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Palm Beach 38 Review
28th Apr 2011

Having now been in a Palm Beach 38, I can't think of a more pleasant vessel in which to spend a weekend cruising the Hawkesbury River with a couple of friends.

Issue: July 2001

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it's true, but I challenge anyone to behold this magnificent vessel and not be enchanted by her beauty. The Palm Beach 38 exudes old-world charm and style, but her classic appearance conceals many modern construction techniques and materials. You see the Palm Beach 38 is the brainchild of famous America's Cup sailor and yacht builder, Mark Richards. She may look like one of the old 'day boats' from days gone by, but she's actually a hi-tech piece of engineering. But more on that later.

Actually, the test boat 'La Carolina', was commissioned by none other than radio personality, John Laws. The boat was due to be handed over in three days, so I was lucky to be able to do this test during the vessel's final sea trials before delivery. The boat comes in a variety of layouts and can be used as a comfortable overnighter, with two double beds for four people, or setup as a roomy cruiser for two with only the forward stateroom. According to Mark, Mr Law's instructions were simple. He didn't need to go fast. He wanted as much usable space as possible. It had to have comfortable overnight accommodation for he and his wife - after whom the boat was named - if required, but more importantly, it had to be a vessel that the Laws' could relax on and simply watch the world go by.

So, the layout of this 38 was fairly straight forward. A forward double berth; a bathroom with sink and mirror; a standing head height toilet - most people know John Laws is quite tall - and a comfortable helm seat. Also, he didn't want all the electronic gadgets we now see adorning many a boat's dash boards, only as many instruments as would be required to operate the vessel and a good sound system. The galley was also fairly basic, as he didn't need a microwave oven, stove, or refrigerator. If he had to cook, a frying pan would suffice and a huge, stainless steel cool-box would hold enough ice for the 'Wild Turkey'.

A large folding table and heavily padded leather lounge were required for the main saloon to accommodate up to four people, while the rear cockpit needed to be large, have a rear lounge and be uncluttered for al fresco dining. Storage was also well catered for with plenty of drawers and cupboards in the galley, space under the forward bed, in a huge underfloor locker in the aft cockpit and under the rear lounge. Last, but certainly not least, the boat needed a bar and a secure place to store a few spirit and wine bottles when the boat was underway.

Obviously, like most people these day, when Mr Laws goes out for a day on the water he wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and simply unwind. As I said earlier, in this layout, this is a true day boat and he intends to use it for just that. I am quite sure many people in the future will see 'La Carolina' out on Sydney Harbour, cruising Pittwater, or tucked away is some secluded anchorage on the Hawkesbury River and I reckon good on him. The Palm Beach 38 layout options are: one straight bench seat with no aft bulkhead; an L-shaped lounge with half aft bulkhead and drinks bar, similar to Lawsy's; and an L-shaped lounge with fully enclosed aft bulkhead with a retractable window and locking door.

But as I also said earlier, there is more to this boat than first meets the eye. Yes, there's hand polished and beautifully crafted teak woodwork throughout the vessel; the joinery is flawless and the leather looks as if it could have come from one of Lawsy's 'Rollers', but there's also another saying "beauty is only skin deep". Beneath the luxurious fit-out of this vessel lies an inner strength of construction and a quiet, powerful, Yanmar, 230hp diesel engine. The core-cell linear foam and balsa-cored hull is laid up with epoxy vinylester resin and E glass. Extra strength also comes from the foam-cored composite longitudinal stringers and balsa-cored bulkheads, while the hull and deck are joined with Plexus methacrylate adhesive.

Actually, the construction methods and materials used are similar to those used by builders of the America's Cup racing yachts and you can imagine the stresses and strains those vessels endure. Again for added strength, all the bulkheads and fixed furniture are structurally bonded to the hull and deck, so nothing is going to rattle and vibrate free as time goes by. When I arrived for the test at Newport I had come down Pittwater from Palm Beach by water and the boat was still in a cradle getting ready to be lowered into the water. This gave me a good chance to examine the hull and establish in my mind how I thought this hull might handle.

The first thing that caught my eye was the extremely sharp bow entry. This flattens out quickly as I looked towards the stern, but the hull's pronounced keel would ensure the boat tracks straight. Then, from about the windscreen back, the hull was virtually flat, which meant the boat should be extremely stable. Put all these factors together and you should get a boat that's stable and soft riding with the ability to turn quickly without side slipping. Once the boat was launched and out on the water, I was to find that was exactly what this boat could do.

That sharp bow entry sliced through the water like a hot knife through butter. There was no banging or water slap, even when I cut through the near-metre high wash thrown up by the big Riviera I was using as a camera boat. From memory I don't think there was even any bow rise when I hit these big wakes, she simply sliced straight through them. Chop, forget it, this hull eats it up and to be honest I would have to say this was one of, if not the, softest riding hulls I have ever had the pleasure to ride in.

Sure it's a semi-displacement hull, but when you consider it has a top speed of 21kts, the Palm Beach 38 is no slouch in the 'get there fast if you want to' stakes. At 'WOT' I could easily throw the boat into tight turns with the help of the Hydrive hydraulic steering and she did turn quickly I might add. Don't worry Lawsy, we didn't do anything stupid in your new boat, but it must be reassuring to know that if we did she could take it in her stride and handle like a performance cruiser.

The 38 also comes with an electric bow thruster, which certain aids manoeuvring and docking. Having now been in a Palm Beach 38, I can't think of a more pleasant vessel in which to spend a weekend cruising the Hawkesbury River with a couple of friends. With a starting price in the high $300,000 range they are not cheap, but as I always say, you only get what you pay for and that's a lot with the 38.

Story by Ian Macrae 

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