Grand Banks 53 Aleutian RP
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.
While the lines of the 53 RP were inspired by the shape of the original Fexas-designed 64, nothing was left to chance. Two different versions of both the bottom shape and the prop tunnel configuration were tank-tested at the University of Michigan’s model basin to assure her performance both as to speed and to seakeeping. In addition, both pod and inclined-shaft propulsion systems were tested, with the as-built yacht being powered by traditional shaft systems with V-drive gears. Like a pod, a V-drive puts the engines near the stern, shifting the longitudinal center of gravity aft and enabling Earl to pen a finer entry for the hull than would be possible with engines farther forward. Not only does this make for drier running in a seaway, with a quicker lift to the bow, but it affects the arrangement plan belowdecks as well.
In this case, Earl has placed all of the accommodations at the bow and utilized the space amidships for a pair of fuel tanks, port and starboard of a walk-through utility room. Such placement means that there will be little if any change in static trim as the tanks are drawn down. The space between the tanks allows easy access to the engine room through a watertight door, and the utility area can also be fitted out as a crew or teenager hideaway, with its own head, as an option.
In either case, the forward accommodations remain the same, with a queen guest stateroom forward and the master stateroom aft, and a smaller guest cabin with upper and lower twin berths to port. The full-beam master stateroom has a spacious head to starboard with double doors that slide open to allow light from both sides of the yacht to flood the space. Access to the three staterooms is via a comfortable winding stair from the starboard side of the lower helm. Such a stair is noticeably more spacious and safer than the tight spirals we so often see.
That lower helm, by the way, is one of the best on the market. Returning from our sea trial, we had to dock near the end of a narrow canal in the tightest quarters I’ve encountered in a while. There was no margin for error. Rather than navigating from the flying bridge, however, we opted for the lower helm. Multiple Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer drawers in the galley, in place of a single vertical unit, and open space between the upper and lower cabinets mean that the helm has a clear sight line astern as well as to the sides and forward. Pilings and adjoining boats were fully in view at all times, something that would not have been the case had we been topside.
Other nods to safety that I liked included sea rails on the salon overhead and solid handrails at the aft ladder, guards over the V-drive shafts and an electrical interlock on The flying bridge grill to prevent it from being activated with the cover closed. Grand Banks has been building boats for committed cruisers long enough to attend to creature comforts as well: nicely sized heads, functional louvers and intuitive handles on lockers, fiddles on the galley countertops and sea rails on the Miele cooktop, and wing doors to keep the afterdeck dry when spray is blowing down the side decks.
All in all, the Grand Banks 53 Aleutian RP is a great boat for a family, easily capable of being cruised long-range by a couple without crew, yet with enough speed and outside space to host a crowd for a quick day trip or weekend jaunt. For those not wanting to take on the size and expense of the bigger Aleutians, this is a very welcome addition to the series. A tip of the hat to Earl and to the craftsmen at Grand Banks for a job well done.
Displ.: 73,000 lb.
Fuel: 1,000 gal.
Water: 300 gal.
Deadrise: 17.5 degrees
Engine Options: 2 x 600 hp Cummins QSC 8.3 diesels; 2 x 715 hp Cummins QSM 11 diesels
Engines Tested: 2 x 715 hp Caterpillar C12 ACERT diesels
Price As Tested: On request
Grand Banks Yachts, 206-352-0116; www.grandbanks.com