Editor's Note: Milt Baker’s affair with Grand Banks yachts began in the late 1980s, when he and his wife Judy purchased a GB 32, then shifted into high gear three years later when they traded up to a GB 42 and began cruising it farther afield. For more than 15 years, they cruised their two GBs more than 25,000 miles between Florida, the Bahamas, Havana, and Halifax, and the GBs earned not only the Bakers’ affection but their deep respect. When Milt and Judy went to Tampa Bay last December to sea trial the new GB Heritage 43 Europa, it was with confidence that they knew a lot about Grand Banks’ yachts.
Grand Banks debuted its new Heritage 43 Europa at the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show in November 2012, and PassageMaker was one of the first magazines to sea trial the new model. I’m just back from that joyride on Tampa Bay, and as a two-time GB owner let me tell you: this is not your father’s Grand Banks.
This is a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing yacht; radically different from any Grand Banks I’ve ever known. Pierside or loafing along at 8 or 9 knots, she may look a lot like a GB from the past, but with this new model on plane at 20-plus knots the onboard sensation is more like flying. This is a new kind of GB, one of the most responsive motoryachts I’ve ever handled.
The look is unmistakably Grand Banks; the timeless profile with molded-in faux planking, teak planked transom, flawless gelcoat, highly polished stainless steel, oversized cleats and hawses, and seriously wide side decks—everywhere you look this yacht connotes upscale quality and experience. The topsides are fuller, the radiused corners are more rounded, and the bow has more rake. There’s noticeably less frilly teak on deck.
This new design has a modified-V planing hull with running gear recessed in tunnels, and there’s a whole lot more going on under the water. Displacing 41,000 lb., she’s powered by two 6.7-liter Cummins 480hp diesels mated to Zeus pod drives, which have rear-facing counter-rotating stainless steel propellers. The 43 EU is designed from the keel up to be a planing boat—but one that can also cruise comfortably at lower, more economical speeds. That’s a claim made by many so-called “fast trawlers,” but this boat really pulls off the fast trawler trick because the Zeus drives deliver exceptional maneuverability at both low speeds and high. I found this yacht like driving a sports car: sure-footed, silky-smooth, and easy to handle at all speeds.
Unlike my vintage semi-displacement Grand Bankses, which created big wakes trying to climb over the bow wave at anything above 9 knots, this new GB 43 EU moves right on up and over the bow wave, flattens out as she comes on plane, and leaves a polite wake at a fast cruise. Like my erstwhile GB 42, she carries 600 gallons of diesel in two tanks. Using data from the Zeus instrumentation, I found the 43 EU’s fuel burn very efficient at 8.8 knots, yielding a no-reserve range of 600 miles (1 USG per mile). At a fast cruise she provides a calculated no-reserve range of 303 miles (2 USG per mile) at 17.7 knots. The yacht can cruise at 19.6 knots with a slightly diminished no-reserve range of 287 miles.
This new model is exactly what Grand Banks was aiming for: a two-stateroom, two-head cruiser that can use her extra speed to sprint to cruising destinations, spend days or weeks exploring at slow, economical cruising speeds, then put on the speed to get home quickly. Consider heading out to a cruising area 200 miles away, leaving at dawn, and arriving before dusk! GB Brand and Marketing Director David Hensel says this is a mix that Grand Banks believes is just right for today’s market.
Besides her Grand Banks pedigree, what won me over was 43 EU’s responsiveness, something that derives from both her hull design and her independently steerable Zeus drives. Put the wheel hard over at full speed, which I couldn’t resist doing repeatedly, and the boat banks into the turn ever so slightly, just a couple of degrees. When I persisted, keeping the wheel hard-over, the turn radius got tighter, then tighter again, but the heel was barely noticeable as the yacht closed in toward the center of a frothy whirlpool. (See this being done with a GB Heritage 41 Europa, the predecessor to this model, off Bimini at http://tinyurl.com/GB41EuBimini. Other than being longer, the 43’s hull is almost identical to the 41’s.)
As I put this new Grand Banks through her paces several times, I slowed her to idle, let her settle into the water, then pushed the throttles to the hilt and watched, with a gleam in my eye, as she rose serenely onto plane. Thanks to automatic trim tabs built into the Zeus drives, each repetition produced a comfortable, natural motion—as the boat gained speed the tabs kept the bow down giving good visibility over the bow. As she came up on plane, the yacht’s running angle never exceeded 4 degrees, then only for a few seconds as she came over the bow wave between 10 and 13 knots. Otherwise, she ran at less than 3 degrees, very close to level. Acceleration was swift: idling along at 3.8 knots to 21 knots was right at 20 seconds each of the three times I tried it.
Those Cummins engines seemed to love what we were doing, right in their element. With Zeus drives, the exhaust exits the boat through the propeller hubs, and I saw no evidence of smoke even when the engines were loaded heavily with the boat coming out of the hole. Nor could I hear turbine whine or other distracting noises. The props were perfectly loaded—99 percent at the engines’ 3300 top rpm.
But no day can be perfect. Our antics on Tampa Bay drew the attention of a nearby 25-foot Coast Guard response boat. We had no VHF radio aboard this brand new yacht and we hoped they weren’t calling us, but we slowed to 7 knots and paralleled their course, a quarter-mile between us. We watched them; they watched us. No flashing lights—good sign. After three minutes, to break the impasse we turned 180 degrees. The Coast Guard boat followed suit, then began to close the distance between us. Uh-oh.
“Good morning,” shouted our onboard Grand Banks chaperone once the coasties were within hailing distance. “We’re just sea-trialing this brand new Grand Banks with PassageMaker Magazine [staff] onboard.” The young coxwain aboard the Coast Guard boat returned the greeting with a smile, then waved our little ship on her way and turned his vessel back toward St. Petersburg. Is it fair to say the Heritage 43 EU passed muster with the U.S. Coast Guard?
Vintage Grand Banks are wet boats, thanks to fine entry and minimum flare in their forward sections. For years, my wife Judy and I would spend our weekends on Biscayne Bay, running a dozen miles down to a favorite anchorage in our Grand Banks 42. In even a 5-knot breeze with flat seas, invariably we’d reach our destination with a thin layer of salt atop the forward caprails and enough spray that the windshields needed a quick rinse and squeegee. This isn’t so on the 43 EU. After working her hard for two-plus hours on Tampa Bay I found her rails salt-free—and not a drop on the windshields. This boat has a molded-in spray deflector just below the boot top to direct spray downward and outward, away from the hull. Even when spray tries to fly up, the flared topsides force it down.
The Heritage 43 EU, designed by an in-house GB design team, is what Grand Banks calls a modified-V design. Compared to the Heritage models of yesterday, this hull carries its full beam farther forward and aft, and has much more flare in the forward sections. Below the waterline the design team created a hull that takes full advantage of the Zeus propulsion. The underwater forward V-portion of the hull has a full 56 degrees of deadrise at Station 0, helping deliver the soft ride I experienced.
Deadrise amidships is a moderate 22.6 degrees, flattening out to 17.5 degrees at the transom, a design that proved itself in tank tests for the 43 EU’s near-identical 41-foot predecessor. The 43’s keel ends about two-thirds of the way aft, giving way on both flanks to a pair of tunnels designed to keep the yacht’s draft to a low 3 feet 9 inches and provide a protected location for the twin Zeus pod drives.
Unlike most planing hull yachts, the EU 43’s propellers are not the lowest part of her underbody. With this design, that honor goes to her keel, which plays a major role in protecting the yacht’s pod drives and its propellers. In a grounding situation the tough fiberglass keel is the first line of defense. Nonetheless, the Zeus drives carry sacrificial skegs designed to break away (and be easily replaced) in the event a Zeus drive grazes bottom. And while completely shearing off a Zeus lower leg is possible in theory, in the real world it’s very rare. Just in case, however, the Zeus system is designed and engineered to keep the boat afloat even if a Zeus drive lower unit is sheared off completely. Not that you want to shave off a Zeus drive, but it’s good to know there would be no flooding the boat if that were to happen.
What else impressed me and Judy (who helped me on the sea trial)?
Zeus Skyhook Station-Keeping. At the press of a button the skipper can engage the optional Skyhook and essentially park this yacht at sea: any position, anytime, anywhere. Once Skyhook is engaged, the yacht maintains its position and heading, even when there’s serious wind and current. Drive-by-wire control makes this possible. Starting with the Zeus GPS position as input, the smart software adjusts the azimuth and thrust of each pod independently, holding the yacht’s original heading and position with smooth, measured precision. When should Skyhook be used? Think about waiting for a bridge to open, waiting your turn at the fuel dock, or fishing over a wreck. We sampled the Skyhook feature twice on sea trial and found it performs as advertised—with Skyhook engaged, our 43 EU never moved more than 10 feet from her original position.
Next, the joystick controls. This yacht has no thrusters and needs none. At maneuvering speeds the proportional Zeus joystick control and built-in software allow tight control of the yacht with one hand—just move the joystick in the direction you want the boat to move and it responds. Let go and the joystick returns to its home position, stopping the boat. Use your wrist to twist the joystick for standstill heading turns in place. My favorite feature: the ability to move the yacht sideways, right into that tight slip on the face dock, for example, by simply moving the joystick right or left. It’s so easy, so intuitive you can teach your 10-year-old to dock this GB in 10 minutes—you have to experience joystick control to truly appreciate how easy and intuitive it is.
What about noise? I didn’t trust the decibel readings we took on sea trial (with an uncalibrated iPhone app), but to my ears this is the quietest, smoothest Grand Banks I’ve ever driven. The company’s focus on attenuating noise with serious engine room insulation is part of the equation, but the game-changer is the location of the engines and running gear—all the way aft beneath the cockpit in what I think of as the lazarette. That represents a fundamental change from the GBs I’ve known, where the engines are in the center of the boat—with all the attendant noise, vibration, and heat from the engine room radiating upward right into the saloon. With this model, that’s all moved aft and away from the yacht’s crew areas, a design change that makes a huge difference in attenuating engine noise in the accommodation. Losing the heat and most of the vibration is an added plus. And freeing up the space under the main cabin sole, where this boat has a very handy walk-in utility room with space for freezer, watermaker, washer/dryer, and more.
Most of the heavy lifting on design work for this boat was performed initially for Grand Banks’ first-generation Zeus-drive boat, the Heritage 41 EU. (For further information on the decision to retire the ever-popular GB 42 and take on the mammoth design process and tank testing of a cutting edge replacement, see “Grand Banks 41, a Revolutionary Evolution,”PassageMaker Oct. ’08.) While the 41 EU was a revolutionary yacht, it quickly became clear that GB buyers wanted more. They loved what they saw—planing speeds, Zeus drives and handling, Skyhook and joystick features, and a center utility room under the main saloon—but they also wanted a second head, a larger cockpit, a bigger boat deck, and more tankage. For a can-do company like GB, stretching the original design to 43 feet was a natural choice.
Listening to owners’ druthers is something Grand Banks does well. The company that is now Grand Banks Yachts began building boats in Hong Kong more than half a century ago, and has built more than 5,200 boats. The great majority—over 4,300—were Grand Banks Heritage models, the collective name given to what old Grand Banksters think of as Classics, Europas, Motoryachts, and Sport Sedans. Most were tough, elegant and conservative semi-planing yachts with modest power. And many of the ideas underlying GB changes came directly from GB owners.
Until I met the new 43 EU I’d never quite thought of GBs as revolutionary yachts. To the contrary, knowing GBs on a first-name basis for decades I’d always considered them more evolutionary—each new design and each hull number within a line is better than those that came before it. This new 43 Europa has opened my eyes and changed my thinking. The same goes for my first mate who clearly enjoyed this sea trial every bit as much as I did.