The east coast of Florida is clearly visible outside the salon windows, the profiles of waterfront condominiums passing by as we track straight through the two-foot seas at 30 knots. Then Tucker West, the North American sales manager for Grand Banks and the man at the helm, turns to me and says, “Are you ready to have some fun?” Suddenly the condos disappear and it’s just ocean and sky as West cranks the wheel of the new Grand Banks 46 Eastbay SX hard over and it feels like, well, like we’re carving turns in a little sport boat.
Sportiness is not a modifier often associated with Down East-style express cruisers. But the new 46 Eastbay is powered by the Zeus propulsion system from Cummins MerCruiser Diesel, which changes the game as far as performance and handling are concerned. What you get is the same C. Raymond Hunt Associates-designed modified V-hull of the old 45 Eastbay, only with the increased maneuverability associated with pod-drive installation.
Pod drives rotate independently of each other and apply thrust directly through the units, making them far more responsive at the helm than straight inboards. Zeus drives can also rotate sideways and direct thrust to an almost 60-degree angle, moving the boat laterally as if it had bow thrusters. We get close-quarters confirmation of the Zeus drives’ abilities pulling into the marina, where the 46 is assigned the last slip on a crowded pier with a knuckle-whitening lack of wiggle room around it. West switches over to the joystick control, deftly spins the 46 in place and backs it into the slip without breaking a sweat.
Another major attribute of pod drives is that they require less hardware belowdecks, so you gain interior space, a benefit readily apparent on the 46 in all of its layout options. The first increase in space can be seen under the companionway stairs leading to the lower deck. The stairs lift on gas-assisted struts, revealing a step down into a wealth of extra room. On our test boat this is configured as a “utility room,” with a washer, dryer and freezer, but you could do a number of things to suit your needs. Convert it to fishing-tackle center, a tool-bench work area or a large stowage space for long-distance provisions. You can also set it up as a crew quarters, with a single berth and a small head, a popular option for European owners.
The extra space carries forward into the guest stateroom, which has private access to the standard day-head. On the 45, the optional day-head sat across the passageway. As with the 45, on the 46 you have the option to move the galley upstairs, moving the aft port settee. Doing so on the 46 gives you the choice of adding a third stateroom, providing serious sleeping space aboard a 46-footer.
David Hensel, marketing and communications director for Grand Banks Yachts, says about half of the owners opt to move the galley upstairs because they like its proximity to the cockpit, where they can pass food and drinks through the electronically actuated window. However configured, the 46 can serve duty as an entertainment platform, a weekender, a coastal cruiser or an island hopper.
Beyond space and maneuverability, the Zeus system brings other, more subtle improvements. Because the pod drives are partially recessed in pockets and there’s less exposed running gear, the Zeus system shaves a few inches off the boat’s draft — down to 3 feet, 4 inches compared with 3 feet, 11 inches on the 45. The Zeus system is also lighter than a comparable inboard installation, creating some weight savings.
Like the 45, the new 46 has the same classic lines of the original Hunt-designed 38 Eastbay EX brought to market in 1993. But like the 45 before it, the 46 lends a more contemporary feel to the Down East concept, with tweaks such as the radial windows at the aft corners of the deckhouse and the forward-raked stanchions that give the profile a sportier look. Inside, the 46 also eschews the traditional standup helm of its predecessors for a Stidd helm seat and a smaller and, yes, sportier wheel for more comfortable cruising. Visibility from the helm is excellent with the large windshield panels, side and aft windows and Man Ship hatches overhead that bathe the cabin in natural light. The optional retractable sunroof in the salon overhead only increases the interior vibrancy. Grand Banks also lightens the ambience belowdecks by adding soft panels to break up the teak bulkheads.
Whatever the contemporary upgrades, the teak is still the main interior feature that makes the 46 Eastbay distinctly Grand Banks. The company prides itself on the quality of its teak, and for good reason. While many builders buy theirs through a middleman, Grand Banks sends someone from the factory, a teak aficionado, to buy first-grade teak logs directly from a source in Myanmar. The logs are shipped to the Grand Banks plant in Malaysia, where they are kiln-dried for 14 days, air-dried and cut to specification by veteran woodworkers. Interior teak receives six coats of varnish; exposed teak gets seven. As a result, the joinery aboard the 46 Eastbay looks uniform in appearance, with no color mismatches or zebra striping. Add the rich navy-blue hull with white boot stripe, and it’s obvious the 46 will turn heads at the dock.
In areas you can’t see, the 46 is still very much a traditional Eastbay, constructed with high-density closed-cell foam coring in fiberglass that’s still laid in the mold by hand. The stout construction and Hunt hull design serve it well offshore, where, sure, we played a bit like little kids in a Donzi Sweet 16, but we also felt comfortable running through the inlet in a head sea. This boat may have a 21st century propulsion system underneath, but it’s still old-school Down East to the core.
Displ.: 42,006 lb.
Fuel: 500 gal.
Water: 145 gal.
Deadrise: 19.5 degrees
Engine Options: 2 x 550-hp Cummins QSC 8.3 Zeus diesels
Engines Tested: 2 x 600-hp Cummins QSC 8.3 Zeus diesels
Base Price: Available upon request
Grand Banks Yachts, 206-352-0116; www.grandbanks.com