The 44 Eastbay SX from Grand Banks features a wish list of modern boatbuilding materials, top-notch ancillaries, a precisely positioned LCG, and superb handling under rough and ready conditions.
I’d just finished zooming around the open Atlantic for an hour or so, an experience I’d treated myself to once I’d finished officially sea trialing our Grand Banks 44 Eastbay SX test boat, when the boat’s owner, Mike Ostrow, said, “Okay, Bill—so why don’t you run her back through the inlet? I’d like your impressions.”
“Sure,” I replied. “Let’s see what she’ll do.”
Conditions at the time were fairly mild offshore. The wind was woofing out of the southeast at 10 to 15 knots, pushing herds of humble 1- to 2-footers, with a few frothy whitecaps here and there. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. It was nice—real nice. But the inlet Ostrow was referring to?
Virtues of Flexibility
Hillsboro Inlet is shallow, narrow, and sometimes dangerous, particularly when a rousing tidal current issues forth against a torrent of incoming seas, which was what was happening at present. The darn place tends to build short, steep, precipitous waves within its rock-encrusted confines and, under certain unsavory circumstances, these waves can slew a boat sideways, roll her over, or even cause her to pitchpole if her nose slams the bottom.
But based on my recent driving experiences, I had lots of confidence in the Volvo Penta IPS-powered 44. Certainly her 32.8-knot top end was solid, as were her pod-related fuel efficiencies. But what was even more confidence-inspiring were her running attitudes. Essentially, the boat achieved plane (via a bow rise of just 1.5 degrees) at about 1,500 rpm without actually “coming out of the hole.” And then she stayed on plane with an optimal running attitude of just 3.5 degrees, which she achieved at 2,000 rpm and maintained steadfastly throughout the rest of the register.
What did all this mean? For starters, the 44 was perfectly balanced in terms of her Longitudinal Center of Gravity or LCG, no doubt partly due to the way Grand Banks uses short jackshafts to impart a weight-forward bias to engine placement. Indeed, according to the company, the precise location of the boat’s engines and drive units had taken total precedence during her design and construction over the configuration of her living spaces, which had essentially been “built around” the mechanicals, an approach that was responsible for her perfect LCG placement as well as a host of other engineering- and performance-related virtues. But while these happy circumstances were undeniably good, they engendered another that was even better: unbridled, throttle-related flexibility. Once committed to Hillsboro, I knew I’d be able to throttle up or down at will, without affecting the boat’s super-poised trim. And this would allow me to use just the right amount of oomph, precisely when I needed it, without risking the loss of directionality that an overly bow-up or bow-down orientation can cause.
Hang On—Here We Go!
I beelined past the sea buoy, headed approximately northwest, doing 20 knots or so, and then slowed down considerably while scouting an opportunity to ease up the back of an inbound wave. Of course, doing such a thing, especially when fighting an outgoing tide, requires concentration—you need to keep track of where your nav aids are, find your wave quick, and then stick to it like glue. The latter chore usually requires continuously working your throttles and steering wheel to maintain a constant heading while staying well away from the trough behind you (where a following sea may be poised to break and flood your boat) and yet remaining close to your wave’s crest, without overshooting it and plunging nose-first into the bottom of the inlet.
The 44 came through with flying colors, thanks not only to her perfectly balanced, true tracking, full-keeled, deep-V hullform, but also to the exceptionally responsive electric steering that Volvo Penta IPS propulsion offers. When we hit the flat water just inside Hillsboro’s southern jetty, I pulled the sticks back and took a deep breath, while Ostrow flipped some switches and electrically lowered the saloon’s rear window and big side-windows, automotive fashion. Sweet tropical breezes swept in wonderfully.
“Helluva boat,” I opined as we idled toward Hillsboro Inlet Bridge, “I mean, she tracks like a train. And the power—it’s there when you need it. And we really needed it a couple of times back there.”
Docking the 44 behind Ostrow’s house revealed another performance-related biggie—the wide offset between her IPS drive units seriously expands her maneuvering leverage and reduces the thrust (and turbulence) necessary to produce said leverage. Using an exceptionally well-calibrated joystick (meaning the movements of the stick and the boat itself were more or less perfectly synched), I pivoted the 44 easily within her own length and then walked her smoothly into an alongside berth with absolutely no roaring, no gear clunking, no drama whatsoever.
Top-Shelf Construction and Ancillaries
It was obvious from my subsequent dockside tour that the 44 benefits greatly from the boatbuilding methods espoused by Mark Richards, who heads up both Grand Banks Yachts and its sister company, Palm Beach Motor Yachts. Richards favors the latest in E-glass, vinylester resins (throughout the laminate, not just on the exterior surfaces), stitched multi-axial fabrics, and light-weight Corecell linear-foam coring materials. And he’s also into what Grand Banks calls a “monocoque” approach to construction, meaning that in addition to all the composite bulkheads in the 44, all her lockers, benches, and fixed furniture inside are structurally bonded into both hull and deck. Such a level of integration intensifies strength and rigidity and, parenthetically, cuts stability-robbing top-hamper weight.
I was impressed with the 44’s engine room, accessed via a hatch in the teak-plank-paved cockpit. No complicated fuel manifold, no spaghetti-like maze of wires, hoses, and cables. Everything from the fiberglass battery boxes (with Lifeline AGMs inside); to the engine-interfaced Webasto water heater; to the freshwater system with its Whale Marine quick-connect fittings and color-coordinated water lines was thoughtfully installed and easy to identify at a glance. And what’s more, the electrics were first-rate. Spiral-wrapped, appropriately-sized, tin-plated-copper wiring throughout was teamed with a 15-kilowatt Fischer Panda genset; a ProNautic 12/10P charger (for the genset battery); a ProNautic 24/30P charger (for main battery banks); a top-shelf 2000-watt Magnum inverter, and an array of BEP rotary-type switches. And hey, the IPS drive units had plenty of headroom, which makes regular drive-oil refills a snap.
The latter feature, however, brings up my one-and-only criticism of our test boat. While I was cool with (and even impressed by) the exhaust line from the Fischer Panda being made of hard-walled piping with flexible joints, there were a few spots where the piping seemed unsupported and well off the bottom of the boat. Could such spots suffer damage should someone step uncarefully while going aft to service an IPS drive unit? I’d say so, although when queried the folks at Grand Banks disagreed, contending that the flex joints would obviate the possibility that damages could arise from a misstep. “That being said,” added managing director Hank Compton, “we’re constantly looking at upgrades, so if we have any issues in the field we will certainly revisit this.”
Besides being synched into the propulsion system for free heat, the Webasto water heater in the 44’s engine room has a very cool safety feature—an on/off switch that backs up other switches on board.
The engine management panel on the forward firewall is dead simple. There’s a port start switch on one side, a starboard start switch on the other side, and a battery parallel switch in the middle. Easy to figure out in an emergency? Yup!
Like many Grand Banks yachts of yore, the 44 has big, beefy quarterguards, with stainless-steel inserts. Trust us—these babies come in really handy on days when your boathandling mojo deserts you.
“It’s just a bad inlet,” said Capt. Tom Morgan of Sea Tow early last year when asked by south-Florida’s Sun-Sentinel to comment upon a boating accident at Pompano’s Hillsboro Inlet that had only recently occurred.
Teaky, Teaky, Teaky
The 44’s saloon literally invites sunshine and fresh air. More to the point, the aforementioned, electrically actuated side and rear windows, when lowered, bring the outdoors instantaneously inside, especially when the back door and the big hatches in the hardtop are open as well. And the layout only enhances the theme, with an ample U-shaped settee to port (with dining table), a galley-up to starboard (with an induction cooktop, a reefer, a sink, and a picture-window view), and a helm station forward with optional electronics from Garmin and great sightlines.
Belowdecks, there are three standard cabins, an en suite master forward with separate head and shower, an en suite guest aft and to port (with either a double berth athwartships or fore-and-aft twins), and another guest aft and to starboard that can be outfitted with a single, fore-and-aft bunk (and an optional washer/dryer or extra refrigeration) or turned into a dedicated “utility room,” wholly given over to storage and appliance options.
The finish on our test boat? Crisp and traditionally precise, with a teak-and-holly sole, teak-veneered bulkheads, teak trim, teak searails, and teak raised-panel cabinet doors. And all this teaky, teaky, teakiness—varnished to a satin glow.
After finishing up my tour of our Grand Banks Eastbay 44 SX, I felt drawn back to her helm station, where, in my opinion, the salty orderliness of the instruments and controls serve as a metaphor for the way the boat is built and performs.
“At the risk of repeating myself, Mike,” I told Ostrow, while giving the big, inlet-trouncing, teak-rimmed steering wheel a nudge for old times’ sake, “you’ve got yourself one helluva boat here. One helluva boat!”
Noteworthy Options: Splendide washer-dryer combo ($3,770); optional 3-cabin layout ($10,000); Seakeeper 5 gyro stabilizer ($44,000); Garmin electronics package ($30,000)
GENERATOR: 11.2-kW AC 12 Mini Fischer Panda, WARRANTY: 2-year stem-to-stern warranty from Grand Banks, plus a 5-year warranty on engines, gears, and structure
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 85ºF; humidity 84%; seas: 1-2’; wind: 5-10 knots.
Load During Boat Test
293 gal. fuel, 190 gal. water, 2 persons, 100 lbs. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/435-hp Volvo Penta IPS600s
- Transmission/Ratio: IPS; 1.82:1
- Props: IPS-F propset