Grand Banks 70 Aleutian CPBy Capt. Bill Pike
Grand Banks dealer Jay Bettis is a tall, lean fellow. And, although he's one of Seabrook, Texas' tried-and-true old-timers, with a waterfront operation that's been going strong since 1973, he's about as agile as a cat once he steps aboard a boat. Maybe his Marine Corps training has something to do with this. Or maybe it's just that he loves boats so darn much he forgets how old he is when he's around them. Maybe it's a little of both.
Anyhow, once Bettis had jumped with feline fluidity from his dock down onto the swim platform of our Grand Banks 70 Aleutian CP and turned to take hold of the Pelican case I carry my test gear in, I noted a smile on his face about as big and enthusiastic as the whole Lone Star State. I shot a smile back. Hey! What was there to be glum about?
The 70 was fueled up and ready to boogie. And she was flat-out, jaw-droppin' gorgeous—a stylishly extended version of the 64 Aleutian I'd tested some years prior, with a cockpit added abaft the after deck and a crew's quarters spliced between the full-beam master and the engine room. Her faux-carvel-planked hull sides glistened in the dewy morning light. Her stainless steel-shod quarterguards sparkled. Her scalloped sheerline stretched majestically aft from a high, muscular bow, with an extra scallop thrown in to accommodate the cockpit. "Figured we'd run down Galveston Bay way," Bettis said, leading the charge through a big, electrically actuated Freeman door at the back of the saloon, "...see what we can find."
I wheeled the boat down Houston Ship Canal from the upper station. And if there was anything especially grabby about the experience, it was the latent oomph I felt snoozing in the engines. While the 64 I'd tested in 2002 had been powered with twin 800-hp Caterpillar 3406Es, our 70 had two 1,550-hp Caterpillar C30s in her belly. And they were ready to rumble, if goosing the Twin Disc electronic engine controls in the occasional straight stretches was any indicator.
Ergonomics were excellent. You can't beat Stidd helm chairs for comfort and adjustability, and our test boat had spiffy, optional chrome versions—two on the flying bridge and one down in the raised pilothouse. Electronics componentry was installed glass-bridge style, topside and below, with an abundance of Big Bay flat-screen displays for our two Nobeltec radars and navigation software. The Hynautic hydraulic steering was tight and responsive, and visibility was excellent whether I was looking forward or to the sides. The best sightlines aft were available from the pilothouse. Bettis had easily undocked our boat using the helm station there, thanks to visibility-enhancing, electrically retractable cabinetry in the galley and a wraparound array of large, flush-fit windows and doors in the saloon.
Galveston Bay was semirough when we started our wringout. Most of the brown rollers swooping south toward the Gulf of Mexico were running about four feet and capped with tawny froth. Our test boat was seemingly unaware of the rowdy sea state, though. She turned in a top, true-tracking speed of 32.2 mph—sporty, considering our fiberglass fuel tanks were topped off—and handed us an array of lesser velocities that all felt comfortable and produced reasonable running attitudes and efficiencies. The acceleration curve we generated was perfect—no dips, flat spots, or other anomalies indicative of difficulties the Tom Fexas-designed running surface might have achieving plane.
Because the wind was blowing so noisily, we retired to the pilothouse to record sound levels. The results were endearing, with readings at 1000 rpm registering below the level of normal conversation (67) and at WOT peaking at just 74 d-BA. The 70's construction is at the bottom of these results. Airex composite coring in the supersturcture, bulkheads, soles, and hull sides (the hull bottom is solid glass to the waterline), in addition to a wholly integrated assembly of FRP stringers and transversals, help attenuate sound and vibration. So does an engineering regime that seals off the machinery spaces with thick Freeman doors, a thorough blanketing of noise-nixing lead-and-foam insulation, and numerous layers of rock-wool insulation as well. Secondarily glassing firewalls and bulkheads all the way around and sealing off all wiring and plumbing penetrations through bulkheads doesn't hurt, either.
We took on fuel at the pine-fringed Lakewood Yacht Club near Seabrook after the sea trial, since Bettis was heading across the Gulf in the morning, delivering our boat to Florida. The maneuvering balletics that preceded the process were a delight to behold. While strolling the weather deck trailing a long electrical cord, Bettis used a small Twin Disc control box to operate the main engines as well as the Naiad hydraulic bow thruster. With sightlines galore, he spun the 70 around and laid her alongside Lakewood's dock with absolutely no help from anyone. All I had to do was cleat a line or two.
The complexity of our engine room—accessed via either a main-deck hatch on the starboard side or a Freeman watertight door in the cockpit bulkhead—dictated I spend lots of time perusing its contents. The task was a cheery one, however, highlighted by the presence of great equipage like Delta 'T' demisters with emergency blower shutdowns, two big waterheaters, and two big gensets, Tides Marine dripless shaft logs (with Strong self-aligning seals), a fuel-polishing system from Racor, a whopping total of eight 8D batteries and a big 4,000-watt Trace inverter for big-league electrical firepower, and a giant, well-stocked (but optional) Husky toolbox. At just under six feet, headroom was excellent, and there were lots of lights overhead: six D.C.s and four A.C. fluorescents.
Bettis and I toured the interior of our 70 together after we'd returned her to Seabrook. It was just as flawlessly fashioned as the ER. On the pilothouse deck, the U-shape galley sported high-end brand names like Sub-Zero and Miele, the dinette to port (with fore and aft seating) was situated within easy conversational range of the helm, and the stairway to the flying bridge was an easy, residential-style climb. The pilothouse had a shipshape, sanctuarial feel, and the saloon—down several steps from the pilothouse—was both open and bright, mostly thanks to the numerous windows that enclose it. There were four staterooms on the lower deck, which is accessed from the pilothouse: a VIP at the bow, a port-side guest abaft, a full-beam master stateroom amidships, and directly behind it, a full-beam living area for the crew. Our 70 had an optional layout wherein the guest was configured as an office but could be easily converted into a stateroom with a double berth.
"Great spot to pretend yer workin'!" grinned Bettis as he backed out of the office and bounded tiger-like up the stairway to the pilothouse. I bounded right behind him.
Which made sense, really. The Grand Banks Aleutian 70 CP is a pretty inspiring boat, with plenty of style, speed, and cruising potential.
Hey, she made me feel like a kid again, too.
This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.