When it comes to yacht design, the devil is in the details. But every so often, you may also find the divine.
Such is the case with Grand Banks Yachts and Palm Beach Motor Yachts, brands that were married in 2014 with a buyout that saw Palm Beach’s founder, Mark Richards, take the helm for both builders. Richards, a renowned competitive sailor who has notched multiple Sydney Hobart Yacht Race victories, has set about imbuing his vision into the design of the Grand Banks line and his own Palm Beach models, as well.
And it all starts with design. Be it interior, exterior or hull design, both Grand Banks and Palm Beach are apart from the field (and in some cases their own predecessors) with build schemes that are at once efficient yet fast, and never flashy but always romantic.
Richards has traditionally built Palm Beach boats with a hull design that is unique to the motoryacht world, and he has effectively now centered the Grand Banks line around the same hull form. The hulls are semidisplacement and warped, with a fine entry that flattens dramatically moving aft, leaving only 6 degrees of deadrise at the transom.
“The hulls are based off of World War II destroyers,” Richards says. “They needed that fine entry and flat aft section to plow through big seas with speed. That came through Andy Dovell, our naval architect. He is an American living in Sydney that I’ve known since the 1980s, when we were doing America’s Cups together.”
The hulls aren’t just seaworthy, but also have “magical fuel efficiency” when combined with lightweight construction, he says. The latest model, the Palm Beach 70, can potentially hit 40 knots with Volvo Penta IPS1350s, and burns 58 gph at 25 knots, he adds.
“And the Grand Banks 60 can do 36 knots,” Richards says. “We haven’t put big engines on those boats yet, but it’s the same design theory behind the two hull forms. They can have stabilizing fins and what have you, which will knock around 2 knots off the top end. But a Grand Banks 60 with 1350s could be a 38-knot boat without fins.”
As for exterior design, the brands share some DNA, but each has lines that differentiate it.
Grand Banks became an icon creating somewhat boxy slowpoke trawler-style yachts that for many epitomized what a Great Loop boat could be. Clearly the builder is no longer producing slowpokes. But what about the lines?
“We wanted to keep some of the Grand Banks hallmarks. They’re very recognizable boats,” says Hank Compton, the group’s managing director. “In the 60, for example, we kept the same plank lines [as older models]. We took out some tumblehome; we kept the broken sheerline. The tumblehome, in particular, we wanted differently to distinguish from the Palm Beach, which has a lot of tumblehome, and we wanted more rake to the sheer.”
Striking a balance between old and new was not just aesthetical. Part of the reason the boats perform so well in a sea is because their centers of gravity are so low, owing to carbon-fiber construction above the hull. But carbon fiber isn’t the only culprit. When it comes to Palm Beach and Grand Banks, form follows function. Compton says that for Grand Banks, “we lowered the profile to help keep the center of gravity even lower.”
This design choice not only helps to minimize rocking and rolling; it gives the boats a sleeker, more modern look overall, and one that dovetails nicely with the cruisers’ once unheard-of speeds.
The yachts’ structural integrity is further aided by a semimonocoque construction that all but eliminates creaks and groans. “Every single piece of furniture is structural,” Compton says. “It’s all laminated together from the keel to the hardtop. In the old days, the furniture was just sitting there. No more. It’s all one structure. So you put all this stuff together, and you get this incredibly stable, incredibly fast, incredibly efficient product.”
Richards says the design of the Palm Beach lineup is all about timeless, Down East beauty. “Everyone loves a classic-looking boat. That was the whole goal. It’s appealing to the human eye forever,” he says. “We worked very hard to keep the low profile. That’s the key to its beauty. You just get that long, slender, good-looking boat because of that. [The low profile] comes at a cost for volume and cabins, but the clients know that, and it’s not of interest to them.”
Indeed, a low-profile design reduces interior volume, but the Palm Beach and Grand Banks lines are designed for markedly different uses. Palm Beaches, even the 70, are primarily meant as dayboats, though they’re certainly up to snuff for longer voyages in rough seas. And buyers can customize the interiors to suit their cruising needs. Grand Banks, for instance, has customized boats for fishing excursions, with accommodations chopped up to add V-berths for crewmembers.
And while Grand Banks models have more interior volume and more stowage than Palm Beaches — which sway much more Spartan — both lines benefit from the builder’s ability to customize interiors.
“Look, to be honest, there are these production builders that we compete with — we are in the same boat, but we aren’t production,” Richards says. “We give our customers what they want. We are very close to custom, particularly with our interiors. Each boat is different on the inside. It’s customer-driven.”
Even so, Richards says, “We are trying to maintain that old soul. You walk into a lot of boats, and they are like Italian apartments. We are trying to maintain the romance. That’s where you see a lot of the analog gauges and old-school helms. The bathrooms and living spaces are all very traditional. That’s our goal.”
Compton says contemporary touches on the traditional styling include modern fabrics, bigger windows, galley-up layouts, and alfresco dining and living spaces. “We always joke that it’s not your grandpa’s Grand Banks,” Compton says. “I’m the last of the Mohicans; I’ve been here 17 years. It used to be just grandparents wowing at the boats at the shows, but now we see young kids checking them out. And then the grandparents come and love them, too. At 35 knots, young kids can go wakeboarding if they want. Before, it was just the oldies. Now we have the whole family checking out these boats and saying, ‘Wow, I love it.’ ”
Cross-generational appeal in a classic yet modern package that can take on rough seas with speed and efficiency? When it’s time to take one of these boats out to the deep, blue sea, the devil may just have met his match.
This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue.