If Mark Richards comes even close to the predictions he’s making concerning his latest and greatest—the Grand Banks 85—this big bruiser of a cruiser is going to be a true, Aussie-designed, Malaysian-built mind-boggler. But maybe “bruiser” isn’t quite the right word to use here, given that the projected displacement of the 85 is likely to hover in the ethereal neighborhood (at least for an 85-foot yacht) of approximately 89,500 pounds. By way of comparison, offerings in the same size range from Princess, Monte Carlo, Ferretti, Sanlorenzo and the few other performance-oriented builders that Richards (the CEO of Grand Banks and sister company Palm Beach Yachts) sees as his competition, all report significantly more tonnage. Princess Yachts, for example, lists a 150,355-pound displacement for its 85 and, according to the Monte Carlo’s website, the Monte Carlo MCY 86 tips the scales at 161,280 pounds, dry.
The essence of the 85’s weight-loss program is undeniably esoteric. “Except for the hull, which is E-glass,” Richards says, “everything—the longitudinals, transversals, bulkheads, everything else—is carbon fiber. All carbon fiber. In fact, we’re removing so much weight by going this route that when we finally launch the boat this coming December, I have absolutely no doubt she’ll be considered truly revolutionary. We plan on weighing her once a week as we continue through the construction process so we can track, control and accurately hit the target weight of 40.6 metric tons.”
Of course, there’s way more to designing a large, “revolutionary” cruising vessel than merely delivering a feathery displacement. Tank testing was recently completed on the 85’s warped-plane hullform (with a significant amidships deadrise that flattens in increments going aft) at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania and, according to Richards, the results were both gratifying and striking. “The Grand Banks 60, with a similar hullform, was super-efficient,” says Richards. “But the 85 is apparently even more so, probably due to her extra length—the longer a boat is, the better she’ll run, more or less. But this 85 is amazing, really—at 21 knots there was virtually no wake, mate. Most other vessels of the same type and size would be pulling a tidal wave.”
At press time, admittedly much closer to the inception of the 85’s build than the end, it looked like the new boat’s powerplant will be as unusual and comparatively impressive as her displacement and her efficiency. For starters, a matched set of 1,000-hp Volvo Penta D13-IPS1350 diesels will inhabit two engine rooms instead of one. This doubled-up approach, says Richards, will allow for a large garage in between, with plenty of space for a dinghy and watertoys. In addition, he says the arrangement will also allow for more elbowroom and better access for maintenance and repairs.
Then, there’s this little wrinkle. Although Richards is touting a top speed of 30 knots, he’s specifying a deeply modest 2,000-hp powerplant. Stacked up against most of the competitors I’ve already mentioned, you gotta admit—this figure seems pretty puny, perhaps even unrealistic, at least at first glance. After all, Princess Yachts claims a 30- to 32-knot speed range for its 85 when fitted out with a 3,800-hp powerplant. And Monte Carlo reports roughly the same for the MCY 86 with the same 3,800-hp powerplant.
But think about these numbers for a second. With a boost from the muscular power-to-weight ratio she gets from her low-ball displacement, the new Grand Banks 85—again, if Richards is correct on his predictions—is set to achieve speeds in the same ballpark as her competitors, albeit with just a tad more than half the horsepower. Couple such a long-legged scenario with a fuel capacity that’s well beyond average—Richards is specifying a single 2,650-gallon tank—and you’re looking at range and speed prognostications that are flat out wild. “At 21 knots,” says Richards, “I’m thinking she should offer a range of 1,000 miles or so, give or take.”
It’s likely that the 85’s interior will be a good deal more conventional than the aspects of performance Richards is so enthusiastic about. Four- and six-cabin layouts will be available, along with a Skylounge version instead of an open flybridge. A 22-foot beam will guarantee a spacious full-beam master if optioned as well as a main deck with plenty of stretch-out room. What’s a tad different however, says Richards, is a crew’s quarters that’s divided into living and sleeping spaces that afford privacy and laid-back, easy living. “The area’s huge, with its own galley,” he says, “so the crew can get away, relax comfortably, even live independently if they want to.”
Over the past few years, I’ve noted a familial resemblance between the Palm Beach and Grand Banks brands. The design teams for each set of yachts are, after all, essentially the same—Dovell Naval Architects does the below-waterline work and Richards and his design team do the rest. And indeed, the first 85 to splash in Malaysia has already been sold to an individual who’s owned a veritable parade of Palm Beach yachts over the years.
Style and practicality account for the major differences vis-à-vis the two brands, says Richards. Palm Beach yachts are essentially coastal cruisers and, as such, tend to be sleek, curvaceous and sportboaty. Grand Banks yachts, on the other hand, thanks to their ample flybridge overhangs, covered side decks and squarish style lines and spaces, are designed to be roomier, open-ocean vessels, greyhounds of the sea. The immediate destination of the first 85 to splash this coming December is a case in point.
“We’ll finish the boat just before Christmas,” says Richards, “and we plan on giving her to the owner as a Christmas present. Then mate, it’s off to New Zealand for the America’s Cup races in 2021.