Vanquish‘s beauty is more than skin deep, but there’s no denying its striking exterior. The 120-foot private motor yacht’s futuristic profile and metallic “glacier blue” hull stop traffic wherever it goes.

“We were anchored in the harbor in Stromboli, and here comes the Italian version of the Coast Guard,” said Vanquish‘s captain, Dave Frevert. “All of a sudden, he turned and came straight at us at 30 knots. Then he made a crash stop and everybody on board came out on one side to see our boat.”

The yacht’s European owner, who keeps Vanquish in the Mediterranean, said he enjoys all the attention. “He just sits there beaming,” Frevert said.

While Vanquish may be the toast of the Mediterranean, it was built in America’s heartland at Palmer Johnson Yachts in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. One of the most venerable shipyards in the country, Palmer Johnson – which began as a repair facility for Great Lakes commercial and fishing boats in 1918 – has developed a reputation for innovation over the decades. In the 1960s, it was one of the first yards to switch from wood to aluminum alloy for yacht construction after refining the necessary welding techniques. In 1979, Palmer Johnson made headlines with the launch of 100-foot Fortuna, built for King Juan Carlos of Spain. With its high-performance hull design and cutting-edge gas turbine/waterjet propulsion system, Fortuna claimed a megayacht world speed record of 52 knots.

After building custom luxury yachts up to 195 feet, the shipyard made a radical change in its business plan three years ago. “It was like taking a chessboard, running your arm across it, knocking the pieces off and saying, “New game,” said Mike Kelsey, president and chief executive. Palmer Johnson teamed up with the equally innovative yacht design firm of Nuvolari-Lenard in Venice, Italy, to create a bold new 120-foot semi-production motor yacht series called the PJ 120 Sport Yacht. “We’ve worked with Nuvolari and Lenard over the years and found them to be very good at interpreting what we want in a yacht,” Kelsey said.

The European-influenced design the Italian firm developed for the new series placed a sleek fiberglass superstructure seamlessly over a proven Palmer Johnson aluminum hull. “The superstructure has many complex curves and shapes, and producing a mold to reproduce it made our job easier,” Kelsey said. Each PJ 120 is colored a different vibrant metallic hue, setting the boats apart from all the traditional white motor yachts in the world. Each hull has the same basic layout, except for a choice of stateroom configurations on the lower deck. But different exotic woods, soft goods and high-end furnishings give each PJ 120 its own unique interior feel.

“While these yachts do have sister ships, their quality is even higher than the custom yachts we were building,” Kelsey said.

The new series is built to the rigorous standards required for Lloyds and MCA (Marine and Coastguard Administration) certification. All the materials used in their construction are high grade as well as high style.

Palmer Johnson installed vibration insulators under the main engines, twin 12V 4000 MTU diesels. To further reduce the transfer of vibration to the hull, flexible couplings connect the engines to the transmissions.
The semi-production concept, which streamlines production as well as limiting costly change orders, enabled the shipyard to launch the first five hulls in three years, an impressively short time period for megayacht construction. Kelsey and his team were confident enough in the line’s success to start Hull 4 – Vanquish – on spec. With its launch 13 months later, their confidence paid off when it quickly sold. The PJ 120 Sport Yacht line truly hit its stride when Vanquish made its debut at the Miami International Boat Show in February 2006.

“She initially attracted attention in the marine world with her exterior color, set against the ocean and palm trees,” Kelsey said. “Once people got inside and saw the interior, it just worked. Vanquish has ended up selling more boats for us.”

Nuvolari-Lenard’s interior design for Vanquish is bold like the boat’s hull, but not too over the top to lack elegance. The millwork package features blanched oak contrasted by Macassar ebony trim and orange leather panels to dramatic effect. The sole is dark Wengé hardwood. Furniture is placed sparingly throughout the rooms; each piece custom-designed and upholstered in rich Rubelli fabric. In a reversal of the typical main-deck layout, the dining area is located aft of the salon, where guests can look out over the terraced aft deck at the sea while they eat. A high-tech media cabinet separates the dining table from the salon seating area. It holds a 50-inch plasma screen on an electric lift that raises it to viewing height. The screen can be positioned to face any of the sofas and chairs in the salon.

Another “gee-whiz” feature is the large “lectro-sensitive” glass panel mounted in the bulkhead behind the salon bar. Its clear setting allows guests to see into the wheelhouse forward. Flip a switch, and the entire panel becomes opaque, providing privacy for both the guests and the captain while the yacht is under way.

The pilothouse itself blends style with functionality. Four Stidd pilot chairs are upholstered in two-tone leather to match the interior color scheme with helm controls in the captain’s armrest for convenience.

“Palmer Johnson put together a really good package in terms of the electronic controls and systems,” Frevert said.

 Data from the Raymarine navigation suite and Furuno radar unit are displayed in a multiple array of 18-inch flat screens across the stainless steel helm panel. Two doors lead out to the side decks, each with a slide-out wing station featuring controls, including an emergency stop.

“It doesn’t do any good to have the emergency stop inside when you’re outside,”  Frevert observed wryly.

The lower deck holds a surprise: a media room with a “disappearing wall.” Guests or kids use this open sitting area to screen a movie or watch TV. When the show is over, the crew can convert it to a private guest cabin in a matter of minutes simply by unfolding the hidden wall.

“It’s a real wall. It doesn’t look like an add-on or a sliding partition,” Kelsey said. The stateroom sleeps two and features a full head with shower.

The lower-deck guest accommodations also include a full-beam owner’s stateroom with king-size berth, dressing room and his and hers head. Two identical staterooms with heads lie amidships, their queen berths angled for easier access. An alternate deck plan for the PJ 120 eliminates the media room and puts four permanent staterooms on the lower deck. Either layout will sleep up to eight passengers, though Vanquish is rarely called upon to house that large a number. In its first season as a luxury charter vessel available for hire on the Mediterranean, it has been booked only by smaller parties.
The elegance of the yacht extends to the pilothouse, with its Stidd leather chairs upholstered in a two-color scheme that matches the rest of the interior. A stainless steel helm panel holds an array of screens displaying navigation data.
“She’s turning out to be a couple’s boat,” Frevert said.

Guests love the cozy sunbathing lounge nestled atop Vanquish‘s coach roof. In a creative engineering solution, the electric/hydraulic ladder leading from the aft deck up to the sundeck splits in half and folds away into upper and lower concealed storage spaces. It can be operated from below or above, allowing guests on the sundeck to retract it for privacy, while providing guests at the dining table inside the cabin an unobstructed view of the water through the rear glass door panels.

Another clever feature is the swim ladder located beneath the yacht’s aft water-sports platform. It lowers to form steps leading deep into the sea.

“You come into an anchorage, push the button and in three minutes everybody is in the water,” Frevert said.

If the guests want to use the yacht’s two personal watercraft or the diesel-powered RIB tender, the crew can easily launch and retrieve them from Vanquish‘s two tender storage bays. One is located beneath the sun pad aft and the other inside a hatch in the raised foredeck.

The rear boat storage bay, where the gas-powered personal watercraft are kept, has vapor guards installed to warn the crew of dangerous fumes.

A full-time crew of four staffs the 120-foot yacht: Frevert, his wife Susan, the chef, a mate/engineer and a steward who handles the serving and housekeeping duties. A fifth crewmember can be added to help out when a large charter party comes on board.

The ability to provide white-glove service 24 hours a day is the key to a successful charter operation and, according to Frevert, all the yacht’s service areas are well thought out. The galley, located on the lower deck forward of the engine room, is clad in easy-to-clean stainless steel. A foot pedal enables crewmembers to open the automatic door to the salon and dining area hands-free when carrying heavy trays of food. A small crew lounge off the galley allows the staff a private space to take breaks. The captain’s private stateroom and a double crew cabin are also located here.

“The crew quarters are better than in most European-built performance yachts,” Frevert said.

He is even more impressed by Vanquish‘s sound-deadening package. “I’m amazed at how quiet she is,”  he said. “The sound attenuation in the engine room is phenomenal.”

Palmer Johnson installed vibration isolators under the main engines twin 12V 4000 MTU diesels. Flexible-thrust couplings connect the mains to the transmissions, resulting in little or no translation of vibration from the machinery to the hull. Essentially, the engine “floats” in its compartment instead of being bolted down.

“She is ghostly quiet,” Frevert said. “No one sitting in the pilothouse has been remotely able to guess our speed when we’re at 25 knots. People can’t believe we are doing that kind of speed.” He usually has to prove it them by showing them the wheelhouse GPS unit.

While Vanquish‘s aggressive exterior lines suggest speed even when it is standing still, the design goal for her hull was performance tempered by seaworthiness. It cruises at 25 knots and tops out at 28 while providing a comfortable ride even in rough water.

“She’s a blue-water boat that can come

The yacht’s aft tender storage bay is designed to hold two personal watercraft. It is equipped with vapor guards to warn the crew of any dangerous buildup of gasoline fumes.

out even if the water gets a little sloppy,” Frevert said.

During the summer season in the Mediterranean, he reported, “There were several times that we had 20- to 25-knot Mistral winds. Every other boat was holed up in port, and we pressed on without a problem.”

While many European performance yachts in the same size category have waterjet drives, Vanquish has a conventional twin-prop system, which Frevert sees as an advantage, especially when guests ask him to cruise at a leisurely pace along a beautiful stretch of coastline. “Jet-drive boats are only happy if they are really honking along at 80 to 90 percent of throttle.” His yacht, on the other hand, “is equally happy to go 10 knots as to go in the high 20s.”

Equipped with Quantum stabilizers, Vanquish provides a stable ride and is also steady when hanging on the hook. With its low center of gravity, “she tends to sit quite nicely at anchor,” Frevert said.

He has fielded a lot of requests to spend the night anchored off scenic spots along the French and Italian Rivieras. “The guests have found that with all of our open decks, it’s fun to sit out under the stars at night,” he said.

As word of mouth spreads about Vanquish, the yacht’s limited charter calendar has begun to fill up. The success of Vanquish and its sisters in the PJ 120 series has convinced Palmer Johnson to take the concept even bigger. The yard is currently building 135-foot and 150-foot versions, both due to launch in winter of 2007. Like Vanquish, these new megayachts will combine American engineering and Italian design to create an international sensation in every port they enter.

By Professional Mariner Staff