Not your average boat test. Not by a long shot. Way back in 2001, off the coast of California, I'd sea trialed a raised-pilothouse motoryacht that would set a new course for Grand Banks. Called the 64 Aleutian Class, the boat sported a complicated and decidedly untrawlerly Tom Fexas hull form designed to optimize both displacement and semidisplacement performance. And she'd done all that thanks not only to Fexas but also to a raft of modern construction techniques that included Airlite- and Airex-cored fiberglass soles, bulkheads, and hull sides and an all-'glass pre-formed stringer grid. I remembered what the sales guy'd said when I got my initial look: "Not your ordinary Grand Banks, eh?"
Now here I was sea trialing a new, freshly launched version, the 65 Aleutian RP (Raised Pilothouse), with an extra foot of LOA, all the old virtues seemingly intact, and a passel of new ones noticeably added on. Indeed, while coming aboard at a dock near the Southport Yacht Club on the southern edge of Queensland, Australia, I'd noticed a couple of biggies without even trying.
"Interesting situation," I said to Hank Compton, a Grand Banks rep who was kicked back in the Stidd copilot's seat beside me on the flying bridge. I pulled our twin 1,001-bhp Caterpillar C18 diesels out of gear so we could let a bobbing object cross ahead. The size of a coconut, it turned out to be the head of a guy paddling a surfboard across the broad, shark-infested inlet we were negotiating. He waved jauntily. "Does he have the right of way," I joked, "or the sharks?"
The question pointed up one more noteworthy aspect of this particular boat test: It was taking place in deep, inky-blue water within spittin' distance of Australia's South Stradbroke Island, atop a six-foot swell that had probably originated on the Antarctic Ridge. Was sea trialing under such exotic circumstances a first for me? Heck yes! But was it also disappointing? In one respect, yes again. For years I'd been hearing about the outrageous seas that terrorize Australia, and now, here I was, and the broad Pacific was almost flat, thanks to the stretched-out swell.
The 65 did nicely in all measurable respects, though, much as her predecessor had done in California. The key, in my opinion, was the two-tiered shape of her underbody. At slow speeds its upper half replicated a displacement hull form and produced sedate, fuel-efficient progress. At higher velocities, right up to a rousing average top end of 28.2 mph (4.3 mph faster than the twin 800-hp Caterpillar 3406E-powered Aleutian 64 had been capable of), its lower half produced a sweetly balanced ride via hard chines and flat, lift-inducing after sections.
Driving in open water was a cinch. Running attitudes were optimal whether I was doing displacement speeds (0.5 degrees) or wide-open throttle (4 degrees). Moreover, the whole rpm range was reasonably available, not just speeds from either the low or the high end of the register. At no point did the 65 seem to struggle or plow, regardless of where I had the Twin Disc EC300 sticks set. And what's more, the 65 provided excellent out-of-the-hole visibility from both helms—topside and below—cranked a tight turning radius of about two boat lengths, and did not heel outboard while doing so, a disconcerting foible that some vessels with over-long keels exhibit.
Close-quarters maneuvering was easier from the lower helm. At day's end Compton asked me to slide the 65 into a spot along a face dock at Sanctuary Cove Marina, not far from my hotel, a task as much facilitated by big Naiad hydraulic thrusters fore and aft as by the excellent visibility I had of the stern from the lower helm. The latter came thanks to an electrically disappearing dish cabinet in the galley (between the helm and the saloon) and the absence of the TV cabinet in the after corner of the saloon, which had blocked the view of the port quarter on the old 64. As we moved steadily sideways against a hefty Aussie tidal rip, I enthused, "I love hydraulic thrusters! You can lean on 'em 'til the cows come home, and they don't overheat."
The situation offshore had been calm, but it was calmer dockside. As the evening wore on, the 65's Manship ports and Freeman doors and windows began to cast yellow reflections on the dark still waters all around. While I was captivated by the traditional teaky ambiance of our test boat's interior, I got the substance of it all from a rather fabled gentleman: the director and plant manager of Grand Banks' Singapore facility, Wong Yung Pine. While Y.P., as he's known to colleagues and competitors alike, pointed out some subtler details, he emphasized the more noticeable differences between the old 64 and the new 65.
Improved engine-room access topped his list. Instead of going with a lift-up cockpit lounge seat as the primary means of entry, the 65 has two watertight doors, one on the forward bulkhead of the crew's quarters (which is accessed via a watertight door from the port weatherdeck walkway) and the other on the after bulkhead of the master stateroom. Either of these is normal door size. No inconvenient lid-lifting required!
Next came the new lower-deck layout. Instead of a two-stateroom, two-head arrangement with an office sandwiched between VIP and master on the port side, our test boat's lower deck offered a full-beam master with an athwartships island queen to starboard and large head to port (with enclosures for shower and MSD at either end); a VIP forward with an island queen and shower-stall-equipped en suite head; a guest cabin to starboard (instead of an office) with twin berths and shower-stall-equipped en suite head; and a crew cabin aft. Great idea: going with a stateroom instead of the optional office. Why work onboard?
Then finally came the cockpit reconfiguration. Instead of a wholly open-to-the-weather arena, the 65's cockpit can now be converted into a veritable refuge thanks to a wraparound enclosure, two Perspex (acrylic) wing doors, and an extended sun-screening flying-bridge overhang. Cool!
"You like this boat or the old one, Mr. Pike?" Y.P. asked, as we finished. Stars twinkled above, four of them configuring the Southern Cross, a big-time exotic constellation for a Florida boy.
"This one more," I replied. "She's got better engine-room access, a better lower-deck layout, and a better cockpit."
"Hah...hah...hah," he said, grinning broadly, "Better...better...better!!"
For more information on Grand Banks Yachts, including contact information, click here.
Wong Yung Pine (better known as Y.P. throughout the marine industry) did not get to be the top production guy for Grand Banks by being scatterbrained. While we were examining a stateroom on our 65, I asked if he knew the model designation and gear ratio of the transmissions onboard, and he replied with split-second accuracy. Over my 21-year boat-testing career, he's the first guy who's been able to do such a thing. "It's nothing," he said, amazed at my amazement. "I started working for Grand Banks in 1971." Y.P. pointed out three subtle onboard features he thinks are especially good: a pressure-sensitive fuel-transfer system (with monster 2-hp Leeson electric motor and 2-hp Oberdorfer pump) that safely returns fuel to its source before overfilling a tank during onboard transfer; a Delta "T" emergency shutdown system that will either automatically or manually close engine-room vents, nix fuel to engines, stop blowers, and deploy a state-of-the-art Fireboy FM227 unit in case of fire; and a set of annunciator panels at both helm stations with lights that flash to indicate bilge-pump activity or nonfunctioning nav lights. Especially good features? Hmmmm. I'd say so!—B.P.
Maxwell hydraulic anchor windlass; Freeman deckhouse door (starboard side); Naiad Marine hydraulic bow thruster; Corian countertops; 4/Vitrifrigo refrigerator drawers and 2/freezer drawers; Miele cooktop w/ oven; Miele dishwasher; In-Sink-Erator trash compactor; Hunter Douglass electric blinds; 20-gal. Seaward water heater; 8/8D Lifeline batteries; 100-amp Mastervolt battery charger; 30-amp Mastervolt battery charger (for genset); 4,000-watt Mastervolt battery charger; 96,000-Btu Marine Air chilled-water A/C system; 21.5-kW Onan genset; duplex Racor 1000MA fuel-water separators; Tides Marine dripless shaft logs; Delta 'T' demister air intakes and compressed-air-activated emergency engine shutdown
Freeman deckhouse door (port side); Naiad hydraulic stern thruster and hydraulic stabilizers; 22.5-kW Onan genset; Opacmare hydraulic crane w/ Zodiac Yachtline 380 RIB and 40-hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard; electronics package; teak-planked side decks; teak-and-maple soles throughout; extra 20-gal. Seaward water heater; fiberglass hardtop; electronics package
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/1,001-bhp Caterpillar C18 diesel inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: Twin Disc MGX-5135A/2.5:1
- Props: 38 x 38.5 5-blade nibral ZF Faster S-Class
- Price as Tested: AUD $4,082,187
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.