There are certain things you look for when doing a test drive. But committing to an extended cruise after spending only an hour aboard? I've never met a boat that would have me saying "I do." Until now, that is. The Grand Banks 58 Eastbay Flybridge has a heavy-duty, easy-to-maintain approach that might induce love at first sight.
Let's say you're taking a trip down the East Coast for the winter and one of the shower sumps clogs. It's easily checked through a hatch in the salon sole. Inside you'll also find the water heater and head pumps. Note that Grand Banks exclusively uses stainless-steel cushioned clamps to support the hoses and wires. I saw more of this when I entered the engine compartment via a vertical hatch to port in the cockpit. Like those throughout the 58 Eastbay Flybridge, the engine bay hatch closed on thick, rattle-silencing weather-stripping.
THE HARD LINE. The mechanical goodies are all quite impressive. There is so much space between the motors that Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive end Warren Sapp could do his Beyonce dance in here. Rigid copper lines are used for hydraulics, so chafe and the subsequent leaks won't happen. Plus, the hydraulic lines for the trim tabs are sealed from the inboard side of the transom-cue a "Hallelujah Chorus" please-and those trim tabs have four hydraulic rams each.
The CATs are installed with bolts driven into tapped 1/2" aluminum plates bonded into the top of 2'-by-8" foam-filled fiberglass bearers. Fuel lines are Aeroquip-fitting equipped so you never worry about a loose hose clamp. My only knock with the engine room is the battery location. They're in boxes forward of the motors, which means it's a long haul to get them out. There are three Racor separators per engine. To keep out salt, Grand Banks uses Delta T filters in the engine air-intake vents.
On the flying bridge, the hardtop is supported by 3"-diameter stainless-steel posts and 2 1/2" cross stanchions. The skipper takes command in an adjustable Stidd seat. At the stern, a transom gate opens on a stout hinge and closes on an equally tough latch. It's easy to imagine the Ultimate Angler hauling a big tuna through it. Up front, the anchor locker hatch snaps in place when open, and there's a dedicated chain box.
Moving to the foredeck is easy thanks to a 3" toerail and real-world 1'8"-wide side-decks. The rail stands 2'9" tall and has a solid stainless-steel lower section, not a chintzy cable. There are even rails along the pilothouse. Now that's secure passage, even on this test day, which was rainy and wet.
OPEN SEASON. Should you get caught in inclement weather, this Ray Hunt-designed boat powered by 2,800 ponies is ready to thunder through whatever you face. With Mother Nature whipping up frothy chop on top of two-to-three-foot seas, we hit a top speed of 37.2 mph. What was even more impressive, however, was midrange acceleration. At 25 mph, I nailed the throttles and started the stopwatch. I hit 35 mph in 15 seconds and wide open in 19.5 seconds. This is a 72,500-pound boat. It's rare that you feel such a punch in a boat of this size and weight.
Of course, a Hunt hull has impeccable manners. I cranked out turn after turn and the boat handled flawlessly, cutting neat 110'-radius circles. In tight quarters at slow speeds, the trolling valves knock down engine rpm, making the 58 Eastbay Flybridge downright docile.
There are two downsides to this boat. One: It's built in Taiwan, which makes it tough for owners to visit as the boat is built. Two: weight. The 58 Eastbay Flybridge is built with a solid fiberglass bottom up to 1" thick (2" thick at the keel overlaps) and cored hullsides. That means weight, which mandates the big motors to reach our test speeds.
Compare this to Alden Marine's 60 Tournament Express, the only other Down East-style boat in this size range. It's built with epoxy construction and weighs 50,000 pounds. Alden claims that its Hunt-designed boat runs speeds similar to our test boat's with 660-bhp CAT 3196s. The smaller powerplants set the price for this semi-custom boat at $1,670,000, but Alden says it rarely sells the boat in its base configuration. Caterpillar sets retail pricing for the 3196s at $45,400 and for the 3412s at $106,600. That's a combined difference of $122,400, which would bring the price of the Alden to $1,792,400. One advantage of the Alden-it's built in the U.S., so you're not paying to get it here from the Orient.
NIGHT MOVES. If you enjoy cruising at night, you'll like the recessed red lights above the 58 Eastbay Flybridge's upper helm. Switches are beneath water-resistant panels, and there's a chart table that traditionalists will love.
Hatches for the lockers in the base of flying bridge lounges aren't hinged and don't open on gas struts-they should. I'd also like to see a full hatch to close off the bridge from the stairs instead of the cable run across the opening on our test boat. It's too easy to imagine a little one taking a dive down those stairs. Grand Banks says it will provide one on request.
The salon has four vents per side for the chilled-water air-conditioning system. If you don't like to lift out seat cushions, you'll appreciate the drawers that pull out of the salon lounge seats. A chart table forward to port can easily be used as a workstation, and the stowage area is deep enough for a laptop computer. At the lower helm, a flat-black panel and dark-blue vinyl upholstery abaft the windshield effectively reduce glare, and the logical layout puts all controls in easy reach and instruments in clear view.
Grand Banks employs a galley-down layout in its standard boat; galley-up is an option. The galley is to port at the bottom of the stairs and-cue that chorus again-the granite countertop has a fiddle rail. In fact, all the cabinets throughout the boat have fiddle rails. To save space, the freezer is a top-load model recessed in the countertop, and for a clean appearance, the stove is beneath a stainless-steel-lined section of the counter that folds up.
Sliding pocket doors are used to enter the VIP stateroom across from the galley. The queen mattress, and all those throughout the boat, have innersprings. This cabin shares a day head with the forward port stateroom that has two single berths. There's even a laundry room with a separate washer and a real dryer, not one of those combination units that can barely dry Paris Hilton's skimpy unmentionables. Forward, the master's quarters separates the commode and shower.
Real mattresses? Real laundry appliances? A full-size, tiled shower? Heavy-duty rigging and ease of maintenance? When do we start our cruise?
EXTRA POINT: What looks like an underused 1'6" of space abaft the flying bridge lounge seats is left open as a spot to stow a six-person life raft. It's out of the way but easy to get to quickly when you need it.