The moment the 59 Aleutian RP pulled back into her berth in Miami, I jumped off the yacht, raced up the dock and grabbed the first phone I could find to call the boss.
Yachting's editorial director, Peter Janssen, is well-known for his Grand Banks fetish. He's owned them, lived aboard them and only his wife really knows if he has a pair of pajamas, as some of us believe, with tiny Grand Banks yachts embroidered on them.
"Peter," I said breathlessly, "you know that Grand Banks 59 Aleutian that I was testing? Whatever you do, don't go aboard her!"
There was silence, and then a puzzled, "Why not?"
"Because," I said, "you might do something very foolish."
The thought that I had to protect our editorial director from signing away his kids' inheritance occurred to me as we were heading back in from the sea trial and I was sitting in the splendid Stidd helm chair at the lower station, surrounded by acres of flawless teak glowing softly in the late afternoon sun.
It also occurred to me that if we'd had full tanks and a week's worth of provisions aboard, I might just have hijacked the 59 Aleutian and headed south by east for the islands.
Sitting there, watching the indicator lights for the Naiad stabilizers move hypnotically up and down in unison, I also realized that there wasn't one single thing aboard the 59 Aleutian that made it great: It was the orchestrated symphony of small perfections. Let me explain.
Sad to admit, I was around when Grand Banks took its first baby steps with a wooden yacht that was slow when others were fast, vertical when others were sleek, mysteriously Oriental when others were homegrown, and sipped fuel when others were guzzling.
Grand Banks is having its 50th anniversary and it's been fascinating to watch as the company has created an ever-growing niche for the trawler yacht. This is a company that has built itself not by slick new designs, but by continuously refining one simple concept. So the new 59 Aleutian, which bears a strong resemblance to the much earlier wooden Alaskan series, is just the latest iteration in an ongoing series of subtle, and not-so-subtle, refinements.
There was a time when a Grand Banks wouldn't have exceeded eight knots if you sailed her over Niagara Falls. This is not that yacht. Heading out under a Miami drawbridge, we followed a sixtyish-foot sportfisher and, after tiptoeing past all the Homeland Security stalwarts, her skipper looked around and then rolled the throttles forward. The big convertible took off in a haze of diesel smoke and white water. Aboard the 59, we did the same thing, and you can only imagine the look of that sportfisher's skipper when he turned around and saw our Grand Banks-usually a sedate trawler-hammering along at 25 knots in his wake. It was, as they say, a precious moment.
The 59 is actually a 25-plus-knot yacht, with two hearty 1,000 hp Cat C-18s tucked under the hood. Standard power is a pair of C-9s (500 hp). But who wants a 2,000-hp, 30-mph Grand Banks? Well, besides Peter Janssen and me, you do. Because you don't have to use all that power. If you want to motor along at 8 knots, you'll have long legs and good fuel economy. But if something large and red appears on your weather scope, you have the speed to outrun it or simply get the hell out of the way.
The full name is the Grand Banks 59 Aleutian RP, which stands for raised pilothouse, and this is the first collaboration between Grand Banks and the distinguished naval architecture firm of Sparkman & Stephens. The design brief was straightforward but challenging: create a yacht with performance parameters, but with styling dictated by the traditional Grand Banks look.
That the designers succeeded with the performance side is clear from the spec box and, no matter from what angle you view her, this is unquestionably a Grand Banks. Like the earlier Alaskans, she has a raised pilothouse with a big Portuguese bridge forward, full walk-around side decks and an expansive aft deck tucked under the flying bridge overhang.
Inside, there is the expected split-level saloon/pilothouse arrangement but, unlike some yachts that separate these areas with a bulkhead, the Aleutian is open from pilothouse windows to saloon doors. This creates a very pleasant and airy feel, especially as the oversized windows provide a great view even when you're seated.
It's interesting to note that the flying bridge extends full beam over the saloon to create a protected walkway around the after half of the yacht. That overhang was born as protection against rain in the Pacific Northwest where pilothouse trawlers proliferate, but it's equally effective in the tropics to keep the sun out of the saloon in the midday heat.
Photos can tell part of the story of the Aleutian's matte-finish teak, but you really have to run your hands over the joints to appreciate the high level of craftsmanship. Again, it's not obvious visually, but the feel is like the difference between the leather in a Rolls-Royce and the leather in my Explorer.
Rather than blocking the view with overhead cabinets, the galley in the pilothouse is separated from the helm by just a counter, so there is the effect of a much larger yacht. And instead of the expected stand-up refrigerator, the Aleutian has SubZero drawers that don't clutter the space. One thoughtful touch is the pass-through "margarita hatch" so food and drink can be handed directly to the flying bridge rather than balanced up a stairway.
The lower helm is a simple affair, if you like yards of beautiful teak, with the nav instruments in an upright black panel and the electronic engine controls in a recessed panel behind the big teak destroyer wheel. There's plenty of flat space for traditionalists to lay out a paper chart, and there's even flat storage underneath for those relics as well.
The accommodations are reached via a curving stairwell from the pilothouse that leads to a small foyer. Aft is the full-beam master stateroom with an offset island berth against a fabric headboard. Both port and starboard sides have teak bureaus and cedar hanging lockers that are sized to hang clothes properly. A desk or vanity is next to the berth, and the fabric-covered forward bulkhead has a flat-screen TV. The en suite head is notable for a stall shower that, once again, is sized for real people.
Forward, the VIP cabin also has a private head with a capacious shower, and the mid cabin (which uses the day head with shower) on our test boat was fitted with a pair of single berths, although it can also be finished as an office.
The one thing that struck me about the guest cabins was that no one will feel like a second-class citizen. Both cabins have ample storage, plenty of room for two people to share and a stylish combination of teak and padded-fabric bulkhead coverings.
Life is equally good up on the flying bridge, which is divided into the bridge proper as well as a boat deck aft. The skipper and a companion get pedestal Stidd seating, and another forward-facing companion seat is to port. Just aft are an L-shaped settee and a facing loveseat that has its own cocktail table. The standard fiberglass hardtop covers the living areas of the bridge, and it's beautifully finished with molded undersides that contain stereo speakers and recessed lighting.
The boat deck is separated by a console with a Miele barbecue, and a curving stairwell to the lower deck is opposite. With 17 feet of beam, a 13- to 14-foot tender can easily be chocked; the polished stainless steel 1,000-pound Grand Banks crane is a piece of artwork.
Construction is interesting, since the hull and deck are molded in Malaysia, temporarily tacked together, and then towed to Singapore where everything from the engines and systems to the fine teak joinerwork is installed. Unlike many boats, the hull and topsides are solid fiberglass while the superstructure is reinforced with Airex foam coring. A full fiberglass stringer grid serves to position the interior components as well as the engine beds. The tank-tested hull is a modified-V with propeller pockets to keep the draft manageable and a skeg keel for directional stability.
Underway, the 59 is well behaved and predictable, at least if you know that this is a 25-knot Grand Banks. As we ran at a variety of speeds and in all sea conditions, I was impressed by the silence. This was particularly surprising since the saloon and pilothouse have teak and maple soles, making them noisier than those with carpets.
Yet my decibelmeter didn't start reading above 60 dB(A) until we were over 16 knots and, even after that point, the loudest noise in the pilothouse was a gurgle in the galley drain. We could talk at normal levels running at wide-open throttle; it's clear that a lot of effort has been spent on soundproofing.
As you'd expect, the engineroom is a model of efficiency with neatly loomed wiring and seamanlike pipe runs. A 21.5kW Onan genset is in a soundbox, and our test 59 had an optional 13.5kW night generator in the lazarette, along with a pair of workbenches and storage.
All in all, the Grand Banks 59 Aleutian RP is a fine example of an emerging subspecies: the performance trawler. I've already warned our editorial director. The rest of you are on your own: Board the 59 Aleutian at your own peril.
Contact: Grand Banks Yachts, (800) 809-0909; www.grandbanks.com