In the great circle of life, the new Grand Banks 53 Aleutian Raised Pilothouse (RP) completes a loop for me. You see, a couple of decades ago an eager youngster who spent his days sketching and dreaming about boats rather than catching frogs or tormenting girls wrote me a letter. He wanted to know how to become a real boat designer, not just a doodling dilettante. I responded with a few bits of advice regarding education and career paths and promptly forgot about him, until, that is, I ran across him working as a junior designer on the staff of Tom Fexas a number of years later. He also authored, in response to one of my articles, a lovely letter to Yachting on design that eventually found its way into one of our 100th anniversary issues in 2007 as one of the best letters to the editor. Imagine my surprise when that same kid, Earl Alfaro, all grown up, greeted me as I boarded his latest creation. Earl is now Grand Banks’ staff designer, the 53 Aleutian RP is his baby, and like any proud papa, he couldn’t wait to show her off.
We shoved off from the dock at Fort Lauderdale’s 15th Street Fisheries and headed toward the Port Everglades inlet, with the role reversal of Earl informing and me listening. It was obvious he was dedicated and knowledgeable about his chosen profession, but there was more. The intervening years had not diminished his passion for boats one bit. He still had that “fire in the belly” that Fexas himself once cited as the single most important requirement for a designer, and the results showed in his work on this capable cruiser.
The Grand Banks 53 RP is part of the builder’s Aleutian line and shares both appearance and functionality with her bigger sisters — five models from 59 to 76 feet — which are intended for long-range cruising but which also offer a good turn of speed when needed. In many ways, it is easier to design a big boat than a 53-footer. The height of a raised pilothouse profile is generally more suited to a longer boat, and with extra length comes a better length-to-beam ratio, inevitably making for easier and more economical running, at least on a horsepower-per-pound basis. The balance between working spaces and accommodation spaces becomes more critical, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep the shorter incarnation of an existing boat from taking on a stubby “Little Toot” appearance. In short, Earl had his work cut out for him, but in my opinion, he has succeeded marvelously.
The weather offshore on the day of our sea trial wasn’t bad, but it still showed the remnants of a front that had cleared the area just the day before. Seas were running generally two feet, sometimes three, but were very confused, so it wasn’t a matter of picking a comfortable heading and sticking to it. Instead, we took it on, come what may, northbound first to get our speed numbers, then southbound to check the effect of the Gulf Stream’s often-substantial current. In a way, we mimicked what would be required on a typical passage, and the yacht delivered well. Pitch and roll were minimal, and her decks and windshields remained dry.
A look at the lines plan that Earl shared with me told the story. While the Grand Banks Aleutian series has a traditional, salty look, albeit with softer corners for a more updated style, the boats should never be mistaken for trawlers. The 53 RP tops out at just shy of 25 knots and does so without a hint of struggle, just a smooth ride from idle to wide open throttle. She has a moderate forefoot, neither as deep as a displacement vessel nor cut away as much as a sport boat. This yields a sharp entry that, with double chines her full length, keeps spray generation to a minimum. Flare in her topsides above the upper chine will further dampen spray and help lift the bow in truly heavy seas. Moving aft, the hull, with a solid laminate bottom and cored sides, rolls to a deadrise of 23.5 degrees amidships, then to a constant 17.5-degree angle for the aft third of her bottom, a perfect combination for her speed range. She has a moderate keel to keep her on track and to counteract any tendency toward broaching.