You only notice interior spaces when they don’t work. You expect to be able to move around easily on your yacht, sit comfortably, see out of the windows and not bump your head. The only way to be sure the design team has got the interior of every new Princess model right is to build a detailed, full–size mock–up.
There are six of us, and we’re usually building two to three of these development prototypes at a time. We work from paper plans initially, marking out the build very precisely on the floor before we start, and then move on to the CAD files as they come in from the design department. We’re all experienced carpenter– joiners – I first joined Princess in 1976 – so when the plywood is sanded and painted we can fool you into thinking it’s fibreglass. For a while, anyway.
Accuracy is everything. These mock–ups are vital not just for the designers but for the sales team, who might bring prospective customers in to see the layout of a new model. We apply as much detail as possible – corner radii, edge profiles, lighting, even the correct foam densities for the seats – so you really get a good impression of what the finished yacht will be like inside. Drawers and lockers are fully functional. If the design team is interested in a new type of hinge, say, we get them in and fit them and make sure they’re up to scratch.
You learn some surprising things. On one recent project we installed new LED rope lighting in the ceiling over the main deck mock–up, and found that when the lights warmed up the rope started to droop. So we designed a new system of clips to keep it in place. If we hadn’t done that, no–one would have discovered the problem until the first boat was finished.
Development mock–ups are confidential, so we work behind closed doors, high up at the back of South Yard, well away from the superyacht construction halls. This means that from our workshops I can almost see across the harbour to where I grew up, on an old country estate where my father was the gamekeeper. The big house is a hotel and wedding venue now, but still I’m a countryman at heart. I shoot, and so do my boys, all four of them.
They range in age from 21 to 31, and we don’t see them as much as we’d like to, but this summer we managed to get everyone together for the first time in five years.
My department occupies a very long, stone, Grade 1 listed building called the Ropery, where ropes were made for the Georgian navy. It was built in 1766 and also had other uses – near my office there’s the hangman’s cell, where prisoners who had been sentenced to death were executed. It’s a grisly place which saw a lot of use – the beam overhead and the trapdoor are very worn. But like everything here, it was well made – the trapdoor still works.
Princess Yachts interviewed Mock-Up Manager Gerry Lapthorn in an issue of Watermark magazine – the manufacturer’s official leisure publication. Visit the Princess Passport to sign up to receive a free issue.