grand banks 85 flagship yacht pictured underway

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Credit: Onne van der Wal

On board the first Grand Banks GB85 flagship Betty

15 December 2022• Written by Kevin Koenig

With the Grand Banks 85 the Australian builder makes its entrée into the mega-yacht world. Kevin Koenig takes her for a spin in Cannes and comes back mightily impressed. 

Mark Richards has always been comfortable going big. The towering Australian with laser-blue eyes is one of the most decorated sailors of our time, a nine-time line honours winner of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race aboard his 30 metre maxi Wild Oats XI. As such, he is used to measuring risk and stubborn challenges. In 2014 he took over GB Marine Group after heading Palm Beach Motor Yachts for around two decades and he immediately began implementing his trademark hulls and no-nonsense approach to boat design and construction to Grand Banks.

The Grand Banks 85, a model that debuted at the 2022 Palm Beach International Boat Show and then was launched on the European market at the Cannes Yachting Festival, marks his largest vessel to date and is the first to crest the magic 24 metre mark, putting Grand Banks in superyacht territory.

The GB85 is now the largest offering from Grand Banks

Grand Banks, in its sixth decade of boatbuilding, has relied on its old-school-looking, long-range cruisers, which have found a healthy, even fawning following on the saltier side of the market, including — perhaps not surprisingly given Richards's background — with erstwhile sailors transitioning to the dark side.

Grand Banks is one of those few lucky brands that are easily recognisable from afar and at a glance. Despite her outsized measurements, the 85, which was under development for three years, is no exception. A no-nonsense, razor-straight shear line sets the tone here. The superstructure is assuredly sleeker than the Grand Banks of yore but few would describe the new boat as low-profile.

The shipyard wanted that "big boat feel" with oversized windows and generous headroom

Instead, it sits high and proud, with massive, near sole-to-ceiling windows providing light and views into the saloon. A measured degree of tumblehome aft on this boat helps bolster the gentlemanly lines. "A big boat feel is what we were going for," Richards says. "We worked a lot on the feel, big windows, a bit more headroom to make it feel good, and everyone loves it."

The second aspect of the Grand Banks 85 that simultaneously makes it staunchly a Grand Banks and a tough competitor for any long-range cruiser in this size class, is its distinctive hull form. “Our hulls are what really set us apart,” Richards says, as he stands in the galley on the forward end of the boat's main deck. “No one can compete with us there.”

The first GB85 made its American debut at the Palm Beach Boat Show

"When I started my company 25, 26 years ago, my whole vision was to build the most efficient yacht in the world," Richards says. The GB85 hull’s shape is undeniably influenced by his sailing pedigree, variations of which can be seen throughout the diverse lineup offered by GB Marine Group, which also is the builder of the Palm Beach and Eastbay brands.

The hull on the 85 — which, like nearly everything else on this yacht was designed and constructed in-house — has a super-fine entry that undulates aft over a daisy chain of deadrise variances to a scant six degrees at the transom. That extra flat aft section helps both with stability underway and at rest, as well as with lift when the boat accelerates. The hull also lacks any strakes and has a keel for even more stability. One visible effect of this hull’s design that I noticed as we cruised out into the bay of Cannes, was the lack of wake this boat throws. It’s a cool, slightly unnerving trick, that a yacht this big can move through the water at a good clip, and yet leave barely a ripple in its path.

Grand Banks builds its boats in a cavernous factory in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where it has been operating for decades

And as expected, the hull is maximally efficient. At a 10-knot clip, the 85 can cruise for 2,500 nautical miles without refuelling, and with the throttles pushed forward, she can do 1,000 miles at 20 knots. She also offers a tremendously smooth ride in blustery and confused three-footers during our sea trial. As evidence of this, I took a video of the boat slicing through the considerable seas and posted it to my Instagram account, where it received multiple “sick” emojis in response. Yet I barely felt the need to hold on to the boat as I shot the video because the ride was so effortless.

“This is our most manoeuvrable IPS boat,” Richards says.

Everything but the hull and the lines are customisable and that extends to the layout of the course

Another reason for the 85’s sturdy and stable ride is her construction. From the main deck up, the 85 is largely carbon fibre. “No one is building boats like us,” Richards says. “We use composites extensively, it’s just the nature of our product. Furniture, bulkheads, everything is carbon-fibre panelling glassed to the hull, which makes for an incredibly strong and stiff product.” It also helps keep the yacht’s centre of gravity low, and its weight remarkably light. The Grand Banks 85 displaces just 108,000 pounds. For comparison, a competitor, the Fleming 85 Pilothouse, tips the scales at 183,000 pounds.

Grand Banks builds its boats in a cavernous factory in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where it has been operating for decades. There, generations of Malay craftsmen team with an army of ex-pat Brits, Americans, Kiwis, and so forth to not only build seaworthy vessels but also ones that have an impressive level of fit and finish. I’m always impressed with the woodwork on these boats. The grains are rich, the joinery on the cabinetry and handrails is super snug, and the (usually) matte finish is smooth and velvety to the touch. My sense has always been that there is a persistent murmur of bias in the US against boats built in Asia, but I challenge any prospective buyer to give a Grand Banks a thorough kick in the tires and then let me know what their gripes are regarding fit and finish.

Pretty much everything but the hull and the lines is customisable

The intricacies of the interior are not only seen in the minute details but also in the overall scheme. The interior varies from boat to boat, as Grand Banks is more than willing to meet clients’ demands. “Pretty much everything but the hull and the lines are customisable and that extends to the layout of the course,” Richards says. “This 85 has a fully customisable interior. The boat shown in Cannes has a triple cabin, triple head forward, with a crew cabin aft with its own galley and dinette. Hull No. 2 has another VIP where the crew cabin is because that owner runs his own boat.”

Down in the crew cabin, I meet Captain Kel Llewelyn, a plain-spoken Australian who was more than happy to crow about his new digs. “Check out these crew accommodations,” he says, waving two fully extended arms around the galley and dining area. “I have a double bed, and the stew has a double bed, it’s really hard to beat.”

Grand Banks is one of those few lucky brands that are easily recognisable from afar and at a glance
Credit: Onne van der Wal

Llewelyn also loves the boat’s engines, twin 1,000hp Volvo Penta IPS1350s (the second hull has shaft drives). “It’s the first IPS I’ve ever driven,” he says. “A five-year-old kid could drive it. The boat’s got a bit of windage, but the IPS makes that no problem at all.”

The Grand Banks 85 is a well-rounded and admirable first step into the megayacht market for this storied brand. And it’s a step up the CEO says customer demand drove. It seems just like every other market segment, even reformed sailors want to super-size their time spent on the water. Not surprisingly the GB Marine Group has even grander plans coming, with a Palm Beach 100 already designed. For longtime observers of Richards and company, a quick step up into the realm of triple-digit LOAs should be no surprise at all.

More about this yacht

BETTY

Grand Banks   25.91 m •  2021