What’s it really like to drive this 92ft cruise missile?
B ack in the 90s supercars used to be big, brash noisy things that were brutish to drive and more than a little intimidating. If you overcooked it on a corner or backed off the throttle at the wrong time there was a real danger of stacking your Ferrari F40 or Lamborghini Diablo into a hedge. The same was true of fast, surface-drive boats. Alan Harper tells a salutary tale of the time he barrelled into a turn with too much trim and sent the whole shooting match into a violent spin that sent fellow journalists scattering around the cockpit.
It wasn’t until the advent of the Honda NSX that people started to realise you could still enjoy all the speed, style and grip of a mid-engined sportscar without feeling like you’d just survived three rounds with Mike Tyson. Of course some old dinosaurs bemoaned the fact that supercars had lost their edge now that anyone could jump behind the wheel and give it some stick, but the steady rise in sales of supercars that were faster and prettier than ever but easier to drive soon shut them up.
I mention this only because when Pershing announced last year that it was going to start fitting IPS drives and Seakeeper gyros to its latest offering, you could almost hear the ghosts of powerboat racers past spinning in their graves. To dyed-in-the- wool purists it must have sounded like Ducati was going to start fitting stabilisers and shopping baskets to its latest range of superbikes. I’m about to find out if their concerns are justified.
The Pershing 9X I’m sitting at the helm of still looks and feels like a red-blooded superboat. The Fulvio De Simoni styling is as sleek and aggressive as ever. The carbon-fibre decks and superstructure show no expense has been spared in the quest for performance, and it’s powered by a pair of massive 2,638hp MTU V16s, with razor-sharp surface-drive propellers glistening under the bathing platform. Only the small joystick jutting from the armrest of the main captain’s chair and a pair of Seakeeper MG9 gyro stabilisers tucked into the engineroom suggest there’s more to this set-up than meets the eye. Pershing calls it the Easy Set system and as the name suggests its purpose is to demystify the dark art of berthing and driving a powerful surface-drive boat. It had better work because my experience of driving such craft is slimmer than a stick insect’s waist and I’m about to unleash the full fury of those V16s on a very trusting crew.
Perched high up on the innermost of the three captain’s chairs with the distinctive single-spoke wheel an arm’s stretch away in front of my knees and flanked by ZF’S stainless steel throttles on my right and the aforementioned joystick on my left, it feels more like the command station of the starship Enterprise than
a regular boat helm. Three tall touchscreens dominate the view forward while a pair of deep windscreen mullions on either side block out a chunk of my peripheral vision. I take the decision that in a boat this fast it’s what’s in front of me that counts and ease the throttles decisively forward.
Somewhere behind me I can hear the pitch of the engines rise but it’s strangely muted and remote like the rumble of distant thunder. It takes a few seconds for the propellers to find their bite – the inertia of a 68-tonne boat takes some shifting – but a glance behind me reveals the water has turned from glassy blue to boiling white. Then it starts to happen, slowly at first but with a sense of impending inevitability that comes from having 5,276hp at your disposal. The transition onto the plane is almost imperceptible as the Easy Set system adjusts the trim to compensate but once the turbos kick there’s no hiding the sheer immensity of the forces at work. The boiling mass of white
erupts into a full-blown rooster tail, the water releases its grip on the hull and the 9X starts to skim across the surface like a smartly-thrown pebble.
STRONG, SILENT TYPE
The strange thing is that from where I’m sitting it all feels remarkably chilled. We’re reeling in the horizon at 42 knots in a 92ft cruise missile but without the speed over ground numbers flashing up on the Simrad MFD, I really wouldn’t know how fast we are travelling. The engines are so smooth that we can chat without raising our voices, the seals on the doors and windows block out any wind noise, and the Easy Set system means there’s nothing for me to do except decide how much throttle to use and point the bow where I want it to go. I try to induce some drama with an armful of lock. The fly-by-wire steering has an odd, artificially weighted feel that self-centres when you release it and sure enough the computer interprets my intentions, adjusts the trim and feeds in the rudders so that the boat traces a smooth steady arc that would barely ruffle the surface of a G&T.
It’s only when I pass over the helm and retreat to the open cockpit that I get a proper sense of the sound and fury. There’s no hiding the full power of the engines out here and the sheer speed and height of the rooster tail is a genuinely awe-inspiring sight. Of course you have got the option of driving from the sundeck up top if you want to feel the wind in your hair, although once again the wheel is a long way in front of you and down by your ankles. Perhaps that’s why the joystick is there for you to make course adjustments under way as well as help with berthing. Now you too can pull into port and look like a boating god as you point and twist the joystick in the direction you want to go while the computer juggles the drives, thrusters and rudders to follow your every command.
Of course there’s a lot more to the 9X than simply getting to the best bay ahead of the chasing pack in order to grab the prime anchoring spot. You want to enjoy the boat when you get there and that’s where Pershing has also taken major strides. The tender garage has a drop-down ramp that makes launching the Williams 385 and PWC a doddle. The foredeck seating
area and cleverly concealed sundeck up top provide a number of different options for guests to hang out in the sun, while the clever drop-down patio doors create a seamless flow between the cockpit and saloon. And of course those two powerful Seakeeper stabilisers ensure it remains rock steady even in a Mediterranean swell.
Personally, I found the interior decor of this boat a little too cool and clinical for my tastes but at this level customisation is a given so you should be able to specify a look that meets your needs. The master suite has 6ft 5in of headroom throughout, a totally flat floor and a large walk-in wardrobe in addition to a lavish ensuite bathroom. The forward VIP is a little more unusual with its offset bed and asymmetrical hull windows making it seem a little less welcoming than the smaller but brighter guest double. The fourth cabin follows up the rear with a pair of narrower single beds. The crew area occupies a similar footprint to the master cabin but houses the ship’s galley as well as two ensuite crew cabins. As we return to port I’m in awe of the 9X. It is a remarkable achievement that such a fast, powerful machine can also be such a relaxing, civilised ride. And the fact that it’s vastly easier to manoeuvre than any of its predecessors is a major win for owners and crew alike. If I’m honest, there is a small part of me that questions whether driving a 92ft Pershing with over 5,200hp should be a little more involving but the reality is that the owners themselves will rarely drive the boat (that’s what crew are for) and the mere fact that they can now do so safely without a master class in surface-drive handling is a thrill in itself. As Ferrari and Lamborghini found out some time ago, it pays to flatter the driver rather than frighten them and the Pershing 9X will charm them all the way to the bank. CONTACT Ventura UK Tel +44 (0)20 7495 2330 www.pershing-yacht.com
Light and glass are key design themes of the open-plan saloon and dining areas
Seating on both sides of the foredeck table make this a really useable entertaining space
L E F T Covered side-deck buttresses have become a Pershing design cue M IDDL E The sundeck is set into the superstructure to retain the boat’s sleek profile R IGHT The sheltered aft cockpit and drop-down doors
The furniture has a lot of sharp corners for such a fast boat
JOYSTICK This can be used to steer the boat under way not just during low speed manoeuvres ELECTRONIC HELM The wheel self centres after you’ve completed a turn THROTTLES These are mounted next to the armrest so you don’t have to move from your seat