Palm Beach changes lanes with two new GT50s. We drive both to see how they compare.
Boat testin’ is an unpredictable sport. So, I wasn’t particularly surprised, after arriving at Old Port Cove Marina in North Palm Beach, to encounter iffy meteorological conditions. More to the point, the incoming tide was seriously stacking up against the upstream sides of the pilings and the wind—coming out of the east at 15 to 20 knots—was flat-out honkin’. And both forces were more or less aligned, whooshing along in the same direction, straight into the marina.
“Gonna be interesting,” I chortled, anticipating a day that would spotlight more than just wind and tide. Palm Beach, an Aussie builder with a well-deserved reputation for classic, highly-finished, hi-tech, carbon-fiber yachts, had just introduced two low, lean 50-footers that, from what I’d heard, pushed the company’s style well beyond classicism and straight into the realm of raciness. The enclosed version was called the GT50 Express and the open version was called—you guessed it—the GT50 Open. My job du jour was to check ‘em both out—see how they compared.
Gallery: Palm Beach 50GT
I hit the Open for openers. But when I first caught sight of the boat, I felt a tad confused. Somewhere along the line, in the not-so-distant past, I’d heard someone describe the two new GTs as “automotively inspired,” perhaps because the GT designation is so often used to sell cars. Frankly, though, I wasn’t getting any of this from looking at the vessel itself, especially when I eyeballed the long, sleek, curvaceous profile, menacingly dark semi-blacked-out wraparound windshield, nearly flat sheer and speedster-ish, forward-leaning radar arch. For my money, the design had sportboat written all over it.
Belowdecks, the Open’s interior turned out to be a comparatively simple affair, albeit finely finished to Palm Beach standards in teak, maple and wenge. Up forward, a sleeping cabin offered a large, residentially-rectangular berth (always easier to use and deal with than a V-berth or some other oddball configuration) as well as shelves, drawers, lofty aviation-style bins, plenty of hanging-locker space, a Lewmar hatch overhead (with privacy screen and blind) and an adjoining head with a separate shower stall. At the rear, there was a mid-cabin with another large, rectangular berth behind a bulkhead with an open entryway that, in spite of the light from a small opening port within, seemed to produce a darkened, cave-like ambiance. And in between the two spaces, at the foot of the companionway, was a bright, airy galley down with stainless-steel appliances, sweetly-joined maple cabinetry (containing Palm Beach-embossed silver, stemware and china) and Corian countertops.
One feature stood out. On the galley’s after bulkhead, behind swing-out maple doors, I noticed a Blue Seas Systems electrical panel with a Fischer-Panda monitor of a sort I’d never seen before. “This boat has a Fischer Panda PMGi 15000 system,” said Palm Beach Global Marketing Director George Sass Jr. “It’s fairly new to the market.” The PMGi system, Sass continued, is essentially a genset-connected inverter that puts out clean 110- or 220-volt AC power after removing the power spikes that occur when a modern Panda genset automatically adjusts to load changes. One of the advantages is you can employ a relatively small, high-speed diesel in the genset so an expanded rpm range accommodates very large loads as well as small ones. This makes producing onboard electricity generally quieter, more compact and more economical.
A topside tour soon followed our walkabout below. Because both the Open and the Express are sporty dayboats, the on-deck particularities, if elegant, are also straightforward. A raised salon forward features a starboard helm station with two comfortable, sumptuously upholstered helm chairs, duplicates of the two chairs for passengers to port. The carbon fiber dashboard at the helm is comprehensible at a glance—an essentials-only arrangement includes little more than a Garmin MFD, a Zipwake monitor, a Hepworth Marine wiper rheostat, an Electronic Vessel Control module from Volvo Penta (as well as both binnacle and joystick-type engine controls) and a Muir anchor-windlass touchpad.
Both the GT50 Open and Express boast contemporary styling, whether it’s the L-shaped lounges and storage abaft the salon; the finishes in teak, maple and wenge throughout the interior, including the master; or the well-appointed galley down.
“How about I try ‘er out for just a sec?” I enthused before starting to climb behind the wheel, an action that required stepping up via a raised molding that serves as a footrest. Thunk. I hit my head quite forcefully on the massive windshield receiver above. And then, when I finally got seated (quite comfortably, I might add), I realized that the height of the footrest under my feet, besides engendering comfy ergonomics, also precluded driving while standing up, given the distance my hands would then hover above the engine and other controls.
“We currently see both the Open and the Express models as sit-down-to-drive boats,” said Palm Beach CEO Mark Richards. Richards went on to add, however, that while spatial concerns for machinery beneath the cockpit deck necessitate the raised footrest, Palm Beach plans to offer modifications in the future so customers can opt for stand-up as well as sit-down driving.
“Check this out,” Sass noted as we stepped down a couple steps from the salon to the cockpit. While both social zones were obviously devoted to laid-back luxury (with opposed settees and a movable table in the salon, and sunpads, a fridge and a wetbar in the cockpit) what Sass was proudly holding aloft was a comparatively prosaic seat cushion he’d extracted from a starboard bench—its underside carefully cut from composite, doubled in thickness, painted gray and amply vented and drained. “Nice work,” I said appreciatively, as I raised the entire upper-cockpit deck, express-boat-style, with a switch.
As soon as I’d dropped down into the engine room, I understood the necessity for the footrest at the helm. The Fischer-Panda genset and its PMGi components inhabited a machinery space that went well beyond the forward firewall; it appeared to underlay the helm area. But although somewhat constricted, the genset itself—its water supply fitments, exhaust system and wiring—seemed crisply and thoughtfully installed. And, in fact, so did just about everything else.
To the left of the genset, for example, there was a single, bulkhead-protected, center-of-gravity-spotted fuel tank—the only fuel tank on board—an arrangement that nixes complicated manifold issues and fuel-related trim problems. Then there were two large, easily-serviced 900MA Racors secured to the fuel tank’s bulkhead, flanked by an equally large automatic Sea-Fire fire-suppression bottle. And alongside the bottle, I was pleased to see a couple of top-shelf ProMariner battery chargers and a Magna Sine inverter. Twin 600-hp Volvo Penta 8D diesels were mounted farther back, with big Groco ARG 1000-P sea strainers just below. And because of the boat’s LCG-optimizing midship engine placement, there were two shrouded, 10-foot jackshafts leading aft to the IPS units at the transom.
Two suggestions came to mind as I climbed out. First, why not install a day hatch in the salon to expedite daily fluid checks, rather than having to remove several cushions and lift the entire thing? And second, why not swap the dipstick on the port engine from an outboard location to an inboard one—the 8Ds are built to accommodate such a thing. Although some service points on the port main (an oil filter and a fuel filter) were reasonably easy to get at, dipstick access was poor.
With Sass and Capt. Mark Mitchell along, sea trialing the Open was pure playtime on the water. In fact, upon several occasions while zooming across Lake Worth’s 2- to 3-footers, I was constrained to opine, “Now this baby’s a driver’s boat—no freakin’ question!”
The helm seat was cushy. Sightlines through the wraparound windshield were expansive. And the agility inherent in the boat’s exceptionally modest displacement (I know of a few 40-some-footers that weigh more) was flat-out spine-tingling, due mainly to a sea-slicingly fine, deep-footed bow and some comparatively flat, transversely stabilizing after sections. The top hop I recorded while deploying the boat’s Zipwake gyro/GPS-controlled interceptors was 39.3 knots.
Back at our Old Port Cove slip, I soon discovered that both wind and current were hammering the port bow as I began rotating the boat for a backdown. While the rotation ultimately proved successful, response time was slow, a development that prompted me to wonder whether a bow thruster might be in order.
“Certainly, we’ll fit a thruster if a customer wants,” said Palm Beach managing director Hank Compton when I brought up the subject. “There’s nothing like direct sideways thrust when things get difficult.”
We finished up with the Open about noon and, after a quick bite (the North Palm Beach salad at the marina’s Sandpiper’s Cove Restaurant & Bar is excellent) we made our way to the Express, a vessel that essentially duplicates her sistership in all respects but one: the addition of a stylish hardtop.
As you’d imagine, driving the Express on Lake Worth was just as much fun as driving the Open earlier. With the Express’ giant sunroof retracted, her side windows zhooped down automotive-fashion and her back door open, the experience came close to having no hardtop at all, although sealing things up to withstand inclement weather—or enjoy air-conditioned comfort—was an instantaneous possibility.
The top speed I recorded for the Express with Zipwake deployed was 37.9 knots, slightly less than the max I’d recorded for the Open. It’s likely the extra heft and windage of the Express’ hardtop and a heavier fuel load explain the discrepancy. I didn’t back the boat into her slip after the trial because she’d been sold and I have a policy never to maneuver an owner’s vessel dockside. I noted, however, that the Express handled nicely during Capt. Mitchell’s backdown, albeit under tidal and wind conditions that were much milder than the morning’s offerings.
“What do you think of the two boats?” asked Compton, when I shook hands with him at the Palm Beach facility in Stuart that evening. “Bearing in mind, of course, that we’re building a sportboat here, not a traditional Palm Beach.”
“Seriously fun to drive,” I replied. “Very agile and elegant. The Express seems more versatile, the Open wilder. But both are real sports, as we say in the sunny Southland. GTs for sure.”
Palm Beach 50GT Specifications:
Displ.: 28,660 lbs.
Fuel: 396 gal.
Water: 132 gal.
Test Power: 2/600-hp Volvo Penta D8-IPS800s
Price (Open): $1.63 million
Price (Express): $1.76 million (no aft bulkhead)
Price (Express): $1.78 million (aft bulkhead included)