With its new 72, Pearl is heading into highly competitive waters. Kevin Koenig breaks down how—and why—she’s ready to run alongside the big boys.
Jewel of the Sea
Pearl has its work cut out for it. The British boatbuilder is effectively a boutique company, turning out just 15 boats per year—with plans to expand to 20 by 2025. Yet the small fry has picked out some of the yachting circuit’s biggest fish to contend with. By measures of quality and style, the builder’s new 72 will go head-to-head with the Sunseekers and Ferrettis of the world. So how, exactly, does David plan on beating Goliath?
Pearl’s well-flung stone comes in the form of a well-placed person—a Commander of the British Empire, no less—named Kelly Hoppen. The South African-British interior designer to the stars has done custom jobs on yachts before, but Pearl marks her first and only foray into the production world. “We need tangible things to stick out from the more established brands,” says Pearl CEO Iain Smallridge. “We are competing with the big guys … I knew Kelly from back home [in England] and I asked her if she’d be interested, and she said ‘yes’.”
The boat I boarded in Ft. Lauderdale recently had Hoppen’s “Indulgence” design theme. The overall feel was one of a New York City apartment—more Tribeca than the Upper East Side—with wood veneers, textured stones and coy bits of stainless steel to add some razzle dazzle. Hoppen is known for her East meets West vibe, and that much was clear through the minimalistic design heightened by dark woods and even darker inlays contrasted against light grays throughout. A small lamp built into the aft wall of the salon caught my eye. It was a grapefruit-sized glass globe which lit up warmly, offering the kind of light that begs for a good book and a glass of cognac.
An amidships galley to starboard was open and had excellent counter space—as much a serving station for a soiree as it is a serious kitchen. The 72 benefits in some part from the partitioned atrium that swoops back from the windshield, covering perhaps a quarter of the salon. I had not noticed this feature the first time I boarded this boat at the Ft. Lauderdale boat show because the shades were drawn, but stepping back aboard a few days later for a sea trial I actually said “whoa” out loud. The atrium provides a remarkable amount of natural light that plays well with the darker tones Hoppen chose. It extends over the lower helm with its twin 18-inch Garmin screens and unfettered lines of sight, as well as the breakfast nook to port—all important on what very likely—and easily—could be an owner-operated boat.
Down below, the Pearl has a major feature that will also separate her from the pack. She’s a four stateroom boat, which is uncommon but not unheard of at this size. But what is rather rare is that she has a dual-master design. A private staircase between the lower helm and breakfast nook leads to one of the masters in the yacht’s forepeak. If this was my boat, this is where I’d sleep. Hoppen really felt her oats here. An island king berth has a dark alpi veneer headboard with an interesting rippled pattern, while a slick, two-seat coffee nook at the forward tip of the cabin is bisected by a glossy black table. As I toured the room with Smallridge, he laughed and said, “I believe we’ve out-Italian’d the Italians,” referring to the design-forward details. And I’d have to agree. The stateroom is also lit by vertical glazing which is head-high around the perimeter. The solid gunwales block prying eyes from seeing in, but the natural light is excellent. It’s a fantastic design for when the boat is moored stern-to. Typically, the amidships master on a boat this size would have its windows blocked by its neighbors, dampening the natural light—not so here. Smart stowage beneath all the seats and the berth will also be good for longer trips.
The other staterooms are accessible from the salon via a spiral staircase to port (a staircase that could benefit from a portside railing, for my money, but this is Hull No. 1). The master at amidships plays second fiddle to the aforementioned stateroom, but not by much. It is more spacious, benefitting from a full-beam setup, and has a large head with my favorite feature in this space, a comparatively massive shower. Mirroring staterooms with full and twin berths round out the accommodations level. One last bit about the two stateroom layout—it’s excellent not only for families that want to circumvent squabbles over who sleeps where, but it should also make this boat excellent for chartering purposes.
Besides the twin-master layout and the high-profile interior design, a third “tangible,” as Smallridge put it, is this boat’s garage. It’s stupid big. When I first saw the 72 at the boat show, for a moment I thought I was looking at the wrong model. The garage was open and inside was not just the requisite Williams SportJet 345 tender, but a PWC and a SeaBob. It’s a tour de force. Two additional wings also fold out from either side of the boat to extend the swim platform into a proper beach club, complete with a small lounge seat that folds down from the transom. The payback for all that space though, is in the engine room, where headroom is a bit cramped, necessitating some deep knee bends to access the twin 1,400-hp MAN V12s that were on my test boat. (Twin 1,600-hp MTU 10V2000 M96Ls are also available.)
I was able to put the MANs to the test just outside the Port Everglades Inlet in seas still bearing the scars of Hurricane Nicole, which had passed through two days earlier. It was actually a beautiful day, with bluebird skies and sand-thickened, whitecapped water that resembled an opal. The Pearl was remarkably solid in the confused three-footers. I know because I over-eagerly ran her up to WOT before Smallridge asked that I lay off the throttles some, but not before she shot smoothly and crisply up to a 31-knot top end. Back at a 23-knot cruise at 2,000 RPM, and burning 113 gph, the 72 was pleasingly responsive, carving clean S-turns and tracking well no matter which direction I aimed her.
I took in some rays at the outdoor helm through an innovative sunroof embedded in the hardtop that has slats that open and close like venetian blinds for control of the rays. It’s the kind of unusual design detail that this underdog builder will need as it takes on the titans of the mid-range motoryacht space. And it’s one of many on board this 72. Which is why I can confidently say this about Pearl’s competition: The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
Pearl 72 Specifications:
Fuel: 935 gal.
Water: 209 gal.
Cruise Speed: 23 knots
Top Speed: 31 knots
POWER: 2/1,400-hp MAN V12s,
2/1,600-hp MTU 10V2000 M96Ls
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This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.