Photography by Jonathan Cooper
The new Grand Banks Heritage 54 EU stays true to the builder’s roots with a fresh design and quality construction.
I was a strange kid. While my friends traded baseball cards and tacked Rick Dempsey posters on their walls (Maryland roots here), I devoured pages of boating magazines and tore out shots of all kinds of boats to plaster across my bedroom walls. I even collected brochures, placing them in binders categorized by the type of craft. I still have these today.
During the period, I became enamored with the bluewater adventures of accomplished yachtsman Carleton Mitchell onboard a Grand Banks 42 Sans Terre. Before crossing over to power, Mitchell had won the famed Newport-Bermuda race three times in a row in the late ’50s onboard his yawl Finisterre. He spun informative and inspirational tales of cruising his GB42 throughout the Caribbean and eventually to Bermuda. I stared at his pictures for hours until the smell and sounds of those sleepy Caribbean outposts began to permeate my bedroom. Like I said, I was a strange kid.
After Sans Terre, Mitchell turned to Grand Banks to build the custom 62-footer, Land’s End, designed by Robert Doris. (Mitchell wrote a story about the concept behind this boat that appeared in a 1974 issue of Sports Illustrated.) And, although this was a few years after Mr. Beebe made Passagemaker famous, it was nevertheless all occurring well before long-distance cruising on a well-found powerboat was part of the mainstream yachting scene. I was hooked.
Eventually childhood fantasies became reality and I covered thousands of bluewater miles on a variety of Grand Banks from Alaska to Grenada. I’ve been battered, tossed around, chased by a schizophrenic hurricane, boarded by crooked immigration officials, and driven hard aground for hours in an unmarked channel—all the while possessing complete faith in the boat beneath my feet. The motion of every one of these older Grand Banks was predictable. The systems were rock solid and the boats were constructed with uncompromising standards. (Full disclosure: I would eventually end up working for the builder in the 1990s.)
Today, it only takes a few minutes onboard a vintage GB for the memories of easing over waves across crystal-clear Caribbean seas to begin to poke at my inner wanderlust. Then this past September, while cruising the Grand Banks 54 Heritage EU from Cannes, France to St. Tropez, I was hit with the same bursts of nostalgia. Yet this time my recall was stirred by a brand-spanking-new Grand Banks.
Over the years, the company has branched beyond slow-going, economical cruisers to the sprightly Eastbay series and the raised pilothouse Aleutian range. Yet with the new Grand Banks 54 Heritage EU, the builder is once again embracing its efficient, tough cruiser pedigree, albeit updated for today’s more demanding buyer.
Laying at the heart of our test boat were two 600-horsepower Cummins QSC8.3s with V-drive transmissions. The package appears to be a good match for this hull. (The 54 uses the same hull as the company’s popular 53 Aleutian.) Grand Banks also offers the 500-, 550-, and 715-horsepower Cummins diesels as options and Volvo, Caterpillar, and MTU options are available. At 1800 rpm we achieved nine knots while consuming 13.2 gallons per hour total. Pulling the throttles back to 1200 rpm produces a range of approximately 2,132 miles at six knots. Additional fuel capacity is optional if this isn’t a sufficient range.
The motion at 10 knots is gentle and the stabilized 54 shrugged off the offshore swells encountered during our sea trial with aplomb. We pointed her bow into some sloppy head seas and she rose gradually and entered the trough like a falling piece of cotton. During this portion of the sea trial, it was clear the 54 is a very dry ride—not an attribute shared with some of her older ancestors. By placing the engines on V-drives the longitudinal center of gravity is moved farther aft and allows for a finer, nose-up entry forward. Earlier Heritage models placed the engine room just about amidships. The hull is built with a solid bottom and above the waterline the builder incorporates Airex cross-linked closed-cell foam. The constant-width, moderate-slope tunnels allow for clean flow of water to the propellers, while keeping the draft to a manageable five feet.
The 54 is church-like quiet throughout the interior while under way. At 2400 rpm, my sound meter recorded only 82 decibels directly outside the engine-room door. At the same rpm level, I registered 74 decibels in the master stateroom.
The Europa-style Grand Banks, with covered side decks and cockpit, has proven to be the most popular version of the builder’s Heritage series. It’s no wonder why this configuration, with a large saloon adjoining a covered deck, is popular among serious cruisers. The covered side and aft decks allow cruisers to open up the doors and windows even in rainy conditions, while partially reducing the glare of tropical sun. The saloon is wrapped in golden teak and features two comfortable, perfectly proportioned settees allowing guests to see through the side windows while seated. Forward is a formal dining area across from the U-shaped galley. The stowage in the galley seemed only adequate for the ambitious cruising family. Then I discovered the huge pantry below, abaft the master stateroom. It’s huge! Even with slightly limited stowage in the galley, especially for dry goods, I’d forego the awthartships overhead cabinet to eliminate the visual obstruction, though.
There are three staterooms on the bottom deck and room for an optional crew quarters between the master stateroom and engine room where the pantry on our test boat was located along with a washer and dryer.
The lower helm benefits from two side doors allowing quick access while docking and cross ventilation while anchored. I applaud the builder for also incorporating real, honest-to-goodness paper-chart stowage and enough horizontal surfaces to conduct some proper, non-electronic navigation.
The flying bridge is huge and features two helm chairs, plus a forward-facing bench seat to port. Straight and L-shaped settees will entice guests to stay a little longer. There is room for a 13-foot tender abaft the optional sunpad. The builder also incorporated a bow seating area forward of the windshield that may just be the best spot to relax at anchor.
The engine room, however, was the highlight of this little ship in my opinion. There is nearly six feet, four inches of headroom and unencumbered access around all sides of the engines. Every filter, dipstick, pump, and engine through-hull fitting was completely accessible. Abaft the engines, there is a generous space for tools, spare parts or aftermarket accessories such as a dive compressor and a watermaker. A soft patch is incorporated into the overhead in case the engines need to be removed for a major service or replacement. Part of the space abaft the engines will need to be used as a lazarette for items such as fenders and chairs.
I admit in the past I’ve often wondered if Grand Banks was abandoning its roots and in particular its Heritage series in favor of the popular Aleutian series of raised pilothouse cruisers. Certainly the newer Heritage series models such as the 47 have proven popular, but there was no offering for the many 47 Europa owners to move up to if they wanted to keep the same attributes of the Europa. The 54 not only extends the Heritage series, but it reminds stick-in-the-mud cruisers like me that a Grand Banks can cure just about any case of chronic wanderlust, no matter how long you’ve been fighting the urge. Indeed, I believe Mitchell too would have been smitten with the Grand Banks 54 if he were alive.
Noteworthy Options: Seakeeper gyro stabilizers, Naiad stabilizers, Twin-Disc Express Joystick system, Fiberglass flying-bridge hardtop, stern thruster, various electronics packages, hydraulic swim platform.
Generator: 21.5-kW Onan
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 76°F; humidity: 60%; seas: flat
Load During Boat Test
full fuel; 200 gal. water, 10 persons, 500 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/600-mhp Cummins QSC8.3 diesels
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.