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- Superb blend of classic styling and modern design
- Precision handling with joystick control
- Light weight and excellent trim balance gives good performance
- A driver's boat with a simple but stylish interior
Luxury lobster style boats like this accomplished Palm Beach GT50 are the catch-of-the-day when it comes to performance and elegance.
Lobster boats certainly weren’t as luxurious or fast as this during my time as a commercial lobsterman in the North Sea, yet there are welcome similarities. Raked lines with a flared bow and a low-slung bridgedeck are a seaworthy approach that also gives these boats a classic look – contrasting strongly with the tall, angular designs of many other manufacturers.
The latest Palm Beach design, the GT50, continues this tradition. I had looked around hull number four at last year’s Sanctuary Cove Boat Show, where CEO Mark Richards had told me of expansion plans for the company’s Malaysian yard, where the formerly Australian marque is now also made (in parallel with Australian builds), so I was eager to see the results. “For me, the GT50 represents a merger of 25 years of boatbuilding passion and design experience to create a very exciting new series, with a clear goal of creating the most efficient powerboat in the world today.”
First in a series that includes the GT60 and GT70 – the GT50 is capable of 40 knots with a pair of 600hp Volvo IPS 800s pod drives. As I’d found on other Palm Beach models, the formula of following basic engineering principles of weight reduction, minimising windage and optimising trim to reduce drag all goes to create an efficient hull; at a price, of course, which reflects this premium market offering.
Some of these characteristics are attained via extensive use of carbon and a minimalist yet functional approach. These principles could also apply in Richards’ other job, as skipper of the nine times Sydney-Hobart race-winning Wild Oats XI which still beats the very latest competitors despite its 13-year vintage.
Having sailed with Richards – I was aboard Wild Oats XI for her inaugural event (the 2005 Big Boat Race) I witnessed first-hand his precise management style. Running a 98-foot supermaxi efficiently with 19 crew tests the very best; something this lean and tanned Sydneysider continues to do within the amalgamated Grand Banks parent company that markets Grand Banks and Palm Beach globally, including an inaugural appearance at the Cannes Boat Show this year.
Open top or Express
Cannes 2019 saw the arrival of the GT50 Open, a cabriolet style ideal for Mediterranean boating, while the first Antipodean model I boarded was the Express version. Its enclosed saloon is more suited to our harsher Antipodean climate, searing sun and dancing New Zealand rain dictating a more robust approach. But a third style with opening aft saloon is another option worth consideration for our region.
This first Australian GT50 hull was painted in metallic light blue and had a familiar shape: old-fashioned tumblehome topsides under a gently falling sheerline and beam carried aft to a wide transom, the latter ensuring that the GT50 not only had sufficient volume but could plane well. This was topped-off by a superstructure profile of curved surfaces and sweeping lines with sensible overhangs on the front to give a timeless aesthetic.
Stepping onto the large teak swim platform, then walking through a central door into the deep aft cockpit, brings me into a world of lustrous Burmese teak with corner settees immaculately stitched in Ultraleather in each corner of the transom, while up ahead against the saloon bulkhead are two benches containing a wet bar and icemaker.
The open and shaded space creates an ideal alfresco dining area, especially if you take the optional canvas bimini extension. Underfoot is deep lazerette – it could also contain a Seakeeper stabiliser if the owner suffered from mal de mer.
But these are options which the base boat is not really about, explained my host for the day, Joel Butler: “The GT range is designed for maximum fun with minimum maintenance in a high-level offering, so we’re aiming for simplicity where we can.”
Uncluttered decks with large cleats and lightweight abrasive covering underfoot reflects this approach. The flared bow creates usable deck space forward to throw down a sunbed, allowing you to relax safely under anchor. There’s a deep chain locker for the rode and Muir windlass with a top-quality Ultra anchor. The anchor’s on an arm which pivots forward when required, creating a streamlined bow profile under way. A stylish toerail includes midship deck cleats to finish off the elegant topsides.
Two steps via a single door lead into the saloon of the GT50. Unlike the hot-selling PB50 which has a traditional feel, the GT ambience is contemporary thanks to extensive composite surfaces finished in cream and light brown livery surrounded by dark wenge wood.
Clearly a driver’s boat as the fore part of the saloon is dominated by the four high bucket seats including the skipper’s helm seat on starboard. As the galley is down, the entire area is dedicated to relaxation with L-shaped benches on each side at the rear. Natural light abounds, from the large surrounding windows that afford views when seated and the electric sunroof.
The steering console focal point is 12-inch Garmin screen and the carbon facia is nicely-hooded under the angled front window so viewable in sunlight or shade. Key controls include the Volvo electronic throttles and joystick for slow manoeuvring, a major selling point for this transmission system. Simply turn the joystick in the desired direction of travel and the GT50 will move that way.
Other good ergonomics include the large electric side window allowing the skipper to reach the middle cleats quickly; and most essentially, clear views aft. The galley is neatly located down in the hull but open from above to avoid stuffiness.
But a galley-up model has been built, which was shown at this year’s Sydney Boat Show. The L-shaped worktop as standard comes with only a sink and an electric plug-in stove plus microwave, but can be fitted with a tradition stove if required. Perishables go into a double drawer fridge/freezer and cupboards abound for victual storage.
Accommodation comprises an owner’s Vee-berth with bathroom starboard and a guest berth to port. The owner’s berth has a huge mattress with bulkheads gently sloping into it from the tall topsides, so plenty headroom and airiness.
Quality touches include a cedar-lined hanging locker and sturdy fixings on cupboards and doors. The second berth is a double but crawl-in, so not for the claustrophobic visitor. A single large bathroom with roomy shower is to starboard. Stylish touches here include a carbon sink and practicalities include open skylights and an electric Tecma head.
“We started with the PB50 hull but modified the mould by changing the transom and with different running strakes – but we pulled a lot of weight out of it by using infused carbon fibre for the decks and saloon,” explained Butler.
The hull is top quality e-glass and Corecell foam vaccum-infused with vinylester resin over a modified, warped semi-displacement hull for rigidity and durability. The deck and bulkheads are structurally bonded to the hull for increased strength and rigidity, forming a semi-monocoque shell. The trim is greatly helped by weight being centralised midships, including the engines and a single fuel tank that runs across the beam of the GT50. The twin 600hp Volvos are connected to the IPS 800 pod gearboxes via custom-built carbon shafts.
Volvo’s pod system has the propellers forward facing which makes them more vulnerable than the traditional aft-fitted designs, but the advantages are compelling: speed, fuel efficiency and handling. Engine access requires the saloon sole to be lifted using an electric arm which reveals the inline six-cylinder turbo-charged Volvos.
Despite the fairly tight space, filters and service points can be viewed, while the Fischer Panda 10 KVA generator is slightly awkwardly placed in an aft cubbyhole. Gearbox servicing is done from a hatch in the aft deck. Thick sound-proofing around the engine house showed in the fairly quiet running of the Volvos, even at high speed.
Motoring sedately down the Gold Coast seaway with Surfers Paradise a fitting backdrop for the GT50, there was only a faint growl from the Volvos as we accelerated seaward. Sitting comfortably high in the skipper’s seat my views were unimpeded which gave me confidence to spin the lightweight wheel a few spokes and feel the instant response from the GT50 as we curved further offshore.
I could clearly feel the directional stability from the sharp bow of the warped, semi-displacement hull and the low-profile topsides allowed me to open the electric side window while the flared bow kept most of the spray off the decks. Precise handling encouraged me further and with the vertical trim tabs on auto there was little to do except enjoy the ride and watch the numbers rise on the Garmin GPS. We reached an impressive 40 knots, something I’ve rarely done on large motor cruisers.
Obviously, we were paying dearly for it, as the twin Volvos gulped 240 litres per hour. But it was exhilarating and without groans from inside or outside. Decelerating to a relatively sedate 35 knots, a fast cruising speed, brought consumption down to 162 l/ph for a decent range of 324 nautical miles but displacement mode of 10 knots would just about take me across the Tasman and the hull is built for it.
In fact, New Zealand dealer Matt Mason told me he will be doing just that, as Palm Beaches are support boats in the upcoming America’s Cup. Returning inside the Gold Coast Waterway, slow manoeuvring around the myriad of sandbanks was done easily and with confidence while using the IPS joystick’s intuitive feel.
As I said, lobster boats weren’t like this in my day!/>