BOAT TEST: GRAND BANKS 53 ALEUTIAN RP
Adventure in style, safety and economy aboard the Aleutian 53 RP. TONY MACKAY takes the helm…
It is 2am and you are fast asleep (probably snoring), the Trade-a-Boat having slipped to the floor a few hours ago, and you are now blissfully dreaming of your next boat. In this vivid dream you are wandering around a vast boat show where the selection includes every boat you have ever looked at, liked or lusted after.
But unlike Cinderella, the 'shoe' does not seem to quite fit. A charming little girl comes toward you and takes your hand and leads you through the crowd toward a sparkling white luxury cruiser. The boat is a Grand Banks 53 Aleutian RP and the little girl is Goldilocks. (Some dream!).
Bear with me… She takes you on a guided tour (she has read the brochure and been to the Grand Banks factory) and from the foredeck to flying bridge, full-beam master suite to luxury galley, commissary pantry to Cummins-powered engineroom, you finally settle on the luxurious leather sofa in the huge saloon.
She whispers in your ear, "Not too big, not too small. Not too slow and not too fast. This one is just right. It is the perfect boat. Sweet dreams."
When it comes to testing things, our famous little blonde home invader, food sampler and mattress inspector has legendary experience (although she is still embroiled in a turgid property dispute and sexual misconduct case with the Three Bears, but I digress). Thing is, it is no easy task to find the perfect anything; the fulfillment of individual tastes is complex and convoluted, made worse by age, ego and finances.
However, I know there will be very few experienced boat owners who, once they have taken a good look over the new Grand Banks, come away dissatisfied. This may indeed be the legendary glass slipper for your foot.
Do I really have to introduce the Grand Banks brand? Most readers will know of the builder's superbly designed, engineered and constructed boats, which have garnered thousands of accolades over the years. Originally a traditional trawler-style cruiser of 36ft, the range has expanded from the 1960s classic offerings into a broader spectrum of more stylish and sophisticated boats that enjoy the performance and ability of sportscruisers.
The GB Eastbay design project in the 1990s, which saw a collaboration with the C. Raymond Hunt design team, was a turning point for the company, dramatically enhanced by two new high-technology factories that managed to seamlessly blend classic design and comfort with practical boating needs, and a huge injection of state-of-the-art ideas. It really has been an evolution of the species into a range that commands the highest respect from any section of the boating community. A class act indeed.
The buyer of this boat will have either worked hard and have a large bank balance or luscious super fund, have won the lottery or even better, sat across the desk in a solicitor's office to be gloriously informed that dear Aunt Beryl, who was shot up the chimney in a tearful ceremony yesterday, had $127 million in cash and assets and left the lot to her dear nephew, who strangely, has just stopped crying.
Whatever your particular circumstance, the GB 53 still has to pass the stringent scrutiny of the experienced boat owner - and the beady eye of this bitter and acidulated writer. A tough call. It is all good news though, as I think we have finally found the almost perfect boat. Keep reading…
WINE AND ROSES
As we get older, the word comfort becomes paramount. Gone are the days of the Hood 23 with two kids, Easter in the rain and the toilet barely concealed between the two forward bunks. It is now the days of wine and roses and a number of crucial issues will need to be addressed.
As I subscribe to the "drinks six, eats four and sleeps two" school of boating, our new owners will probably be a couple looking for a luxury weekend or holiday pad, the odd guest to stay, all the comforts of home and easy to handle without stress. Economical at a slow cruise, an impressive squirt of power to chase the start of a yacht race and a range of techno and comfort items, such as LCD TVs, air-conditioning and big bathrooms. Did you request a laundry, walk-in pantry and a queen-size bed madam? Welcome aboard.
The layout is a familiar and particularly functional one, stepping aboard a full-width swimplatform overlaid with teak, two steps lead through a transom door and into the very spacious cockpit, the 5.4m (17ft9in) beam width being immediately apparent. Two small rope lockers are in each corner with the fairleads and cleats mounted on top for line handling without stooping to deck level (just in case our owners may be prematurely arthritic).
The roofline marginally exceeds the cockpit length and will provide additional shelter in inclement weather. Two Perspex doors to each covered sidedeck will insulate the cockpit from the chilly blasts of winter or hairstyle-destroying nor' easterlies in summer. Until you have enjoyed a boat with covered sidedecks you may not appreciate the enormous benefit in shade and weather protection that this design feature offers. With the Aleutian you are always inside the decks rather than clinging on, and this allows a huge margin for safety for either the less confident or small children (who brought them?).
Superb oversized fairleads and cleats allow ropes to be laid in them rather than through them, with great safety benefits in difficult circumstances. The forward Portuguese bridge has doors to port and starboard, with commodious rope and fender lockers in the middle. The cockpit and sidedecks were all laid teak on the test boat.
The foredeck has painted decks for easy maintenance and less thermal load to the forward cabin. A Lofrans electric winch, stainless steel 99lb Ultra Anchor, plenty of chain and two rope lockers will deal with anchoring requirements and there are fresh and salt water outlets for washing off the muck. The bowsprit has an additional top roller for launching a second anchor if required, while a teak jackstaff allows the installation of a jaunty flag to complete the picture. The whole area is enclosed in a double-railed pulpit with another four cleats and fairleads for use when required. Tourists may relax on the three-seat sofa and watch the world slide past.
Looking down on all this is the huge flying bridge, which has a generous ladder from the cockpit or an internal access stairway from the pilothouse. The expansive dash has a centre command station with duplicated instruments, a Stidd helm chair and an L-shaped sofa and table aft. A small settee with storage allows guests to face each other and argue about whose turn it is to bring another tray of drinks.
Facing the boat deck is a console with sink, storage and provision for a barbecue. One could even install a temporary awning over this area when at anchor, converting it to a very workable galley facility. The huge aft boat deck has a 3.8m inflatable tender with 40hp Yamaha four-stroke, and a Muir Steelhead 800lb crane. The usual superb Grand Banks stainless steel railings, which partially wrap around the bridge casing, will allow our new admiral the opportunity to peer over the side at incoming riffraff. I could not imagine how this layout could possibly be improved upon. The test boat had the optional hardtop, which is both attractive and superbly practical. I would tick that box immediately.
As luscious and smooth as all this gelcoat, glass and stainless steel may be, the real delights await us inside. Two sliding doors open the cockpit to a gloriously spacious saloon, which feels so warm and inviting.
Grand Banks has really detailed its cabins in the most superb manner, the teak veneers, door mouldings, fixtures and fittings simply scream quality. It is a well-bred whisper actually and as the Swiss bankers say, "money talks but wealth whispers." No need for over-flashy bling details; your hands will automatically reach for the stainless steel and teak handrails, caress the supple leather, while the eyes enjoy a vast array of tasteful inclusions all perfectly and logically fitted.
There are large picture windows, backlit and recessed ceiling panels (that also discretely conceal all the air-conditioning outlets), teak and holly flooring and an attractive bulkhead wall unit for books and the large plasma TV. A charming book about Lucky the Dog, who joined a couple on their yacht, was on the rack and he would have felt quite considerably more than lucky if he and his furry little paws had landed in this lap of luxury.
An L-shaped sofa faces another settee in this particular layout (you can order separate club chairs but I would not), with a coffee table in the middle. An icemaker/bottle storage cabinet is forward and to port and the main electrical panel is conveniently located at eye level on the port bulkhead. I liked that. Three steps up and you are in the pilothouse with the galley in the aft section, a large U-shaped dinette sofa and table arrangement to port and the helm station in the centre.
The helm suited me well with an individual Stidd leather chair and not-too-large array of stuff. A logical and convenient selection of Raymarine equipment for navigation, Naiad stabilisers, triple synchronised wipers for the huge windscreens and a row of switches directly associated with navigation is enough to look and be practical without so much as to be confusing.
The superb teak and stainless steel helm has a ship feel (none of these silly car steering wheels thank you very much!) and is fully power-assisted for finger-tip control. Electronic throttles, bowthruster, and remote spotlight are standard, and anything else you may require can be included as an option. A side door opens to the starboard sidedeck.
Adjacent to the helm is the portside dinette that allows the skipper to keep company with interesting crew, all of whom will be enjoying a panoramic view. The table may double as a chart table for those still sensibly duplicating their travels with a proper chart (in the unlikely event of an electrical or equipment failure). The captain's chair can presumably be adjusted to be used as a dining chair and perhaps another high stool could be used for an additional guest. All very cosy and companionable.
Meanwhile, in the starboard corner (sounds like a boxing match) a skilled food expert will be making considerable headway with a feast, particularly given the superior equipment and the superb view. The galley is beautifully fitted so that our chef may enjoy the conversations on the bridge and in the saloon, all the time remaining productive with the food service. Make it snappy please!
Four pullout drawers (one is a freezer) are concealed behind the cabinets for a seamless look. A Miele electric cooktop is fitted into the granite bench and a convection microwave (which I would immediately have replaced with a proper oven) is mounted under the bench. A smaller return bench, forward and parallel, has the sink and cupboard space under. The whole effect is of furniture rather than a galley and it is particularly pleasant and very useable. A welcome added bonus comes from the commissary pantry between the master cabin and engineroom - it will capaciously store enough food and equipment for a very extended cruise. I shall describe that later.
A companionway/staircase is to port giving internal access to the flybridge, while another staircase to starboard leads down to the luxurious accommodations. It is equally delicious down below.
Arriving in the lower lobby one can move forward to the VIP guest stateroom in the bow and its plump and inviting island bed. A perfect place to be marooned. The bolster padded bed head, luxurious bedspreads and superb teak joinery are accented by highly polished portholes, chrome bed lamps with smart little shades and a very nice hatch above for fresh air.
If required, there are air-conditioning controls, stereo and a TV, while a door opens to the guest head with separate shower compartment. All very tastefully done. Freshwater Tecma Silent Flush heads, chrome fittings and an opening port make this a most agreeable room for dealing with the perils of hair, teeth and daily ablutions. A second door opens to the lobby for use by guests or those in the third cabin.
The third cabin has upper and lower bunks for occasional guests or children (they are back!), a cedar-lined hanging locker (as they all are) and plenty of other storage.
MASTER OF WOW
The big wow comes when entering the master suite. It really is glorious. A queen-sized berth is transverse-mounted and has two panorama portholes behind the padded bed head with a shelf in between. Two articulated lamps add to the hotel-suite feel, as do the stylish louvre door robes and cabinets.
Twin sliding pocket doors open the starboard side and expose the cabinets of the splendid luxury head, which has a matching pair of panorama portholes. With both doors open the suite appears to be a full-width cabin; the head and shower sections hidden behind the door recess. The whole effect is quite delightful, particularly as the ports are only a few feet above the waterline, but the illusion being that one is at water level.
The cabinets of the head appear as a piece of furniture in the master cabin and it just all feels like the most sumptuous hotel suite - five-star, of course. A huge LCD TV is mounted on the wall and controls for the air-conditioning and CD stereo player are close at hand. The biggest worry is how to summons the energy to get out of bed at all. The panorama ports were fixed and it is an option for opening ports. Tick that box, too.
In the aft bulkhead of this master cabin is the door to the pantry/commissary/laundry that can also be equipped as a crew cabin. A full laundry can be installed, chest freezer and voluminous cupboards will keep food, wine and general equipment safe and dry. Perhaps a little workshop? A brig? - in the event that those pesky children turn rancid. Pandora's Box indeed. I just love this utility room.
A watertight submarine-style door with chrome porthole allows access to the full-height and superbly laid-out engineroom. Internal engineering access can be safely made in heavy seas, when deck hatches and doors need to remain well-secured.
The Grand Banks test boat was equipped with twin Cummins QSM 11 turbo-diesels of 715hp each, coupled to ZF gearboxes with a vee-drive shaftdrive. This allows the engines to be placed farther aft, hence the availability of the pantry space. Optional Zeus pod drives or the Caterpillar C12 ACERT engines are also available. The whole room is glistening white, everything installed with logic and care, clearly marked and smartly arranged.
Nice details like the teak slatted floor and ladder accentuate the fact that the Grand Banks engineers really do know what they are doing. They have had plenty of experience! An Onan 17.5kVa generator will deal with the 240V power requirements, while the Mastervolt inverter charger, coupled to the impressive Lifeline deep cycle AGM batteries, gives silent power when needed. Delta T air-demisters keep salt spray out and the whole area is pristine. Grand Banks only specify top-tier equipment for its boats.
A massive hatch hydraulically opens in the cockpit to reveal the engineroom for service work and the boat can remain locked and safe while maintenance is carried out. Although there's no dedicated lazarette, the engineroom has plenty of space for spare parts, a second anchor or outboard motor. Lines and fenders can be stored in the various on-deck repositories. Cleaning equipment will live on the flybridge. See, I have it all worked out already.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
With the motors softly rumbling under the decks, a few flicks of the electronic throttles has us away from the marina and smoothly sliding up the Gold Coast Broadwater. Having spent New Year's Day aboard an Aleutian 64 and a few days later on a 72, I can report that there is absolutely no diminishment in the smooth, powerful progress of the smaller sister. In fact, it is quite remarkable that she feels so much bigger and more capable than her 53 feet.
In my opinion (humble), this is the best styling effort of the range; the angles of the cabin, windows and bridge are particularly harmonious. The flare of the bow and angle of the stem has also been modified to give a slightly sportier appearance, notwithstanding that the hull is perhaps the driest of all GBs.
Everything is done with a minimum of fuss and I was suitably impressed as you may have gathered. Nothing is perfect, though, and I was a tiny bit unhappy about limited opening windows (other than the side and aft doors) in the saloon or pilothouse. The master cabin ports were fixed, although it is an option to have opening ones. I like fresh air and the generator off wherever possible. A silent ship.
The mattresses were surprisingly hard and presumably, like five-star hotels with their pillow menus, Grand Banks probably has a mattress softness selector from which Madam Locks and I would be quick to pick something more luxurious and plush. Hardly a fault with the boat though, and hardly enough to shatter the glass slipper. It was a virtual perfect fit for me and I would be very surprised if it was not for you, too. Now where is Aunty Beryl and that will?
(Facts & figures)
GRAND BANKS ALEUTIAN 53 RP
The modified vee-bottom with double chines, prop pockets and well-balanced keel dimensions make the Aleutian 53 surefooted and capable. At 33 tonnes, this is no lightweight, but that only adds to the predictable motion. Push the levers down and she seamlessly slides onto the plane and we are away. A short rolling swell is easily dealt with, although there is some crunch as the double chines split irritating seas. With the Naiad stabiliser fins doing their work there is an absence of roll and one can settle back on watch during a coastal passage. Nine knots or maximum hull displacement speed is efficient with only 1200rpm required for a typically frugal 38lt/h combined. The 17-knot cruise will use a not inconsiderable 181lt/h for a range of 319nm. Top speed is 23kts, used for passing ex-friends.
PRICE AS TESTED
Twin 715hp QSM11 electronic turbo-diesels, half fuel and water
RPM SPEED FUEL BURN RANGE
1200 9.03kts 19.37lt/h 750nm
1400 10.9kts 39.74lt/h 454nm
1700 12.18kts 53.55lt/h 379nm
1900 14.7kts 71.53lt/h 345nm
2100 (cruise) 17.2kts 90.84lt/h 319nm
2300 19.92kts 114.11lt/h 294nm
2500 22.7kts 141.82lt/h 270nm
* Official sea-trial data supplied by Grand Banks. Range calculated on 90 per cent fuel with generator running for entire duration. Fuel Burn figures are per engine.
Watermaker, bowthruster, Raymarine package, air-conditioning, laid teak decks, and more
MATERIAL: Handlaid GRP
TYPE: Modified vee-bottom with partial prop tunnels and keel
WEIGHT: 33 tonnes
BERTHS: 6 (plus convertible sofa)
HOLDING TANK: 379lt
MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Cummins QSM 11
TYPE: Electronic six-cylinder turbo-diesel
RATED HP: 715 (each)
A grand adventure awaits the owners of this upmarket trawler yacht, voyaging ensconced in five-star luxury, upbeat that they have the best in engineering for crossing the seven seas safely and efficiently from an established brand.
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