It was 1961. President Kennedy broke off relations with Cuba, Russia's Yuri Gagarin became the first man in orbit and America's Alan Shepard would soon follow. Not surprisingly, the launch of a wooden trawler in Hong Kong went unnoticed. Yet the impact of the design would change the boating world.
The very first Grand Banks, Chanteyman, was a Hugh Angleman creation built by American Marine. The boat was unremarkable except that John and Whit Newton, then owners of the American Marine yard, thought a modified version might sell to the U.S. market. Their Kenneth Smith-designed 36-footer, launched in 1963, would turn them into a worldwide boatbuilding power. The Grand Banks 36 would be successful beyond their wildest dreams.
Nearly four decades later, Grand Banks has introduced the Aleutian Class, billed as an "evolutionary, world-class bluewater cruiser". Designed by Tom Fexas with his giveaway clipper bow, the new Aleutian 64 combines the handcrafted tradition of old with faster, more efficient performance, more luxurious accommodations and the extended cruising range now in demand.
Only time will prove her worthiness in the Grand Banks family, but the Aleutian 64 is tough and comfortable, a solid yacht for open sea crossings. During our test run in the notoriously lumpy Catalina Channel, the Aleutian had all the aplomb of a yacht that weighs in at 50 tons, yet her 5-foot draft opened up shallow cruising areas for exploration. With a course into quartering seas, she tracked rail straight yet she was surprisingly nimble when it came to getting into a tight dock. She is pure Grand Banks, from the faux seams molded into her topsides for planked hull effect to her no-nonsense profile, and she offers solid, predictable handling at nearly 22 knots with a light fuel load.
The original 36 was incapable of speeds over 8 knots even in free fall, but the Aleutian 64 draws on the heritage this builder has earned since its original $30,000 offering hit the market. Salty in what might be called Trawler Perpendicular styling, the 36 helped Grand Banks make
its nameplate synonymous with seaworthiness and helped the builder stand out with a distinct, go-anywhere, anytime tough look.
The Aleutian 64 winks at today's designs with that same sense of style. Step into her saloon and, if you've been aboard a Grand Banks in the past, you'll feel right at home. The flawless teak joinery, including a lot of solid teak rather than veneers, seems oblivious to the growing cost and rarity of good wood. There is no way, short of diving into the bilge, to tell this is a fiberglass yacht. There are walkaround side decks, but the saloon space should satisfy long-range cruisers.
The bridge overhang protects the side decks. There is a hidden benefit to this sheltered layout, one often overlooked by today's builders. Obviously, being able to walk from bow to stern makes docking and anchoring easier, and the overhang creates a wide bridge deck. An additional benefit is protection of the saloon windows, and the deck crew, from the midday sun in hot regions and from the elements in wetter ones.
The big, square saloon windows ensure good sight lines from either the curved settee that wraps around to port or the loose chairs to starboard. The seating also provides unobstructed viewing of the entertainment center, which has a JVC television, tucked aft. A wet bar with refrigerator/ice maker is also aft, accessible to the saloon or the covered afterdeck with twin bench seats.
If you want a reminder of the superb craftsmanship that helped make Grand Banks known worldwide, a look at the saloon coffee table and its inlaid compass rose design will serve nicely. Forward, bulk shelves with chrome fiddles divide the galley and raised pilothouse. Our test boat was customized by the owner and interior design firm A La Mer, with everything from a sophisticated Bose and RCA entertainment package to the Tommy Bahama palm-accented décor.
The galley offers a view in all directions and Corian countertops with routed edges. A two-drawer Sub-Zero freezer is under the after counter, a refrigerator is to starboard and a four-burner Miele cooktop is aft. There is plenty of cabinet space, so, if she were my Aleutian, I would leave out the forward overhead lockers that force the chef to bend over to talk into the pilothouse or see forward.
The pilothouse is seamanlike but luxuriously appointed. A dinette is to port, a Stidd helm chair is behind a traditional teak wheel and there is space in the teak dash and overhead to flush-mount a host of electronics. The Portuguese bridge is an extension of both side decks, with a centerline door leading to the foredeck. On our test boat, a corded remote control box provided wing controls with thruster and shifters.
Curved stairs from the pilothouse lead to an office with desk, settee and day head on our test boat, hull number one. Future Aleutian 64s will use the area as a third guest cabin with double berth and head.
The master suite is aft, spanning the full beam of nearly 20 feet with a queen-size berth, a loveseat, bureaus and a walk-in, cedar-lined closet. A clever touch is the full-length mirror that is actually two-way glass, allowing the hidden television to be used without opening the door. The master head is finished in teak, white Formica and Corian, with an oversize shower that provides emergency access to the engineroom.
Forward, a VIP cabin has a high berth, a third private head with shower, stowage in bureaus and a hanging locker.
The bridge, with access from the pilothouse or the afterdeck, has a centerline helm with Stidd seat and big fiberglass dash, a Lucite-covered chart area and wraparound seating with twin tables. The boat deck aft has a stainless-steel crane and space for a 13-foot tender. Owners will appreciate the absence of teak, except for accents.
Clearly designed for the owner who runs his own yacht, the Aleutian 64's engineroom will win the heart of anyone who does even a minimum of hands-on maintenance. Easy stairs lead to an air-conditioned compartment under the afterdeck with superb access to the steering and through-hulls, a workshop and enough space to handle a Trace inverter, an Offshore Marine watermaker, battery boxes and another refrigerator.
A watertight Freeman door opens to the engineroom, which has full headroom, a pair of Cat 3406 diesels putting out 800 hp each (standard power are 660 hp Cat 3196s) and twin Onan generators of 12kW and 20kW. Stabilizers are an option, but the 64 has a naturally comfortable hull with little roll, even in beam seas.
There are reasons why thousands of Grand Banks boats have been sold. Thoughtfulness of design and execution are but two. The new 64 fits in the family and is sure to find acceptance among longtime fans of the brand.
Contact: Grand Banks Yachts Ltd., (203) 845-0023; fax (203) 254-0024; www.grandbanks.com.
Chris Caswell is a frequent contributor to Yachting.