Grand Banks 50 Eastbay SX

Grand Banks breaks its own mold with the sleek, sporty and pod-drive-equipped 50 Eastbay SX.

Tradition is comfortable and we all know boaters are sometimes reluctant to move away from it. But all traditions start somewhere, and embracing change keeps our brilliant pastime evolving. Grand Banks Yachts has launched what I think is a bold new tradition with its 50 Eastbay SX, a vessel that ties well-received Eastbay models of the past to a more modern exterior look and top-notch technology under the hood.
At first glance, this downeast-style yacht’s optional navy-blue hull is quite familiar, as are her teak toe rail and 30-inch-high, stainless-steel safety rails that run from her teak cockpit up to the sun-pad-equipped foredeck. But the more you look at her, the more you see why she’s different from earlier iterations of this line. It’s similar to staring up at a starry night sky: As your eyes focus, more stars appear in front of them.
First there’s the 50SX’s trunk cabin, which is lower in profile and quite rakish when compared with those of her Eastbay siblings. The earlier models have a squared, linear and flat-front trunk cabin. This updated, swept-back look is also applied to the house’s ­superstructure with nearly full-length and sloping side windows, as opposed to the series’ more traditional, rectangular-shaped ones. (Even the vent slats in the 50SX’s sides feature trapezoidal geometry.) Those side windows, as well as the three front ones, seem to fly back like windblown hair. Her aggressive profile concludes at the back of the hardtop, which sweeps into a dramatic, backward V-shape from the top down through the side decks, offering the illusion of movement. I like the new look. She’s downeast chic, but maintains an old school, broad-shouldered, beat-back-the-sea aesthetic.
And she’ll need to be tough because this boat has the power, speed and range to roam wherever her owner’s heart desires. This is the first Grand Banks built with Volvo Penta’s IPS pod-drive setup, also quite a departure from the builder’s longtime use of straight-shaft diesels. My test vessel featured twin 700 hp engines that were connected via jackshafts to Volvo’s IPS950 drives. The diesels are accessed via the teak-covered cockpit hatch on centerline. I’m 5 feet 7 inches tall and could crab my way around the engine space unrestricted. While the 6-plus-foot crowd may have to stretch after spending any real time working down here, I found that regular items such as fuel filters and strainers were within arm’s reach, and the 13.5 kW Onan genset, forward of the engines, is a breeze to get to as well.
So her underwater hull form is the same as many Eastbays’, but her profile and power are very different. I admit that I was catlike curious as to how she would perform. On a run from Newport, Rhode Island, to Stonington, Connecticut, the 50SX cruised across Rhode Island Sound at about 27 knots at 2,100 rpm. I went belowdecks for a bit during our all-too-brief, 90-minute jaunt down the coast and heard only the calming sound of water running under her hull. It was serene, the kind of relaxing that makes knotted shoulder muscles melt. There was not a rattle or a bang to be heard.
In short order, it was time to set up off Fishers Island and collect some data, which were as impressive as her ride. Running across flat seas with those diesels humming along at 2,000 rpm, the 50SX averaged 25 knots while her motors consumed 44 gph. She features an 800-gallon fuel capacity split between two tanks, which translates into an effective range of 409 nm at cruise speed. She ran so smoothly and her helm area was so quiet — 73 dB(A) at 25 knots — that I had to look at the shoreline to get a sense of speed. It’s the same unreality that you experience when riding in a high-end sports car.
She leaned deep to inboard on hard-over turns at speed, which resulted in diamond-cut, two-boat-length circles but also obstructed the inboard view. This boat features the optional Humphree Interceptor tab system, which wasn’t set up yet, but once it’s programmed it should mitigate that excessive inboard heel. In addition, the rate of turn can be dialed back via the IPS software, depending on your driving comfort zone. With the single-lever Volvo Penta electronic controls set to the pins, the 50SX skated across the water at an average top hop of 32 knots, which comes at a cost of 67 gph and a reduced range of 344 nm.
Her speed and range should be plenty for the average cruiser, such as this boat’s owner, who bought hull No. 1 of the 50SX after owning hull No. 1 of the 49 Eastbay for about a dozen years. He’s a family man who likes to cruise with the grandkids, which led to this yacht’s optional salon and galley-up layout, and three-stateroom, two-head setup.
The salon, with its 6-foot-8-inch headroom, is almost an indoor-outdoor space when the 60-inch-wide, six-panel, ­Opacmare glass door is opened and connects those sitting at the cockpit table under the standard extended Bimini top to the guests relaxing on the portside L-shaped settee. Everyone is also within earshot of the chef at the galley-up across from the settee. The galley is well equipped for meal prep too, with a four-burner Miele cooktop, Sharp Carousel microwave and two Sub-Zero undercounter refrigerator and freezer drawers. In the standard setup, this galley space is occupied by another L-shaped settee. The galley would then move down and to port.
On this 50SX, however, that belowdecks space is occupied by a third stateroom with two bunks that each measure around 6 feet 6 inches long by 31 inches wide, offering plenty of room for the kids. Across the companionway is a second stateroom with side-by-side bunks at about the same length but a couple of inches narrower. However, these berths can slide together for a couple. With this arrangement, there is a forepeak master outfitted with a step-up berth. In the standard two-stateroom setup, the master is placed amidships, and the forepeak becomes a VIP.
Throughout the salon and accommodations is Grand Banks’ trademark satin-finish teak, which should appeal to longtime fans. This owner chose some high-gloss trim, which makes the spaces pop. (All high gloss is available too.) Other options on this 50SX include an 800-pound-­capacity transom sea lift for a tender, cockpit ice maker and grill, cockpit joystick docking station and Garmin electronics suite (see “Touch ’n’ Go” on page 49 of our November 2013 issue).
It takes walking a fine line to advance a fan favorite while maintaining enough continuity to bring those fans along for the ride and accept the change. When you consider that the warm, teak interior is the same as on previous Grand Banks models, that the ride is on par, if not improved, and that the builder has successfully integrated the latest technologies under the deck and at the helm, I think the 50SX is a natural evolution of this Eastbay line more than a radical departure from it. She may represent a new tradition in looks, but a tradition of excellence is still at the core of this yacht. And who doesn’t want to be part of that? Grand Banks Yachts, 206-352-0116; grandbanks.com
Her dynamic visage is backed up by rugged construction that remains unchanged from previous Eastbays. This yacht’s PVC foam-cored fiberglass hull, which features the same Hunt-designed, deep-V shape as earlier models, is hand laid. The foam coring adds rigidity to the hull without excessive weight, which helps the 50SX come in at a reasonable 50,050-pound displacement (half load). Composite bulkheads, two of which are partially watertight, and a fiberglass and foam structural grid system further strengthen this vessel’s backbone.