With renewed focus on weight saving and efficiency, the Eastbay 44 is the first of a new breed of Grand Banks motor yachts
Grand Banks is emerging from a period of change that has seen around $4 million invested in its Malaysian facility and a refocus that leaves the yard currently building two models: the Grand Banks 60 and the Eastbay 44. It is the latter that sits before me, lashed to a cobbled quayside in the port of Harlingen in northern Holland on a biting cold day in mid March.
The Mini Beast from the East is galloping through Europe and its icy hoofs are trampling the Netherlands at the time of our test. With its stylistic roots buried in the pleasant lobster-filled waters of New England, if the Eastbay 44 were able to shiver, it would be doing so.
Against the bleak grey-on-grey backdrop, the Eastbay is a delight, its light-blue hull popping against the steely hue of the water it sits in, the lines an effortless mix of retro hints and modern architecture. Highly varnished teak tops the chunky bulwarks and if you look closely, you’ll note that the head of every single screw that attaches the guardrails to the deck is facing the same way.
The combination of traditional and modern continues below the waterline where a hand-laid hull is built with a cross-linked PVC foam core and laminated in Vinylester resin to ensure it is tough but relatively lightweight. Weight reduction is a major focus for Grand Banks these days.
The yard describes the Eastbay 44’s structure as being like a monocoque chassis, with the structural pieces of the boat fused together and no void between the internal liner and the hull to maximise living space below decks. For a similar reason, the yard has chosen IPS pods, specifically twin 435hp IPS600, as the sole engine option.
Of course, the performance and efficiency benefits of IPS play a significant part in its selection but the location of the engines so far back in the hull allows Grand Banks to fit two and a half cabins on the lower deck and still include a spacious and extremely practical engineroom.
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The weather on the day of our test gave the warm, inviting saloon extra allure but in balmier conditions, the Eastbay 44’s cockpit is a lovely space.
Even without the optional (€5,600) canopy overhead, the cockpit feels safe and well protected. The deck is low and the bulwarks high, so you instantly feel cocooned and the guardrails align perfectly with the side decks to help you guide you forward along either of the 30cm-wide side decks (45cm forward).
The cockpit bench, covered in robust yet stylish water-resistant upholstery, is plush and comfortable with a smaller couple’s seat opposite backed up against the doors. Upright units either side of this bench house an icemaker and fridge with an option to add a grill so you can cook here too.
As standard, there is no table in the cockpit, which is partly why there is such a fantastic feeling of space, the idea being that you lift the saloon table and use that outside. The saloon table is heavy though, and with a narrow doorway between cockpit and saloon, this solution won’t appeal to everyone, hence the option to fit a fixed table outside as well.
The saloon is brimming with warmth and home-from-home appeal. Teak sprawls liberally throughout the interior from the saloon floor to the window frames and even the beautiful central handhold affixed down the centre of the wheelhouse ceiling.
It’s an incredibly inviting space, even without a bitter wind urging you inside. Though there is a galley-down version, it’s hard to see who would opt for it when the galley-up configuration works so well, placing the kitchen opposite the main dining area and mere steps away from the cockpit.
There isn’t the space to fit a full-height fridge-freezer without it dominating the space so a pair of chiller drawers are neatly integrated into the galley unit with their own teak fascias. In a boat that is generally very practical, it’s odd that there is such a lack of fiddled edges in the saloon.
The galley countertop is completely flat and there’s a small ledge behind the helm seat that would be an ideal place to store phones and wallets if it had a small lip to stop items falling off. Some waist-high handholds would be useful too, and there’s a perfect spot for a pair of handles either side of the aft door to help as you step between saloon and cockpit.
Seemingly small omissions like this, the cheap-looking finish of the galley drawers and lack of auto-illuminating wardrobes in the cabins can be forgiven on boats that don’t carry the cachet of the Grand Banks badge, but they aren’t so easy to ignore on a boat with a starting price of $1.25 million.
There is still plenty to admire on the Eastbay 44, though. The aft and side windows slide down electronically to open up the saloon on warm days and there’s an unshakable air of quality in the cabins. Both bathrooms are beautifully finished and enjoy separate shower cubicles, and the floor plan of the master cabin forward allows for a short lobby that leads to the en-suite, enhancing the feeling of space.
Space in general is not an issue in this cabin thanks to plentiful room to change at the end of the bed and enough beam carried forward that you can walk down both sides of the double berth so you don’t have the ungainly clamber up into bed.
Headroom is a little tight in the twin guest cabin but the berths are comfortable and there is access to a bathroom the equal of the master en-suite in terms of size. There is the option to have a double bed mounted athwartships in the guest cabin but the pair of twins on our test boat is the more versatile layout.
The third cabin is tight with a single berth that will prove useful on occasion, but this area is more of a utility space for the owner to use. It has room for a washing machine and some extra storage space too.
The Wadden Sea, which separates Harlingen from the picturesque Frisian Islands, is an unpredictable beast. Its muddy waters are shallow and ravaged by tide so when the wind picks up, conditions can often get nasty, though that wasn’t the case on the day of our test, sadly.
Passing ferry wake proved the only way of challenging the Eastbay 44’s hull and it dealt with all that was thrown at it with nonchalant ease. From the helm, it is a boat that feels of apiece, solidly constructed and utterly reliable. On a boat so quiet, you would detect every squeak and rattle emanating from the interior if there were any, but you don’t hear a thing. The engines melt into the background, reassuringly thrumming away but never speaking out of turn.
At speed, you begin to realise what this boat is about and that is fast, comfortable cruising. At 25 knots, the range is over 400nm and you can cover 344nm, even at its top speed of 33 knots. A 2,200-litre fuel capacity is partly responsible for this impressive range and if you drop back to 10 knots, you can eke out just shy of 900 miles between fills.
It’s versatile and silky smooth in all situations; at slow speeds, the boat is alert to the joystick and easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces but up the speed and the light steering means you can have some fun throwing it about.
It’s a bit of a shame that the broad diameter of the steering wheel, lovely as it looks and feels, makes lock-to-lock turns so cumbersome. With a smaller wheel and a sportier setting for the electronically governed steering, the Eastbay 44 could be a real hoot.
As is, it’s destined to swallow long cruises and the driving position reflects that. You sit high with a broad dash before you so it’s easy to survey both the path in front of you and the navigation instruments. The bench is fixed so you have to lean forward to interact with the helm but if you set the speed and relax with a hand draped over the wheel; you soon get into the swing of things and let the boat do the work.
Offering one pod drive engine option on a boat with the heritage of a Grand Branks is a calculated risk, but it has paid off. The Eastbay 44’s dynamics are superb and it harnesses the full efficiency, performance and refinement benefits that IPS can offer when it is installed properly on a boat that was designed from the off to use pod drives.
Let’s talk money. This is a Grand Banks – if you’re looking for a bargain then you’d have turned the page a few paragraphs ago, so you know what’s coming. On the water, the boat we tested came in at $1.38 million which, at the time of writing, translated to €1.12m excluding tax. It starts at $1.25m (€1.01m).
That’s an awful lot of dough for a 48-footer with two and a half cabins, though it does have a hefty standard spec, and take a look at what it’s up against. Sabre’s 45 Salon Express is a direct rival with a similar layout and IPS600 in the engineroom and it has a starting price of $940,000 (€761,259). Dale’s gorgeous 45 is relatively good value in this company but it still comes in at €727,393.
This style of boat is not built with value for money in mind. This style of boat is built to cocoon you from the elements and whisk you away to your destination in timber and leather-lined luxury. The Eastbay 44 is a Category A beach house. Small improvements are still possible, but it’s unquestionably a class act.
LOA: 48ft 1in (14.65m)
Beam: 14ft 7in (1.03m)
Test engines: Twin 435hp Volvo Penta IPS600
Top speed: 33 knots
Range at 10 knots: 888 miles
Fuel capacity: 484 imp gal (2,200 litres)
Water capacity: 161 imp gal (734 litres)
Draught: 3ft 5in (1.03m)
RCD Category: A for 16 people
Design: C. Raymond Hunt & Grand Banks
Displacement: 13.5 tonnes
Price from: €1.01m ex VAT
Price as tested: €1.2m ex VAT