Grand Banks – grand plans

Chris Beattie | VOLUME 22, ISSUE 3

With 50 years of boat building tradition in its wake, Grand Banks steers a brave new course with faster planing hulls and new models.

All you have to do is examine a Grand Banks steering wheel to appreciate the amount of care and attention to detail that goes into these classically-styled boats. Untold pieces of finely worked Burmese teak are fused together to form the rim, which is attached to the hub by mirror-finished fine chrome spokes. Each lavishly varnished wheel takes days to make and is really a work of art which would not look out of place in a major gallery, instead of being the focal point of each and every Grand Banks helm station.

Celebrating its first half-century in business, Grand Banks recently invited Club Marine to visit its Singapore and Malaysian manufacturing facilities and jump aboard a couple of its newer models, which it intends to herald a new era in the iconic brand’s history.

Grand Banks has a unique heritage, fusing ageold Asian craftsmanship with good old American know-how and can-do. It was established in 1956 by American, Robert J Newton when he lived in Hong Kong, the company’s first creation actually being a sailing ketch, rather than the distinctive trawler-style cruisers it is now so well known for. Initially known as American Marine, Grand Banks has always relied on Asian manufacturing nouse and skill, coupled with American design and business savvy to produce boats that are now seen in marinas from Miami to Monaco and all well-heeled places in between.

Along the way, the company has earned a reputation for its uncompromising commitment to crafts manship and quality, particularly so for its signature teak joinery, which is second to none in terms of quality and finish.

Nowadays, production is centred a little further south, with the main factory located in Pasir Gudang in southern Malaysia, while a smaller facility is located just over the Straits of Johor on the island of Singapore. Production is split between the two facilities, with all sub-50-foot craft built to completion in Malaysia, while the bigger vessels are finished off in Singapore from raw hulls and upper decks towed down from Malaysia, a sedate 30-minute cruise away.

The 20-acre Malaysian factory is much bigger than its two-acre Singapore counterpart, relying on a total of around 900 employees, while Singapore gets by with 300, including administrative and design staff. Given the hands-on, skills-based nature of Grand Banks manufacturing, it is illuminating to watch as these craftsmen – often second-generation employees, their parents having brought them into the GB fold – produce the intricate timber work for which the company is known. While many other large boat builders nowadays boast of their reliance on automated manufacturing processes, Grand Banks bucks the trend pointing proudly to the hands-on nature of its construction methods.

Hulls are hand-laid fibreglass, with platoons of workers crawling over the structures as the boats slowly take shape from bottom to top. Clear gelcoat is employed on all hulls to ensure any structural flaws are easy to spot and repair. In addition, all hull bottoms receive three layers of epoxy barrier coat for further osmosis prevention.

The cabinetry department is, not surprisingly, a hive of activity, as craftsmen transform the 800 or so tonnes of Burmese teak that is stockpiled at the factory into ornate works of art. Examples of their work can be seen all over any Grand Banks model, but are most evident in the helm wheel and on other items such as the curved handrails on internal stairways. All internal timber surfaces are lavished with at least seven coats of varnish before they are deemed worthy of the Grand Banks quality control stamp of approval.

Similarly, all stainless fittings, such as hatches, portholes, grabrails, cleats and bowrails, are of the highest quality, and exhibit the traditional seafaring style for which the company is synonymous.

Given that Grand Banks is such a wellknown brand, many might be surprised to learn that in its last production year it produced just 87 boats spread over a range comprising three series; Heritage, Eastbay and Aleutian.

Atlantic Motor Yachts is the authorised dealer for Grand Banks in Australia. Its main sales office is located at Sydney’s Jones Bay Wharf. Recently the company employed former Grand Banks Regional Sales Manager, Peter Brown, who opened its second sales office at Mariner’s Cove on the Gold Coast. Peter accompanied me on my visit to the Grand Banks factories.

DEEP VEE DEPARTURE

In a significant departure from its traditional design parameters, Grand Banks has recently adopted completely new deep-vee planing hulls to increase performance over what, nowadays, are sometimes regarded as somewhat sedate and dated semi-displacement hulls. As David Hensel, the company’s Seattle-based marketing director explained, the new hulls were a response to customers wanting more performance and range out of their boats. They still liked the traditional trawler style and classically elegant interiors that Grand Banks has steadfastly adhered to, but were demanding boats that were able to come closer to the performance of more conventional luxury cruising craft.

To achieve the desired performance increases – in the order of close to 50 per cent higher maximum speeds than its traditional displacement hulls – required major hull redesigns that were developed by respected marine architects Sparkman & Stephens. The result is a deep-vee design incorporating dual propeller tunnels and larger props to bring the Heritage series in line with more contemporary cruising hull designs. Apart from the hull changes and some subtle styling touches intended to give a more modern feel to the interiors, the company steadfastly adheres to the design and look of the cruisers that have given it icon status in the marine industry.

For our visit, the company arranged for two new craft to be available for some on-water time near its Malaysian facility. Waiting at the dock was a just-launched 47 Heritage CL and a 47 Heritage EU, two flybridge variations on its trawler-style Heritage series. The CL stands for ‘Classic’, while the EU moniker refers to ‘Europa’. Both craft feature the new planing hull, with more flair in the bow and an increase in beam for more spacious accommodation than the 42 Heritage CL and EU models they replace.

Immediately obvious is the above-deck difference between the two – the CL features a shortened pilothouse structure located amidships ahead of a trunk-style aft cabin and open cockpit, whereas the EU features an extended saloon and flybridge resulting in a reduced covered cockpit and walkarounds. As would be expected, the differences extend below decks, with both employing significantly different layouts in the entertaining and accommodations areas.

AFT MASTER

Fundamental to the CL concept is the aft master cabin layout, as opposed to the forward master of the EU. The CL deckplan incorporates a full beam cabin, with generous room to move around the island queen bed. Accessed via stairs at the rear of the saloon, it’s a very spacious, self-contained sanctuary, with lots of cupboard and drawer space and a generous ensuite head and shower, plus a large cedar-lined hanging locker. Pro basket ballers won’t have a problem getting around the master either, with more than six and a half feet of head room courtesy of the raised cabin roof, which is clearly evident in the cockpit at the rear of the saloon.

Guests aren’t exactly hard-done-by though, with a spacious cabin of their own forward of the saloon. Given the particular limitations of its location, it still manages to pamper, with a full contingent of amenities, including shower, head and hanging locker.

The central saloon is a delightfully light and open area, courtesy of the abundant windows. An L-shaped lounge to starboard serves as the dining area, directly forward of which is the lower helm station, dominated by the customary Grand Banks teak and stainless steel wheel. An adjacent helm door offers quick and easy deck access, when required. The ‘half down’ galley on this particular CL sits low and forward on the port side, intruding somewhat into the guest cabin. Peter explained that GB has an option whereby the same space can be used for another small guest cabin, with the galley being raised to the same level as the saloon.

Access to the flybridge is via exterior stairs adjacent to the aft saloon door. Up here is definitely the place to be when the weather is at its best. Visibility is excellent from the centrally placed and fully-adjustable Stidd helmchair and the skipper’s companions have plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the great outdoors on luxuriantly padded lounges, with a small sink and fridge to help quench thirsts. Overall layout is simple and spacious and a beautifully crafted folding teak table gives the flybridge dining capability.

A pop-up electronic instrument panel is a nice touch in an area exposed to the elements, although an optional factory bimini can offer extra protection.

ON THE PLANE

The flat turquoise waters off the Pasir Gudang factory provided the opportunity to sample the new planing hull and increased performance offered by the standard Caterpillar C-7 ACERT 455hp engines. Impressively, the transition onto the plane on the CL was virtually imperceptible at around 13-14 knots, the boat assuming a near-flat running angle – flatter than most conventional planing hulls in my experience. Helm response for such a heavy boat was precise and surprisingly agile, and the CL stayed flat and true into turns – regardless of speed – and with no perceptible lean. With little wind to stir the waters, the ride was, not surprisingly, gentle, although crossing our wake reinforced the impression that the CL would not be too fussed should the seas stir. Comfortable cruising speed felt to be around 17-18 knots, while a brief run at WOT indicated that 21-22 knots might reasonably be expected with the standard engine option. Speaking of which, the engines were exceptionally quiet, whether on the flybridge or in the saloon.

Returning to the factory, Peter was keen to climb aboard the waiting 47 Europa, which he explained is the more popular model for Australian customers, due to its more conventional cockpit, extended flybridge and interior layout. In fact, this particular boat was destined for our shores and exhibited typical Aussie extras in the form of plenty of drink holders, dedicated liquor storage cabinets and subtle galley modifications requested by the owner. Speaking of owner preferences, Peter says that there is no such thing as a standard fitout on a Grand Banks.

“Hundreds of emails can be exchanged on the details and layout before a boat is completed, plus there are generally one or two visits to the factory by the owner to follow its progress,” he said.

The Europa’s teak-floored cockpit enjoys good protection from the elements and is serviced by a sturdy swim platform, accessed by a central transom door. Coverage offered by the flybridge overhang extends forward over the walkways on both sides of the deck. And speaking of walkways, access to the forward deck is both easy and safe on both models courtesy of the sturdy inboard and outboard handrails and recessed teak decking.

Located more to the aft of the boat, the EU’s spacious and sunlit saloon and galley layout varies from the CL in that the galley is on the same level, with all accommodation, including the master stateroom, forward via a central stairway. But the aft bias of the upper structure does allow for a bit more room for the forward master, which boasts full ensuite amenities as well as more than enough storage and flat surfaces.

Moving aft, there is a day head and shower to starboard, opposite which is the guest cabin. This can be configured as two singles or a double, and can also be optioned as a working office space. While the EU’s layout places the starboard lower helm a fair distance more to the rear, it still affords good visibility forward, with easy external access via the adjacent helm door.

For those who prefer an even better view, the flybridge is accessed via a straight stairway in the cockpit, which also doubles as the engine room access point when lifted upwards – engine access on the CL is via a hatch in the saloon floor. Below decks, maintenance access is good, with plenty of room to move around, while all fittings, plumbing and wiring are of a standard you’d expect to find in a craft of this quality and price.

Upstairs, the layout is similar to the CL, although there is additional deck area afforded by the Europa design and cockpit roof structure – one obvious use being for tender stowage.

POWER-PLUS

The owner of this boat had opted to upgrade to the optional Caterpillar C-9 ACERT 567hp engines and the difference was immediately obvious as the throttles were bent to the task. It rose to the plane easier and quicker than the CL and was noticeably more responsive. At 2250rpm we were thundering along at a quite un-Grand-Banks-like 23 knots over ground, with a few more revs up our sleeve, suggesting that a WOT of 25-plus knots would not be out of the question in the right conditions.

This boat used underwater exhausts, so that its bigger engines proved to be at least as quiet as their conventionally exhausted counterparts on the CL.

As with the CL, the Europa felt pleasantly light and agile at the wheel and sat flat and true through turns. In fact, both craft exhibited all of the performance and handling traits that Grand Banks makes so much of in its transition to planing hulls.

For a company with its roots so firmly embedded in tradition and conservatism, Grand Banks’ latest efforts suggest that it is using the landmark of its 50th anniversary as a catalyst for change and rejuvenation. Certainly, it is responding to the most common criticisms of its boats that in this day and age of power and speed for their own sake, they lagged behind their similarly priced and equipped opposition. While the new-generation planing hulls do offer increased performance, they by no means threaten the likes of Sunseeker, Riviera or Bertram. But they do make their craft more attractive to a wider audience, especially in the demanding US market.

Additionally, Grand Banks has managed to incorporate plenty of the mandatory mod cons, especially the now ‘essential’ pop-up TVs and myriad other entertainment and comfort options, without comprising the signature Grand Banks feel that its adherents are so fond of.

But the core values of Grand Banks – and those held so closely to heart by its many loyal devotees – remain unchanged. Deeply varnished teak and beautifully detailed polished stainless abound, giving an impression of timeless quality and tradition. All fittings, handles, storage liners and joinery are pretty much as close to flawless as it is humanly possible to get and construction quality matches the best in the industry.

If two days spent touring the factories and a few hours out on the water are anything to go by, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next 50 years provide smoother, faster sailing and plenty of highlights for this Asian American and its followers.

SPECIFICATIONS:

GRAND BANKS HERITAGE 47CL

Length Overall: 14.25m

Maximum Beam: 4.80m

Displacement: 23,738kg

Fresh Water: 984ltrs

Fuel Capacity: 2271ltrs

Power: 2 x Caterpillar C-7 ACERT 455hp

Estimated Top Speed: 24kn

Pricing from: $1.4M

SPECIFICATIONS:

GRAND BANKS HERITAGE 47EU

Length Overall: 14.22m

Maximum Beam: 4.80m

Displacement: 23,055kg

Fresh Water: 984ltrs

Fuel Capacity: 2271ltrs

Power: 2 x Caterpillar C-9 ACERT 567hp

Estimated Top Speed: 24kn

Pricing from: $1.3M

Price as tested: $1,566,154

For more information, go to: www.atlanticmotoryachts.com.au, or call Peter Brown on 0414 737 484.


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