Leather – a tough man-made weave that remains good after five years of sun on other Palm Beaches. Another L-shaped lounge is set against the saloon bulkhead with wet bar opposite on port. Here there is also a joystick EJS drive that neatly elevates from the worktop when in use. Classy.
The large tender garage is deep in the hull with electric lifting mechanism and rails for launching. Moving forward is easy, thanks to wide side decks, high rails and the firm teak grip under my deck shoes. The flared bows create a lot of deck space forward, including double sunpads and there’s a deep chain locker for the rode and Maxwell windlass. A stylish toerail includes midship deck cleats to finish off the elegant topsides.
Moving to the flybridge requires a steep climb up a ladder but the effort is worth it. Without being towering, thereby avoiding too much windage, it blends nicely with the low-slung hull while giving commanding views to the steerer on the centralised console. Sensibly, a large visor protects those sitting at the twin helm seats – ruggedly constructed and stylish in stainless.
A large Furuno screen dominates with hardwood-clad steering wheel and all key controls around it – throttles and EJS joystick to starboard with autopilot and trim tabs to port. Antennas are hoisted on a raked gantry holding twin radomes, open array radar and aerials.
The classically-styled, open plan saloon abounds with gleaming brightwork – varnished Burmese teak and chromed metal on the portside dinette table with lounge opposite; which are comfortable double settees with a low coffee table. Vertical bulkheads limit the harsh Australian sun’s incursion while up front a step guides you to the helm on starboard. Alongside is a double bench with high back, so command needn’t be a lonely experience. A TV is integrated on the skipper’s double seat and the front windows are slanted and shaded in a way that gives the best light onto the console.
The teak-clad console and steering wheel reminds me of an antique Jaguar, but without the analogue dials of course – Palm Beach uses the latest digital gear from Garmin as factory standard. The Sydney customer is, however, a Furuno fan so two 12-inch screens dominate the display, along with chromed levers for the 1,000hp Volvos and EJS pod controls that manage fore and aft thrusters.
Also included on our review boat were separate Twin Disc controls for the thrusters. Other key gear included the manual/auto controls for the vertical trim tabs, anchor counter and the all-important Furuno autopilot. Handily, the main switchboard is alongside here as well (with house controls and emergency shut-offs in the galley pantry).
Layout options include a galley-up or as fitted on our review boat – down in the accommodation level. Given the open-plan design, the galley doesn’t really feel down below because the topside windows shed plenty of light in the port corner where it nestles and it’s only three small steps below the main floor. The elliptical side window could be a wee bit larger but apart from that I had little to complain about the equipment – which included a four-plate electric hob and oven, single sink and oodles of cupboard space both above and below the spacious benches.
White goods included a large Miele dishwasher and upright fridge. Reflecting Palm Beach’s custom abilities, the Sydney owner had a pantry installed nearby that includes freezer drawers, more refrigeration and a small crew bunk. This utility room also houses a washer/dryer machine.
Accommodation comprises up to four cabins – our review boat had two with the owner’s cabin forward and the guest double in the middle. Usually the master is midships to use the highest volume and it’s the most stable at sea – but customisation is part of Richards’ offering and our review boat reflected this in several ways. Showing surprisingly high headroom the owner’s V-berth has enough space for a double lounge seat on starboard with walking room on each side of the semi-island bed.
The guest cabin has two singles – they swing together – with a deep well between them. The ensuite has a moulded shower and toilet with teak finishes throughout. The skylight is slightly obstructed by the bulkhead – a small blemish in an otherwise comfortable area.
A high build standard is integral to the premium market offering that is Palm Beach, so the hull is hand-land in e-glass with Corecell foam while the decks and superstructure are carbon – which is why the PB65 weighs in at only 30,000kg.
Peering through various hatches reveals a smooth hull finish which reflects the vast amount of man hours – about six month’s labour – that goes into each boat from predominantly Australian shipwrights and carpenters. AwlGrip paint and fine gelcoat give the hull a gleaming appearance that really out-shines the other craft at the Sydney Motor Yacht Club.
Engine access is a single hatch in the aft deck, which brought me to a teak-clad floor with several feet of separation between the engines and on the outboard side. Headroom is minimal but most service points are accessible – the filters against the inner bulkhead, oilways and electrics aft. On the keel line are two 15kW Fischer Panda generators, giving some redundancy as only one is required. Optional gear includes a water maker in the port lazarette.
The hull design – originally done in collaboration with Sydney’s Andy Dovell – dictates that the engines are placed in the same spot, so if a customer chooses Volvo IPS pods, jackshafts are used in the transmissions. Engine choices include shaft drives – our review boat had Volvo’s 1,000hp in-line six-cylinder models. The pod alternatives are around 35% more expensive.
“But they are a lot more fuel efficient – at 25 knots you’re using 25% less fuel – and the counter-rotating propellers make them a lot faster – reaching about 42 knots on this hull,” says Richards. The downside for some prospective buyers is their forward-facing propellers which are prone to hit debris, and of course the advantage of shaft drives is not having a gearbox hanging outside the boat.
Sidling out of a busy marina required both fore and aft thrusters – they can be operated separately – but are controlled by the EJS joystick. I’ve used this system several times and it’s excellent for close-quarters controls.
Despite its size this boat is run by a married couple who enjoy the classic design yet require the smarts – like the EJS – to enjoy handling her on the busy harbour waters. Sitting comfortably at the inside helm I was confronted with a busy seaway – ferries, yachts, sailing dinghies and motorboats enjoying the calm autumn weather. Pushing the throttles down, Richards advised a tweak of the tabs as we reached a comfortable cruising speed of 22 knots with the Volvo gauges showing a fuel burn of 160 litres per hour – a range of 800 miles.
The throaty roar through the open saloon doors reminded me that plenty more power was available, so I pressed on as the Opera House loomed with a tad over 30 knots showing on the Furuno GPS, requiring only 30% tabs – reflecting the natural trim of this sleek 70-footer.
The hull felt rock steady and wheel adjustments brought an instant response. Either side of me were large side windows that opened enough to let me skip out onto the deck if necessary. The wide bow flare ensured the teak decks remained dry in the small chop.
Up on the flybridge, apart from a few flutters from the canvas bimini, it was hard to feel our cruising speed of 22 knots. I brought her to a halt at Bradley’s Head for some slow handling – using the graduated and controlled power of the EJS joystick to push us astern and, with relatively little windage the PB65 obliged easily. Clicking the Express Positioning button demonstrated the handy GPS holding feature, ideal for waiting at the fuel dock.
What a glorious vessel.
THE PALM BEACH STORY
When Grand Banks acquired Palm Beach in 2014, one of the big benefits was access to much larger facilities, and an enormous team of boat builders. There are now 600 staff members in Malaysia and 700 worldwide. This has increased production, boosted turnover and provided a larger R&D pool to improve the boats.
This includes using infused carbon fibre, fine-tuning engineering to increase efficiency and access to state-of-the-art eight-axis robotic CNC equipment to quickly develop new models. “Grand Banks has been building boats for about 60 years so what we’ve done is just made some changes to the techniques and some of the culture,” says Richards.
Until 2014 the company was limited to its NSW Berkley Vale facility for manufacture and with six models in the product line the factory was at maximum capacity just keeping up with the backlog of orders. Now in Malaysia, the PB65 is selling worldwide. The first of two Palm Beach 70s launched in December 2018 for an American customer and the copmpany is working on the design for the largest Palm Beach yet.
The resulting economies of scale have allowed Palm Beach to transition from a small operation that builds exquisite yachts, to a force to be reckoned with in the international marine industry. “We’re also launching the GT range that is more suitable for Europe because it has a sunroof, more light-filled interiors and volume inside,” says Richards. Having just splashed the first GT50 at the Sanctuary Cove show in Queensland, the second will be an open-top version, debuting at the prestigious 2019 Cannes boat show in September./>