A few months ago when we wrapped up our day of sea trialing the new Beneteau Barracuda 9 in Point Richmond, I was told that Passage Yachts had received a new Beneteau Gran Turismo 38 and Gran Turismo 44 and that they were in the yard being commissioned, and that if I’m interested, they would be available in a few months for a sea trial.
That day has finally arrived and I’m excited about running around San Francisco Bay in a couple of fast cruisers that use the same air step hull technology as the Barracuda 9. The boat test article on the Barracuda 9 appeared in the February 2013 issue of Yachtsman magazine. It you missed the print article, you can read the online version at: http://yachtsmanmaga zine.com/reviews/Beneteau_Barra cuda9.html.
Arriving at Marina Village in Alameda at 0900 after a long drive in commute traffic, I’m past ready for a boat ride. Checking in at the Passage Yachts office I find my host from my Barracuda 9 test ride, Richard Mathews, waiting for me. Also joining us today is Mik Maguire from the Passage Yachts Alameda office who is planning to be onboard the camera boat with Ty Mellott.
With keys in hand, we walk around the building to the docks and see two beautiful new Beneteau Gran Turismo’s just waiting for us. Having just arrived from commissioning, they are sparkling clean with almost zero hours on the meters and both boats are nestled in the basin just in front of the office, fueled and ready to go.
With the two new Gran Turismo’s, and a few Beneteau sailboats shoehorned to the docks, it looks like Beneteau Basin here at Marina Village. As I’m being shown around both powerboats, we are making our plans for the day. We decide to take both the GT 38 and the GT 44 out at the same time and use one for the camera boat while doing the sea trial on the other. Then we will switch boats somewhere around San Francisco and repeat. I went on the GT 38 with Mik while Ty and Richard started out on the GT 44.
I’m getting excited as this is beginning to shape up to be a fun day on San Francisco Bay!
When you first step aboard the GT 38 you can’t help but notice the large swimstep with teak deck that flows right into the cockpit. The deck is all one level all the way up to the centerline double-wide helm seat that is raised approximately 10 inches. To the right of the helm there is a very comfortable seat for a third person set off to starboard. Beneteau has even put a well-placed stainless steel grab rail for the passenger to hold on to should the need arise.
The helm has just about every analog gauge you could want to the left of the large Simrad multi-function display that is mounted in the center of the dash and there are more analog gauges just behind. To the right of the display are the Volvo engine management displays and a selection of easy-to-get-to rocker switches that control various DC systems.
A little farther to the right I spot a joystick control just in front of the traditional electronic throttle controls. Taking a seat at the helm I find a comfortable seat with a flip-up bolster for standing at the helm. There is plenty of headroom while standing and good sightlines even with the large curving hardtop.
Looking forward I see another unique feature: one large glass windscreen with no seams and a large single center mounted wiper. Being all one piece of glass, the front windscreen allows good vision forward without the usual vertical moldings.
To aid in natural ventilation at the helm, there are opening windows to port and to starboard and a rather large electric opening sunroof overhead that is just about the full width of the hardtop. Even with the sunroof closed there was plenty of headroom for those well over 6 feet tall.
Sitting at the helm and looking aft there is a large U-shaped seating area with enough space to seat six comfortably and a high-low table in the center large enough for dining. The table mounts to the engine room hatch and has a fold-down section to provide more room for getting around.
Just in front of the settee and to port is a countertop with a cooler and storage cabinet beneath. Beneteau offers a few options for this space; you can opt for a sink or grill in the countertop, and a refrigerator in place of the cooler. To starboard there is an oversize aft-facing lounger.
Taking a walk to the foredeck is safe and easy with the fairly wide walk around side decks. When you look at the side of the GT you see that there are no grab rails along the hardtop, but Beneteau didn’t forget about a safety. They have molded in a grab trough all along the top of the hardtop. Your fingers just fall naturally into the trough and you feel secure walking along the sides.
Up front we find a large sun pad fully equipped with drink holders. At the business end of the bow we find a Lewmar® windlass with remote control, instead of the traditional foot switches, concealed under a cover. Next to the windlass there is an access hatch to the chain locker. Anchoring duties look straightforward and the bow has a nice clean look to it with the cover and absent the foot switches.
Opening up the large engine room hatch I find two familiar-looking Volvo D4-300 powerplants, but something is different. Having seen the joystick at the helm I am now looking for the familiar Volvo IPS drives that should be attached to the back of the D4’s, but they are not there.
Richard pops his head down into the engine room and explains to me that this boat has the Volvo duo prop stern drives with joystick control, which is a system similar to the MerCruiser Axius propulsion system I reviewed in the April 2013 edition of Yachtsman magazine.
As Richard explained, both the GT 38 and GT 44 have the air step hull where air is drawn down through tubes on either side of the hull and then exits at the keel. This hull design has been proven to provide better performance at all planing speeds, but the hull shape of the GT 38 and GT 44 does not allow for the installation of the IPS drives, so Beneteau chose to power these boats with joystick stern drives from Volvo.
Having experienced the total control the Axius system provided on a 35-foot express cruiser with 380-HP gas engines, it will be interesting to see how a 38-foot express cruiser performs with the Volvo duo prop outdrives and 300-HP diesel engines with joystick control.
One advantage of being equipped with stern drives is that there is more space in the engine room and additional space in the main cabin. At the bottom of the ladder you stare directly at a 4-KW generator forward, easily accessible primary fuel filters to the sides, and sea water strainers just aft. Also down here is the hot water heater, fixed fire extinguishing system, and twin 86-gallon molded fuel tanks pushed all the way forward.
Although a bit snug between the engines, access for checking fluids and changing filters appears to be easy. There is room for more accessories or storage, your choice.
Access to the cabin space is via a large companionway just to the left of the helm and down three steps. To the left in the companionway is the electrical panel and stereo control, and overhead is a large smoked glass skylight that extends over the galley.
This skylight starts at the port side of the vessel and extends nearly to the centerline between the windscreen and the helm. This is good use of space between the helm and windscreen that in other designs is wasted.
At the bottom of the steps and to port is the saloon with an L-shaped settee with high-low table; to starboard is the galley with a two-burner cooktop, sink and lots of storage. Under the cooktop is the refrigerator and above is a microwave oven.
The master stateroom is forward and through a door (not just a curtain) and has a centerline island queen with hanging lockers on both sides and several large storage drawers underneath.
The overhead hatch brings in light and air as do the windows and opening portholes on both sides. If you don’t want either, there is a curtain that pulls across to block out all light.
Just aft of the saloon is another stateroom, behind a door, not a curtain, and is full beam with twin berths that can convert to a single queen if desired. There is good natural lighting in this cabin with the side window and opening porthole and an overhead opening hatch.
Aft of the galley is a wet head with mirrored cabinet doors, a porthole and overhead hatch. Both the porthole and the hatch open to bring in fresh air.
Having been through most of the boat, it was now time to fire up our Volvo diesels and see if we can maneuver out of the marina. It would be very difficult to move either of these boats out of the basin without the joystick control as the boats are shoehorned in so tight there isn’t 12 inches of room to move the boat away from the dock and avoid several bow anchors reaching out to grab us as we try to get free.
Mik and I take the GT 38 out of the marina first. With Mik at the helm, I watch as he jockeys the boat fore, aft, and sideways scooting just a few feet at a time as we clear the surrounding gel coat.
Once out of the basin and at the end of the fairway, we watch as Richard maneuvers the GT 44 around the basin in ways that just don’t look natural for a 44-foot boat. The amount of control with the outdrive joystick is pretty amazing, but I will reserve final judgment until we come back in 5 hours when the afternoon winds have picked up and we will be in the middle of the flood. Conditions like that always make docking in tight quarters more interesting.
After we clear the minimum wake zone of the Alameda Estuary, I power up our GT 38 to a sedate cruise of 18 knots and get a feel for the boat. You do notice immediately that the boat jumps on plane quickly even though I left the drive trim at 0 degrees and kept the trim tabs in the fully retracted position as we came on plane.
Making a few trim adjustments for best speed at 2300 RPM, the bow still felt a little high but not enough to limit visibility. Once we get out of the Estuary the camera boat passes us and heads over toward Yerba Buena Island to wait for us to make a few high-speed passes.
I bring the boat to a stop in the anchorage and prepare to make a few timed starts. Again, leaving the trim adjustments alone, our first run we are on a plane in less than 6 seconds, see our speed climbing past 28 knots in 12 seconds, and hit our wide open throttle (WOT) maximum speed of 33 knots in just under 16 seconds with the engines turning 3500 RPM.
After several more tries I wasn’t able to improve on those performance numbers (more on that later), so we set up to make our first high-speed pass by the camera boat. Our GT tracks straight and true in the light chop of the Bay.
I back the power off just a bit to 3300 RPM, dropping our speed to 30.5 knots, and bring the helm hard left with just a single turn of the helm. The GT 38 leans into the turn just a smidgeon, turns smartly and carves a nice arc that looks to be around just two boat lengths in diameter. It seems that the designers hit their mark with confidence inspiring performance.
After making nearly a full circle, I snap the helm to hard right and we make another tight circle; the helm is just a bit over two turns from hard left to hard right. I center the helm as we approach our own wake and slice right through the three footers with just a few bounces and a rock steady track.
Now that the water is churned up a bit around the camera boat, it’s time for another high-speed pass by the GT 44 just to be sure they get bounced around some more, I mean, to be sure Ty has all the high-speed photos he needs.
After a few more timed runs and some still beauty shots in front of the Yerba Buena Island Lighthouse, we head over to the San Francisco Ferry Terminal were we plan to take a few more photos and then trade boats; I will get on the GT 44 with Richard and Ty will move to the GT 38.
Bringing the two boats next to each other, I get another opportunity to use the joystick control. The joystick has two buttons to engage the control, one for slow speed intended for close quarters, and the other for faster movement away from the dock. With the main controls in neutral, pushing either button activates the joystick.
Using the control is intuitive and requires minimal learning; push the stick in the direction you want the boat to go, push harder to move faster, twist to make the boat twist. To disengage the joystick and use the throttles, just put the engines in forward or reverse, the helm will automatically center, and you operate the vessel with traditional propulsion.
After sterning the boats to each other, we move gear and trade boats. Richard is showing me the controls of the GT 44 and discussing the difference between this one and the GT 38.
I showed him my notes that I took on the performance running GT 38 and he offered that the boat would have gotten an additional knot to knot-and-a-half of speed if I had adjusted the trim properly. Ouch, that hurt. But I’m always willing to learn from someone with much more time behind the helm on these boats. Besides, I see an excuse to take the 38 out again for driving lessons.
Like a kid at Disneyland, that was fun, I’m ready to go again. And so we shall as we repeat the morning maneuvers on the GT 44. My report on that boat will be in a future edition of Yachtsman.
Measured performance with full fuel tanks and two persons onboard: Time to plane – less than 6 seconds; max speed – 33.5 knots burning 30 GPH total and WOT of 3500 RPM; best cruise speed – 28 knots at 3000 RPM burning 21 GPH total.
Most nautical-minded people associate Beneteau with sailing vessels. That same attention to quality that makes Beneteau sailboats so fast and seaworthy is built into the powerboats as well. The swift trawler 50 and the Barracuda 7 have been nominated European powerboat of the year.
The Gran Turismo series has a 34, 38, 44 and 49. All of these models have the air step hull and joystick sterndrives except the GT 49, which is powered with twin Volvo IPS 600’s.
A few weeks ago a friend asked me now that I have some experience with the various joystick-controlled propulsion systems would I order one on my boat? After a few seconds of contemplation, the short answer is why wouldn’t I? The advantages that both MerCruiser and Volvo systems offer of electric steering, the ability to add features with simple software upgrades, and the amazing ease of close-quarter maneuvering far outweigh the small additional cost, and in my mind, should make joystick control standard equipment.
If you are looking for a fast and sporty mid-size express cruiser, then you need to look at the Gran Turismo 38. For more information or to arrange for your own personal test ride, contact the Passage Yachts crew at 510/864-3000 or 510/236-2633.
Passage Yachts is the exclusive dealer for Beneteau sailboats and Beneteau powerboats in Northern California and has two locations with the Alameda location being the headquarters for the Beneteau powerboats. Check out their website at: www.passageyachts.com.
1220 Brickyard Cove Road, Suite 103
Point Richmond, CA 94801
1070 Marina Village Parkway, Suite 101
Alameda, CA 94501
Gran Turismo 38
Beneteau Gran Turismo 38
LOA 38’ 07”
Beam 12’ 2” Draft 2’ 9” drive up, 3’ 5” drive down Air Clearance 13’ 0”
Fuel 172 gallons
Water 53 gallons
Displacement 16,199 lbs.
Power 2 Volvo D4’s 300 HP
Maximum Measured Speed 35 knots