A few months ago when we wrapped up our day of sea trialing the new Beneteau Gran Turismo 38 in San Francisco Bay, we used the Gran Turismo 44 as the camera boat. If you missed the print article of the GT38 in the May 2013 issue, you can read the online version at: http://yachts manmagazine.com/reviews/gran_turismo_38.html
After we completed running the GT38, we stopped in front of the ferry building to switch boats. We sterned the two boats together while Ty Mellott gathered all of his bags of camera gear and I grabbed my notebook. Now I'm on the 44 with Richard Mathews and Ty is on the 38 with Mik Maguire and we are ready for a few more hours of test running the GT44 around San Francisco Bay.
While we were focused on switching boats and gear, taking our time to discuss equipment and running notes, the ebb tide pushed us pretty close to the ferry terminal. Just as I was about ready to get the 44 moving, I looked up and saw a San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) boat heading right for us.
It then dawned on me that we were inside the 500-foot safety zone of the ferry terminal and probably should not be there. It must have been apparent to the officers on the SFPD boat, because of the camera equipment and two new boats with no CF numbers or hailing ports, that we were sea trialing the boats and just not paying attention to our location rather than being up to no good. As the SFPD boat came alongside they did not appear to be concerned; they just asked us to keep outside the safety area.
After a short conversation and a few photos, the officers waved goodbye, turned south toward the Bay Bridge, and hit the throttles. Now it's our turn. I turn the boat south toward the Bay Bridge, hit the throttles and in less than six seconds we are on plane and accelerating past 20 knots in hot pursuit.
Keeping the throttle pinned, we climb to our wide open RPM of 3480 and our speed over ground steadies at 33.5 knots against the ebb. Unfortunately, that SFPD boat tops out at around 50 knots, so the race was over before it ever started.
The GT44 is not the largest of the Gran Turismo series, the big brother is the 49, but she is the largest that uses the air step hull. The GT49 with a similar hull design uses IPS (pod) drives and that interferes with the air injection system. Our GT44, like the GT38, has joystick stern drives, only this one is coupled to twin 370-hp Volvo D6 diesel engines.
Just like the GT38 I just got off of, the GT44 planes quickly, tracks straight, and is a dry ride. I have written about the air step hull developed for Beneteau powerboats in past articles and there is quite a bit of information on the Beneteau website, but the short version of the technology is that air is injected under the center of the hull from vents in the sides.
As the boat moves forward, a vacuum is created and air is pulled from the side vents, and this injected air reduces the surface friction as the boat goes through the water. It is this air injection, combined with lifting strakes, that makes the boat quick, fuel efficient, and provides a dry ride.
Heading out of the anchorage and back to the San Francisco cityfront where the water is rougher, we look for wakes to cross and wind chop to head into. Along the way we do another wide open throttle (WOT) test, this time with the ebb, past the camera boat and fly under the Bay Bridge. With just a little tweaking of the outdrive trim and under Richard's tutelage, the trim tabs end up at about 40 percent, we top out at 36 knots with the D6's maxed out at 3510 RPM.
That is more trim than I would have done myself, but the master has demonstrated we get excellent speed, almost no bow rise, and the boat slices right through the chop when trimmed correctly.
As we get into the disturbed water, I start to slow to a reasonable cruise speed when with a little encouragement from Richard we keep our cruise speed of 28 knots while heading directly into a three-foot wake from a passing ferry. Our 44 sliced right through the wake, came back down softly, staying level and stable.
Having done the same with the Barracuda 9 and the GT38, I should not have been surprised at how well the GT44 handles large wakes. This boat is a joy to drive and I am getting more comfortable with the handling by the minute as we make a few hard over turns in the rough water.
Usually, I would head down toward AT&T Park where the water is calmer to see how a boat tracks and handles in hard turns, but this hull design inspires confidence as we make almost perfect tight figure 8's at 28 knots with very little slide, roll, heel or porpoising. The GT44 inspires confidence and rides like a larger and heavier boat.
Heading back to Alameda in the calm waters of the Estuary, we just cruise our GT44 along at 28 knots and enjoy a comfortable and quiet ride. At this speed our Volvo D6 engines are just purring along at 2800 RPM and burning a combined 28 gallons per hour. Getting one nautical mile per gallon while fast cruising at 28 knots in a 22,000-pound, 44-foot cruiser is pretty efficient.
While in the estuary, I just had to see how the garage worked. While just idling in the minimum wake area, we lifted the hydraulic hatch to reveal a rather large volume of space that looks like it would swallow up a jet ski or tender. With the electric winch and flip out rollers, it should be easy to launch the toys from this platform.
Back at the marina the afternoon winds have picked up as expected. I gladly hand over the controls to Richard to back our GT44 down the fairway and to the dock. Although I am getting good with the joystick controls, the fairway is pretty tight with a little wind off the starboard beam and those hungry-looking anchors to the left. I don't want to be the guy that puts the first scratch on a boat's first time out.
Safely back at the dock, I now have the opportunity for a full tour. Stepping aboard at the 40-inch deep swim step, we have two steps up on the starboard side to the cockpit where there is a U-shaped settee with seating for eight to port, storage underneath, and a large table mounted on a platform in the center that lowers and turns this area into a second large sun lounge.
The other sun lounge area is just aft of the cockpit and on top of the tender garage. To starboard we find an entertainment center with a cooktop and stainless steel sink under a cover and large storage underneath.
The tender garage is large enough for an 8-foot boat, has an electric winch to recover the craft, and stern rollers to protect the teak.
Under the floor of the garage is a large hatch that provides access to the aft part of the engine room. From here checking engine fluids and changing oil is a snap with all the vitals easily accessible. To starboard in the cockpit is a built-in wine cooler and storage area.
Moving forward from the cockpit we pass over another engine room access hatch and find the helm set to starboard with a comfortable swivel bucket seat with a flip-up bolster.
In front of the seat is a 12-inch multi-function navigation display surrounded by analog gauges and the Volvo engine management displays. When sitting at the helm, your right hand falls naturally in place at the joystick control with the electronic throttles just forward and the bow thruster control just forward of the throttles. This is a well laid out helm and even has the fuel shutoffs under a tinted panel just aft of the joystick. A molded-in foot rest, in lieu of a fold-down foot rest, sits just about perfectly.
To the left of the helm we find a double-wide navigator's seat and on the port side the stairs that lead below decks. I also noted the opening windows on both sides of the helm area and the large overhead electric sunroof that opens with the push of a button located at the helm; these provided a lot of airflow during our sea trial.
Midway down the six steps that take you right in the middle of the saloon and galley is the simple, well laid out and easy-to-access electrical control panel. Just above the companionway there is a skylight that provides a great deal of light for the saloon and makes this area seem brighter and larger.
Entering the below decks we have the galley to port, the saloon to starboard, staterooms at either end with the master stateroom and head aft, and the VIP stateroom and head forward. The light wood interior along with all of the natural light from the many ports and skylights makes this space look open and inviting.
The galley has a large refrigerator/freezer, two-burner cooktop, double basin sink, and an opening port light. The saloon to starboard is separated from the galley by an entertainment center and has an L-shaped settee that converts to a berth if needed, tons of storage, and an opening port light.
The forward stateroom has full stand-up headroom at the entrance and has an island queen berth, overhead opening skylight, and both large windows and opening ports both on starboard and port. The forward head has access from both the stateroom and from the saloon making this the day head.
Well-designed with a stall shower, VacuFlush® heads, basin sink, and an opening port light, the head is compact and very functional with plenty of storage for the essentials.
At the other end and behind a privacy door is the full-beam master stateroom with full stand-up headroom, an island queen berth and bench seating to starboard, storage everywhere, and large windows on both sides. The bench is just above the water level and looks out the large window offering a great view at the water line. The private head has a stall shower, VacuFlush head, basin sink, and an opening port light.
Having looked all around the interior of the GT44 and opened every cabinet and locker I can find, I am impressed with the design and features that Beneteau was able to fit into a 44-foot boat.
On my way back to the cockpit to access the stairs to the foredeck, I wanted a look into the engine room from the cockpit hatch.
The hatch is set off to the starboard side of the cockpit and provides easy access for checking the generator vitals, fuel filters, batteries, and the assorted pumps and thru hull's.
From the cockpit to port there is a set of four steps that lead to the foredeck. This is also where we find the electrical connectors for shore power and the hot and cold cockpit shower. Making my way to the foredeck, I find the same hardtop finger trough that was on the GT38, and that combined with rails that run all the aft provide secure access.
The foredeck is covered in non-skid material, has a molded-in anchor chain locker to starboard, the windless under a centerline hatch, and has a nice clean look to it.
Most nautical-minded people associate Beneteau with sailing vessels, but the same 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 except the GT49, which is powered with twin Volvo IPS 600's, have the air step hull and joystick sterndrives.
I have been asked several times now that I have some experience with the various joystick-controlled propulsion systems if I would 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 using the joystick, 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 44.
For more information or to arrange for your own personal test ride, contact Passage Yachts. 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 44
Beneteau Gran Turismo 44
LOA - 44' 02"
Beam - 13' 0"
Draft - 2' 9" drive up, 3' 5" drive down
Air Clearance - 14' 1"
Fuel - 212 gallons
Water - 106 gallons
Displacement - 22,430 lbs.
Power - 2 Volvo D6's 370 HP
Maximum Measured Speed - 34 knots
Measured performance with full fuel tanks and two persons onboard:
Time to plane - less than 6 seconds
Max speed - 34.0 knots (averaged) burning 40 GPH total and WOT of 3500 RPM
Best cruise speed - 28 knots at 2800 RPM burning 28 GPH total