It established the trawler in the yachting market more than a quarter of a century ago yet, even today, the Grand Banks 36 Classic is the benchmark by which all other trawler yachts are judged. It has been in constant production since it debuted in 1963, and GB-36 number 1,000 will come down the production line in a few months at the sprawling American Marine plant in Singapore, making it one of the most successful yachts of all time.
The Grand Banks owes its heritage to the Chanteyman, a salty 1961 trawler designed by Hugh Angelman for John and Whit Newton, who operated the original American Marine yard in Hong Kong. After a year, the Newtons hired Kenneth Smith, a Connecticut naval architect, to design a boat more suitable for the American market and mass production, but even their wildest dreams didn't envision the immense success of this design that originally sold for $30,000 and went a stolid 8 knots.
For the first decade, the GB-36s were built of wood, but the shift to fiberglass came in 1973 and the Grand Banks line has expanded to include models from 32 feet to 58 feet. As with every successful yacht, there has been a constant evolution and process of improvement over the years but, to the uneducated eye, it's hard to tell the early wood GB-36s from those being delivered today. If you look closely, you'll see the modifications that time has wrought. The hull, house and bridge are, of course, all fiberglass, but there has been a steady decline in the amount of exterior varnishwork (since GB owners prefer to cruise rather than work on their boats). The hull has been widened four inches over the original, and the original plumb bow has been given a faint rake that adds six inches to the length, but is almost invisible.
While the tri-cabin arrangement was standard for hundreds of GB-36s, the company now offers the Sedan on the same hull, with a stretched saloon, double forward staterooms and a larger aft deck. The Europa arrangement is identical to the Sedan except that the bridge deck has overhangs to shelter the sidedecks.
Power is one area where major changes have taken place over the years. The early GB-36s were delivered with a single Ford Lehman diesel, a workhorse that provided incredible economy and reliability. Today, in response to buyer demand, a GB-36 can be fitted with anything from the standard Sabre-Lehman 135-horsepower 6-cylinder diesel up to a pair of 210-horsepower Cummins that boost the cruising speed into the 12 knot range with a top end of 15 knots.
Even with twin engines, access is superb, with three large hatches for normal maintenance, more than 4 feet of headroom, and teak gratings to keep you above the bilge. An interesting option favored by the factory is a single normally aspirated 210-horsepower Caterpillar 3208, which can run forever and provide good cruising speeds.
All of the mechanical systems aboard the GB-36 have obviously been laid out by someone who has owned a boat and has had to work on it. The batteries are easily reached, all the seacocks are in one place, and the fuel manifolding doesn't require an engineering degree. The electrical system is equally practical, with the wiring neatly bundled and loomed into bus bars with good separation and labelling.
Construction is also befitting a boat that has been so successful, with a completely hand-laid fiberglass hull and deck and massive stringers to support the interior and power plants. Teak decks are a Grand Banks tradition, laid over the fiberglass to prevent leakage, and the workmanship is impeccable, right down to the nibbing into a king plank at the bow. The company is now offering painted non-slip decks as an option, but most GB buyers will prefer the traditional wood.
Inside, the saloon is traditional Grand Banks, with satin-finished teak paneling and teak parquet flooring, as well as superb 360-degree visibility for both helmsman and anyone sitting on the settee. The galley takes up the port side, with stove and oven (propane is standard, but electric is a no-cost option requiring a generator) and 12-volt refrigerator, which is very heavily insulated. An optional freezer can be fitted under the forward berth, but many GB-36s buyers put the air-conditioning in that space instead.
The guest cabin is forward, with a private head and shower as well as the conventional V-berth and storage. The owner's stateroom is aft, with a choice of either twin bunks or a single of nearly queen-size dimensions. Bedside tables are built in, with one cleverly doubling as a step to the aft deck through a screened hatch/door combination. The master head compartment is a slightly larger duplicate of the guest head, and both cabins have large white bulkhead areas to break up the teak, although there are so many windows it will never be gloomy.
Over the years, the GB-36 has grown more expensive but, at around $168,500 for a base model with single engine (the twin option is $195,000), it remains a remarkable investment. Used fiberglass GB-36s run around $125,000 and up depending upon equipment and condition, but $170,000 isn't a surprising price for a good, clean boat. The early mahogany-hulled GB-36s, which surveyors say have held up very well, cost less but you're still starting at $60,000 and up.
As the Grand Banks proved that American buyers don't necessarily want glitz and high speeds, a milieu of competitors popped up to skim the trawler marketplace. But, when comparing the GB-36 to other similarly advertised "trawlers," a buyer should look closely at both the displacement and the waterline lengths, since both are indicators of how much boat you're actually getting. In addition, compare the option lists to be sure you are pricing equally equipped boats and, lastly, check the resale values in your area.
There's a reason that a thousand Grand Banks 36s have been sold, and that's a thoughtfulness of design and execution that is often missing on other yachts. The GB-36 is salty looking in sort of a Trawler Perpendicular style, but it's gotten the job done in style, seaworthiness and comfort for more than a quarter of a century. Like elegant women, the Grand Banks 36 just keeps getting better.