The Palm Beach 55 has classic Downeast lines, and because she is built by Grand Banks she uses solid Burmese teak lavishly. The option of IPS pod drives or straight shaft propellers provide owners a choice of power. And there is a choice of three different layouts below, galley up or down, and the salon can be designed to suit. She is a premium express cruiser with systems as modern as today, combined with old world craftsmanship in a salty yacht that exudes class. Her list of standard equipment is remarkable and makes her a turnkey yacht outfitted pretty much as seen in our videos.
|Length Overall||61' 8'' / 18.80 m|
1.17 m w/shafts 4'0''
1.22 m w/IPS
Acceleration Times & Conditions
|Time to Plane||5.1 sec.|
|0 to 30||11.5 sec.|
|Load||3 persons, 2/5 fuel, 1/2 water, 50 lbs. of gear|
|Climate||62 deg., 45 humid; wind: 15-20 mph; seas: <1|
2 x 725-hp Volvo Penta IPS950
2 x 725-hp Volvo Penta IPS950
2 x 900-hp Volvo Penta IPS1200
Contents of Report
The Palm Beach 55 is an all-purpose day boat ideal for picnics and entertaining, taking friends out to the islands and coastal spots, rain or shine. She has luxurious accommodations, both outside in the extra-large cockpit, or inside in the salon with two seating venues.
For owners wanting to do some longer, genteel cruising she comes in a galley-down, two en suite configuration, and has four seats facing forward on the bridge deck so two couples can enjoy the passing scenery together. A remarkable tender garage turns this day boat into a cruising boat.
Grandparents will like the three-cabin version in order to share the delights of cruising with children and grandchildren.
Her mission is also to serve the needs of a busy executive, and to that end she comes standard in a turnkey state, with few options or decisions to make.
• Boat Balance. The mid-engine location on the Palm Beach 55 flybridge contributes to performance and handling without needing to add counter-weights to level similar rear engine boats, and to such an extent that the boat performs so well that a gyro stabilizer is unnecessary.
The boat’s level ride at full speed is the result of this careful weight distribution; from a modest 5% to 7% bow rise upon acceleration to nearly flat level ride with trim tabs engaged. This level ride extends waterline length and contributes to excellent handling.
• Bottom Shape. The deadrise at the transom of the Palm Beach 55 is only 8-degrees, as opposed to something on the order of 16 to 19-degrees for most boats in class. That makes her running as efficient and as fast as possible. Her hull is designed to stay in the water at full speed, another thing that separates her from others. Our test captain reports that in the snotty sea conditions we encountered during the test she provided a very comfortable ride.
• Light Weight. Among the Downeast style boats we compared to the Palm Beach 55, we found that she was one of the lightest, which was somewhat surprising because she has so much solid teak aboard. This is a testament to her state-of-the-art build.
• Grand Banks. This venerable company acquired Palm Beach in 2014. Grand Banks single-handedly started the “trawler” concept in the 1960s and has survived all of the ups and downs of the boating business that has seen dozens of its imitators and competitors fail. One reason for its survival is the company’s unswerving insistence on quality construction.
• Solid Burmese Teak. Most of the teak in Palm Beach boats is solid wood, not veneer. Few boats in class have as much teak built into it, because few builders have the supply that Grand Banks has been able to maintain over the years, in spite of the scarcity in protection of this coveted wood.
• Aesthetic Downeast Design. Downeast recreational boats got their inspiration from working lobster boats which have a large cockpit for handling traps, a sheltered house without an aft bulkhead, a modest cabin, and an almost vertical windshield. Everything was squared off to make construction as inexpensive as possible. Downeast yachts started there and evolved, but many models are not too many generations from the original design parameters.
Palm Beach softened the lines, rounded the trunk cabin, put tumble home in the stern quarters and got the proportions of the house right by making it longer. The result of all of this is a line of Downeast yachts that has become firmly established, in spite of its premium prices.
• CEO Mark Richards. Much is made of Grand Banks/Palm Beach CEO Mark Richards, and with good reason. Our experience has been that it is the vision, TLC, attention to detail, and management continuity of the CEO (or his family) that separates the brands with successful longevity from the flash-in-the-pans. Mark Richards started Palm Beach yachts in Palm Beach, New South Wales, Australia in 1995. He is a veteran of several of America’s Cup campaigns as well as a winning skipper of offshore racers, such as Wild Oats, which won Sydney to Hobart line honors eight times. This speaks to his organizational ability and leadership. Stories of his requirement that all shavings and sawdust be vacuumed up immediately so that the boat’s interior – and the work space – is immaculate at all times, permeate the industry buzz.
• Fine entry and warped semi-displacement hull shape for maximum hull efficiency
• Palm Beach’s construction bonds all bulkheads and interior furniture directly to the hull and deck making them structural components of the boat
• Single-level layout means good visibility and eliminates trip hazards
• Enclosed hardtop
• Flybridge option
• Galley up or down options
• Two or three staterooms available
• Large cockpit for entertaining
It’s all about the details – from the choice of IPS or straight shaft propulsion, right up to the antenna mast that sits above the enclosed hardtop – the Palm Beach 55 is in a very elite class. The fiberglass tower rakes aft at about a 35-degree angle, adding a sleek line to the profile of the boat.
As we go through the boat it is obvious that the design team at Palm Beach has not just tweaked the approach of popular boats in class, but rather has questioned most assumptions about how a boat in this category should be designed, built, and look.
The Hull Shape
Most important, of course is the hull. The forefoot is sharp which cuts through seas easily and she does not pound. This is her first most important attribute. Secondly, she does not have a wide, pronounced chine lifting to her stem, as we usually see in class. While prominent chines swept up to the bow do a good job of knocking down spray, they also can cause pounding when at speed, and at anchor will produce the annoying slap-slap-slap, which usually keeps awake the folks in the forward cabin.
From her sharp entry sections forward, the hull warps on the way aft until it reaches 8-degrees at the transom. That is nearly flat. It is about as far away from the much-heralded 24-degree deep-V as possible. So what do the Palm Beach designers know that others don’t?
Why Not Deep-V? The Palm Beach 55’s designers know that the deep-V was invented for offshore racing where small boats were jumping from wavetop to wavetop at 60 mph and were landing on their stern, bow and amidships. That’s why their 24-degree deadrise was constant, so no matter where the boat landed the boat would get the softest landing possible.
But the Palm Beach 55 will not be going 60 mph, nor will she be involved in offshore racing, nor is she a small boat. This all seems obvious, but typically boats in this class have something like a 16 to 18-degree deadrise at the transom. That deadrise allows them to roll more at slow speeds and at anchor, and is one reason why the Seakeeper gyro stabilizer has been so popular on some Downeast boats.
Flatter bottoms are easier to push and are more fuel efficient. The result is that they can go just as fast as boats with 500-hp more which burn a lot more fuel. The warp of the hull is the secret sauce of all designers, but Palm Beach’s designers seem to have gotten it right, as our veteran test captain could not say enough about the smooth ride of the Palm Beach 55 in some of the roughest conditions we have tested in.
The Palm Beach 55 has a LOA of 61’8’ (18.76 m), a beam of 17’2’ (5.24 m), and a draft of 4’ (1.22 m) when powered by the IPS system, and 3’10” (.95 m) with a straight shaft. With an empty weight of 49,600 lbs. (22,498 kg), 40-percent fuel and three people onboard, the test boat had an estimated test weight of 52,983 lbs. (24,033 kg).
We reached our top speed of 32.4 knots with the twin 725-hp Volvo Penta IPS950 engines revving 2540 rpm. At that speed, the 75 gph fuel burn translated into .4 nmpg and a range of 280.2 nm. We held back a 10-percent reserve of the boat’s 687-gallon (24,033 L) capacity.
Palm Beach says that in their tests, the boat hit a top-end speed of 34 knots at 2550 rpm in a variety of sea states when trimmed properly. It is not unusual for builder’s speeds to be at variance with the ones that we record, as all boats perform differently on different days in different conditions.
Our Best Cruise. Finding the most economic cruising speed is difficult. The boat is so well tuned to the IPS drives that there’s no real hump where the performance tops out at planing speeds.
Instead, as we reduce speed from full throttle the range increases linearly, so it’s really a matter of setting the speed to adjust the comfort level for the prevailing conditions. That, too, can be difficult as she’s comfortable even in rough weather.
For time to plane, since she accelerates from a level attitude, we use the point at which the rooster tail is formed, and that comes in 5.1 seconds. She’ll accelerate to 20 mph in 7.6 seconds and continue through 30 in 11.5 seconds.
It isn’t until the Palm Beach gets to speed during acceleration that the bow rise takes effect. At that point, we bring the Zipwake intercepters down and lower the bow to a level attitude. It seems counter productive to add the drag of the tabs, but it’s where she wants to be. There’s a boost in performance once she’s there, as evidenced by the minimal wake at cruise, with an accompanying improvement in forward visibility.
Turns are in a wide radius as is characteristic of a pod driven boat so everyone remains comfortable even when the helmsman tries to bank a tight turn. Take off a little speed and the pods increase their turn radius accordingly.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. We went from our test area of relatively protected water, to open water. There we found 4’ to 6’ (1.22 m – 1.83 m) seas with 6-second average periods rolled steadily with the occasional 7 footer (2.13 m). The Palm Beach 55 handled these conditions like she was built for them, which of course she was.
In head seas she carved cleanly right through the waves without a hint of hull slap or pounding. She’d absolutely throw water everywhere but inside, and we were dry, comfortable, and barely holding on to steady ourselves. All this at nearly full speed.
With following seas, she’d power through the back side of the wave, and plunge right through the next without a hint of stuffing the bow at all. And we were again, operating at nearly top speed.
Beam Seas. Bringing her around into beam seas showed her best characteristics with no restrictions on speed for comfort and she keeps a level attitude as we cruise from one crest to the next while remaining at a relatively level cruise attitude, thanks to her engines being forward for balance and her 8-degree deadrise at her stern.
This yacht is as much at home in a washing machine sea as she is looking classy tied to the dock, or idling in front of a mansion in Newport.
The easiest way to board the Palm Beach 55 is across the stern. The 4’9’ (1.45 m) fore and aft teak swim platform provides a safe, sturdy boarding platform dockside and plenty of flat surface for swimming, diving or getting on or off your jet ski or kayak. Friends visiting in their tenders can tie up their painters on the pull-up cleats at either stern quarter.
The centerpiece of the spacious cockpit is a forward facing seat behind a high-gloss finished teak wood table mounted on two stainless pedestals in fixed positions. Four optional Sumbrella Italian deck chairs can be added ($3,200).
Sun Shade. A 5’2’ (1.58 m) extended hardtop protects the forward portion of the cockpit. A removable optional awning ($8,200) can cover the remaining cockpit area. Mounting points on the caprails accommodate stanchions to support the sunshade. Taking that a step further, a fixed sun shade ($15,800) can be installed over the whole cockpit, something that will be welcomed on hot summer days with a boat full of guests.
The Tender Garage
Because of the carefully-crafted design of the Palm Beach 55’s cockpit, one might never know there’s a full-sized tender garage under the teak deck. The standard tender garage houses a 10’ 8” (3.05 m) inflatable with an outboard that is included as standard equipment.
When the deck is raised, it also lifts the stern of the tender into position to slide out on the installed rails and transition right into the water. A system of lines and pulleys make launching and retrieval reliable. This is an impressive fete of engineering and we have never seen anything quite like it in class. This one important detail turns what is otherwise a day boat, into a practical cruiser.
The Engine Room
The Palm Beach 55’s engine room is accessed from a hatch in the forward portion of the cockpit sole. Steps lead down to a teak deck in the engine room, one of the few we have ever seen. The 10.8 kW Fischer Panda generator is mounted right between the twin Volvo Penta IPS950 engines. The pods are further aft, below the cockpit for better load distribution. Covered jackshafts connect the two.
The engine start batteries are in a sealed box just behind the genset. Battery switches are next to the ProNautic management system aft and to port. Checkpoints are on the port side of both engines. A little contortionism is required for full checks of the port engine. There are sight gauges for the fuel tanks, but of course all vital signs are reported electronically at the helm.
All through-hull fittings are ball valves and all hoses are double clamped, exceeding the American ABYC’s standard of single hose clamps except on exhaust hoses.
There’s no need for turning sideways and doing dance steps to move around the cabin top. Side decks on either side have plenty of width to walk normally.
The Main Cabin
Palm Beach will arrange furniture in the salon to fit an owner’s needs. The three layouts presented here are all practical, but personalization is one of Palm Beach’s specialties. The salon in our test boat had an L-shaped sofa to port wrapping around an expandable, solid high-gloss finished teak table on a fixed pedestal. Opposing seating to starboard consists of two loveseats fore and aft of a free-standing coffee table.
All upholstery is Ultraleather in the owner’s choice of colors and texture. The carpet on the salon deck is at the owner’s specification and there is an acoustic underlay. All cabinetry is solid teak with a satin finish.
The sound system is powered by the Fusion Apollo Series with speakers in the salon and cockpit which are independently actuated. There are JL Audio speakers in the cockpit and Bose acoustics in the salon.
Sightlines are excellent in the salon, especially from the seated positions. The upholstered headliner has 6’10” (2.08 m) of headroom. Satin finished wood trim draws the eye upward.
Our test boat had the galley forward and to port, also known as “galley up”. The 55’s interior configuration also comes in a “galley down” version. All of the major features of the galley are called out in the captions below except for the stainless steel microwave/convection oven, and the power side window by the galley that lowers and raises with the touch of a button.
Manually sliding, overhead hatches enhance ventilation. The dual aft windows flanking the doorway and the electrically actuated opening side windows allow for quick and thorough replacement of cabin air.
A hatch in the deck next to the galley leads to a utility room. Palm Beach found room for a combination washer/dryer. There’s also room for additional storage.
The helm station features a well-padded, double seat for comfortable long helm watches and rough seas. The seat is large enough for a companion, but there are no bolsters because steering will be sitting down only. Instruments, including GPS, chartplotter, and radar, are located right where needed, just below the windshields. The teak wheel tilts.
On our test boat, the lower deck was accessed from a centerline companionway. The master is all the way forward. Perfectly joined and varnished Burmese teak continues throughout the cabin, even around the hatches.
Steps to the sides of the bed and unobstructed clearance on three sides simplify access. 6’8’ (2.03 m) headroom leaves 3’2”(.97 m) above the berth. Storage is found in cubbies, lockers, and drawers throughout the cabin and below the berth. An overhead hatch adds more natural light and ventilation. The ensuite is located on the port side. It features a separate walk-in shower.
The starboard stateroom is on the port side just beyond the step-down from the salon. From the passageway, there’s a 9” (22.86 cm) step down to the cabin. In the galley down layout, this will be the galley location. The configuration we tested had two over/under berths.
Storage drawers are located just inside the door with an opening mirror for more storage. A large shelf locker outside in the passageway offers more storage, as well as being a good place to store beach towels.
VIP Stateroom. Across the passageway with teak deck, the VIP guest stateroom can be accessed through either a swinging door or a slider, or both. Twin berths 78” x 30” (1.98 m x .76 m) slide together making a queen bed, when the center nightstand is relocated. Headroom remains at 6’8" (2.03 m).
It is important to point out that the Palm Beach 55 is built with state-of-the-art material and techniques. Further, it has the years of experience of Grand Banks Yachts craftsmen and engineers involved with it.
The hull is vacuum-infused E-Glass, stitched multi-axial fabric, with carbon fiber in structural areas. The hull is cored with Corecell and Airex foam. Only vinylester and epoxy resins are used, which eliminates any chance of water osmosis or blistering. With this technique and with these materials, the hull should have a 60/40 glass-to-resin ratio, making the hull both strong and light.
The deck and superstructure are fully infused carbon fiber.
In addition to the normal stringer system, all bulkheads and fixed furniture is bonded to the hull and deck to produce superior strength and rigidity. This is sort of like an egg crate where panels of the hull are supported by numerous stiffeners that reduce flex. It is considered a best practice.
The 687 gallon (2,601 L) fuel tank is composite which means it can’t corrode. It is located athwartships, forward of the engine.
Forward there is a watertight crash bulkhead.
Optional Equipment to Consider
Power Considerations. For those who would like to push the performance up a notch, order the Palm Beach 55 with a pair of 1,000-hp Volvo Penta IPS1350s ($180,000) instead of the 725-hp IPS950s.
Alternatively, those who do not feel the need for a Volvo Penta joystick can opt for a straight shaft and a bow thruster which will save a lot of money off the base price with the IPS units. We think that a bow thruster is just as useful as a joystick, in most circumstances.
Operational Equipment. In any case, we recommend the remote docking station ($10,800). And right next to it can have an optional electric grill ($1,995) and the icemaker ($3,750) below, both of which add utility for very little money. For those planning a lot of day boating around home with friends in the summer, the removable cockpit sun awning ($8,200) should be considered. A Seakeeper #9 gyro ($93,500) can be fitted, but based on our sea trials in 4’ to 6’ (1.22 m to 1.83 m) seas, it won’t be necessary.
Aesthetic Considerations. The teak toe rail is optional, and it sure looked good on our test boat ($24,000). Even more important is the hull color and whether or not to have the hull painted. We happen to think that the right color hull makes a big difference in the beauty and perceived value of a boat such as the 55. All gel coat oxidizes, needs to be compounded and waxed several times a year in the south, not so much up north. We’d go with the builder’s paint job, which at $65,000 is reasonable compared to the hassle of aftermarket painting.
Bowrider. While we have not ridden in a Palm Beach 55 bowrider, we did ride in a bowrider on a 50-footer years ago. Our experience was that they are fun when the water is flat, but offshore in a chop they can become bouncy and wet.
The engine options noted above will have a lot to do with the purchase price of a new Palm Beach 55. The MSRP base price with the standard items mentioned in this report and many more not mentioned, and with the twin 725-hp Volvo Penta IPS950s is $2,750,000. With the straight shafts, we suspect that the price will be less, so it is best to call a factory sales representative to find out.
The Palm Beach 55 is the whole package, beauty, and brains. She is thoroughly Downeast, but she has moved the breed along in some important ways. Her profile styling, for example, is arresting because it is so fluid and soft, not hard-edged like a simulated lobster boat. Her large cockpit with twin transom doors makes the swim platform and cockpit work together as a staging area for watersports, casual fishing, and swimming off the beach. Deck chairs, an awning, and a BBQ grill make her a practical day boat for picnics, watching yacht races, and entertaining friends on slow evening cruises.
But her tender garage and 10’8” (3.25 m) inflatable with outboard make her a real cruising boat, and not just an expensive piece of well sculptured fiberglass to gaze at and admire. It makes her far more practical and gives her another world of utility. That together with her optional layout plans for genteel cruising with another couple, or with family and grandchildren, makes her a vessel that earns her living, and not just as a mooring ornament in front of a waterfront mansion.