Palm Beach 55

A downeaster from Down Under, the Palm Beach 55 is a welcome arrival.

Jay Gatsby would have loved the Palm Beach 55, because it embodies all that he lusted after in The Great Gatsby: class, style and grand luxury. In fact, I'm convinced that he would have forgotten all about Daisy Buchanan after one look at this boat.

The Palm Beach 55 is the latest incarnation of the downeast-style lobster-boat-turned-yacht. There have been a number of predecessors, including those actually built somewhere in the Northeast. There have been some Down (Far) East versions built in the Orient, some Down (Over) East yachts built in Italy and a stylish Down West line from the Pacific Northwest, but this is the first Down Under lobster-yacht. And, as the Aussies say on her home turf, “she’s a right corker,” meaning something better than excellent.

Company owner Mark Richards is arguably Australia’s best-known sailor and an America’s Cup veteran, so it’s no accident that these yachts blend fine craftsmanship, thoughtful design and advanced construction materials and methods.

Our day on the water was the worst possible: 25 knots gusting to 35, and blowing against the Gulf Stream. On some yachts, it could have felt like driving a bulldozer over boulders: over one, crash, up the next, crash. But on the Palm Beach 55, it was more like riding a gently cantering horse. Green water arched to each side, yet there wasn’t a creak or a groan.

The American representative for Palm Beach, Andy Shoemaker, made a comment that I found to be true as I poked around the interior: “She has a thread of simplicity.” This is, in spite of some very clever ideas, a very simple yacht.

Take the Burmese-teak interior. Richards gets a container of teak, picks the best pieces and sends the rest back. Simple, but even the lockers match perfectly in grain and color. I would put the woodwork on the 55 up against that of the finest megayachts from Europe, and if anyone were going to wind up embarrassed, it wouldn’t be the Aussies.

Though she looks Gatsbyesque on the outside, twin Volvo Penta IPS 800s spin a pair of pods under the cockpit, giving her exceptional maneuverability. Offshore, we could have run to Bimini at a comfy 18 knots in those seas, and, given fewer canyons, we could have hit nearly 32 knots if we’d wanted.

The salon has all the airy visibility of Santa Fe domeliners, those bubble-top trains so perfect for enjoying the scenery. Huge windows give the skipper a 360-degree line of sight, and guests enjoy air-conditioned (or heated) comfort.

But isn’t boating about fresh air? Driving the Palm Beach 55 is like going for a ride with your dad on a nice afternoon. The front windows roll down just like those of a ’57 Chevy, and, even if you didn’t call “shotgun” to sit with your arm out the window, there are two settees plus a settee/dinette. The after windows also roll down, and with the big sliding hatches open overhead, well, air doesn’t get much fresher than this.

Our test 55 had the galley opposite the helm and just forward of the L-shape dinette with its folding table. The athwartship settees to starboard are a clever seating arrangement usually found on far larger yachts. With the after windows open, the cockpit becomes an extension of the salon, shaded by a hardtop and, on our boat, a canvas top on stainless-steel framing.

Accommodations for the Palm Beach 55 are highly customizable for each owner’s needs (three, two or even one stateroom plus a flybridge version), but our boat was the basic three-stateroom, two-head arrangement that should be universally popular.

The owner gets a spacious suite with centerline berth in the bow surrounded by cabinets, bureaus with drawers and hanging lockers on each side. The en suite head is simply huge, in part because of the cleverly designed shower doors, which fold away when not needed.

To starboard of the centerline corridor is the guest stateroom, with a low double berth, built-in nightstand and more superb joinery in the form of a bureau and locker. All of the lockers throughout the Palm Beach 55, by the way, are fully lined in teak. This cabin has direct access to the day-head, also large and with a foldaway shower door.

Just across the hall is the third cabin, with a pair of bunks perfect for youngsters, or, if you feel the urge to work, it could be an office. In the version with a down-galley, that’s where it would be located to open up space in the salon.

In either location, the galley is nicely equipped. There is a huge stowage space between galley and helm, with more than enough room for months of provisions or endless cases of wine. Or both.

Though tucked under the cockpit floor, the engine room is reasonably spacious and accessible (except for the oil dipstick — it’s outboard on the port engine), since the pods are driven by long jack shafts. Various engine options are available. If you’re wondering about the tender, it’s in a cleverly designed garage under the transom, which, when hinged up, also lifts the dinghy into launch position.

Here’s a final indicator of how exquisitely the 55 is crafted: I was stunned by the complete absence of a single wood plug or exposed screw head. Everything was carefully planned so that joints were perfect and attachments hidden.

All in all, this thunder from Down Under was a joy, not just to test, but also to appreciate under close scrutiny. As they say Down There, “good on ya, mates.” This is one delightful yacht.

Test Conditions: Speeds were measured by GPS off Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in calm seas and light winds, with a ½ load of fuel and a ½ load of water and five people on board. Fuel consumption was calculated by the electronic engine-monitoring system. Sound levels were measured at the helm.

RPM Knots GPH dB(A)
600 7.2 2.2 68
900 10.3 6.0 70
1200 12.9 12.9 70
1500 17.0 22.6 72
1800 22.4 34.5 74
2100 26.9 48.5 74
2300 31.7 60.2 76

LOA: 60'0"
BEAM: 17'2"
DRAFT: 2'9"
DISPL: 38,500 lb.
FUEL: 690 gal.
WATER: 370 gal.
TEST POWER: 2 x 600 hp Volvo Penta IPS 800s
STANDARD POWER: 2 x 435 hp Volvo Penta IPS 600s
BASE PRICE: na

Ballast Point Yachts Inc., 619-222-3620; www.pbmotoryachts.com