Beneath the iconic Grand Banks facade lies a different kind of motor yacht with a new hull and drivetrain designed to give outstanding fuel efficiency…
There hasn’t been much time to relax at Grand Banks since Australian ocean-racing yachtsman Mark Richards, founder of Palm Beach Yachts, came on board as CEO eight years ago, grabbed the company by the shoulders and ushered it into the 21st century.
It wasn’t that there was anything much wrong at the venerable Far Eastern firm, which invented the concept of the trawler yacht more than 60 years ago, and has created one of the most recognisable brand identities in boatbuilding history.
It was more that Mark has skippered the winning boat in the Sydney-Hobart Race so many times that they might as well just let him keep the trophy, and is a man of vast experience, clear ideas and strong opinions.
His main idea for Grand Banks was that it badly needed modernising. The world has moved on. Competition has become both keen and global. Classic looks are one thing, but classic construction and classic naval architecture can no longer cut it.
The new ethos is all about efficient, high-speed, long-range cruising yachts that still look like the old Grand Banks. So the hull of the new Grand Banks 85 is built using a foam-cored, E-glass laminate and vinylester resin, while the deck and superstructure are carbon fibre.
It is a combination that keeps the centre of gravity down and also means that in light condition this substantial motor yacht displaces less than 50 tonnes.
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Even more significant than that is the new Grand Banks hull shape, which Mark pioneered at Palm Beach Yachts.
Described as ‘V-Warp’, it combines the hard chines and V-sections of a powerboat planing hull with the rocker and barely immersed transom of a sailboat, with a vestigial skeg along the centreline aft – just deep enough and no more – for directional stability. Deadrise right aft is 5.5 degrees.
There is a fine entry at the bow, and some concave flare in the bottom panels forward to smooth the hull’s passage through the chop. For those who want to cling to tradition there is a shaft-drive option. Our test boat, Grand Banks 85 Hull#1, had twin Volvo 1350 IPS drives. That’s just 1,000hp per side.
Rival yachts with twice the horsepower might have higher top speeds, but for Mark the point is that they are a lot less efficient – at a fast cruise of 20 knots they can be burning 50 per cent more fuel.
The Grand Banks 85 is by far the biggest Grand Banks yet built, but step aboard and you might think not much had changed. There is the familiar satin-varnished teak interior, the hardwood sole, and a practical, conservative main deck layout, with big windows for the light and the views.
There are also the familiar and seamanlike handrails along the deckhead, but headroom is so absurdly generous – it’s 7ft 1in in the saloon – that normal sized people can barely reach them. Mark’s a big bloke, but he’s not that big. “It’s because of the American market,” he explained, with a hint of a smile.
The galley is forward, where the lower helm would be if there was one, and consequently has excellent views through the windscreen, as well as deck access via the side door.
This first Grand Banks 85 had the optional flip-up control station by the door to make things easier when coming alongside, and also a useful day head, with shower, leading off the port side companionway.
Another sign that the company clearly has the States in mind for its substantial new flagship is the enclosed hardtop on this first example, which adds weight – even carbon fibre tips the scales – and windage, and makes this otherwise elegant motor yacht look extraordinarily tall.
It’s an option that some owners will wish to do without, purely on aesthetic grounds, and although there is no lower helm station on the options list, the shipyard will fit one for you if you ask.
However, the skylounge makes a compelling case for itself. It’s an excellent upper seating area, with stupendous views. Being well above the level of the quayside it offers privacy too, while with opening windows it also allows you to enjoy the fresh air.
It leads out onto an open aft terrace with a table and a sofa. Down on the lower deck you have a choice of layouts, and a certain amount of customisation is also possible.
As seen at the 2022 Cannes Yachting Festival, for example, this first Grand Banks 85 not only had a hidden piano in the owner’s cabin but also a small twin-bunk cabin on the port side for the owners’ grandchildren.
It was pretty small, but then so, presumably, are the grandkids. There is a single-berth option here which will feel more spacious.
This fourth cabin encroached on what in the standard layout would be a huge owner’s suite, with its shower and heads ranged along the aft bulkhead and the option of a walk-in wardrobe.
The VIP in the bows feels spacious and comfortable. Its bed is mounted at the proper height and there is a pleasantly roomy head. Both here and in the master the beds are a full 6ft 6in long by five feet wide (198cm x 152cm) while headroom throughout the lower deck is an airy 6ft 8in (2.03m).
The starboard twin cabin, also ensuite, is of generous dimensions and eminently suitable for even American adults, with full-length berths some 34 inches (86cm) wide.
One of the most intriguing features of the 85 is its engineroom – or rather enginerooms, for each 1,000hp Volvo D13 has its own separate compartment, shared with a generator.
These sit either side of a central access corridor and stowage area which is reached through the excellent crew quarters, and effectively isolate the principal causes of heat and noise on board.
Less obtrusive systems such as air-conditioning, filtration and watermaking equipment are installed amidships in a separate service space beneath the corridor on the lower deck.
As the first off the line, our Grand Banks 85 had a world of boat shows to attend while also, somehow, giving her Australian owner some return on his investment.
So she had been shipped from the factory in Malaysia to Palma, Mallorca, earlier in the summer, while the owner and his family spent two and a half months on board cruising in the western Med.
By the time we caught up with her in Cannes in September she had acquired a bit of weed growth, according to Mark – although from what I could gather from the captain she hadn’t spent much time standing still – and had also had an encounter with “a big log”, as Mark put it, which had whacked one of the IPS drives and knocked it, he reckoned, about three degrees off true.
I wouldn’t have known. It was a breezy evening when we edged out through the small-boat traffic into open water beyond the Cannes sea wall, and the wind had been blowing a Force 5 or so from the west and south-west all day.
The waves were one to 2m. It was clear from the off that those fine forward sections lent the hull a real authority in head seas, slicing through them with every appearance of relish and providing us with a remarkably soft ride.
Mark asked me to keep the boat dry – he was only half joking, as there were hosepipe restrictions at the boat show after the summer’s drought, and washing salt off became a pressing issue for all exhibitors – and while I might not have been completely successful in doing so it was still impressive how dry our progress was, as we charged dead upwind at 18 to 19 knots.
Either because of her weedy bottom, or the out-of-kilter IPS drive, or both, we knew the boat wasn’t going to reach her advertised top speed. On the day, we clocked a maximum of 23.8 knots, burning 384 litres per hour, while at 2190rpm she was cruising at 20.3 knots and 303 litres per hour.
Mark referred us to the factory’s official sea trial data (reproduced below), which found this boat to have a top speed of just over 25 knots. The yacht was fitted with Humphree fins, which certainly earned their keep with the seas on the beam, virtually cancelling out the roll.
Remembering that following seas were not the traditional Grand Banks hull’s strongest suit, I was also interested to see how the new design would fare downwind, especially with so much top hamper – sitting at the helm of the 85, one’s eyeline is a good 20ft (6m) above the water.
Of course conditions were far from taxing for an 85-footer, but the waves were still of a size that would show up any handling quirks. I was expecting at least to have to helm the boat, but in the event I was hardly needed.
Only once or twice did the hull give any hint that it might start to veer off to one side or the other, and the slightest helm input was enough to bring it back into line. The rest of the time I had one finger on the wheel. She steered herself.
All things considered, it was a pretty flawless performance. The Grand Banks 85 is indeed an efficient, high-speed and long-range cruising yacht. And it still looks like a Grand Banks.
Grand Banks 85 specifications
LOA: 87ft 2in (26.58m)
Beam: 22ft 2in (6.75m)
Draft: 4ft 11in (1.50m)
Displacement (light): 49 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 2,200 gal (10,000 lt)
Water capacity: 308 gal (1,400 lt)
Test engines: Twin 1,000hp Volvo D13 IPS 1350
Top speed: 25.1 knots
Fuel consumption: 219 lph @ 18.4 knots / 83 lph @ 12.1 knots
Range: 672nm @ 18.4 knots / 1,166nm @ 12.1 knots
Design: Grand Banks
Price as tested: €9,000,000 ex. VAT