Originally Posted by Max Simmons
Are the early fiberglass GB's more robust than later models?
The hulls are.
The reason is as follows. American Marine hired a fellow named Howard Abbey in 1972 or early 73 to design and build the molds for their first ventures into fiberglass, the GB36 and the GB42. Howard was one of the pioneers in using fiberglass for larger boats. For example, he was instrumental in getting Hatteras started in fiberglass.
There was no room in the Ameican Marine's original yard in Kowloon, Hong Kong, to build in fiberglass but the company had recently aquired a much larger piece of property in Singapore and this yard had plenty of room for the molds required to make the switch from wood to glass.
American Marine wanted the fiberglass GBs to be nearly identical to the wood GBs which had proved to be so popular. So Howard designed the molds to reproduce the dimensions and features of the wood boats, even down to the cove lines in the hull.
The first fiberglass Grand Banks was GB36 hull number 360 and it came out in mid-1973. For the first year, Howard personally supervised the layup of every GB36 and GB42 hull and he did not allow any corners to be cut. Fiberglass was a relatively new material for larger boats back then, so the hulls were probably thcker (and heavier) than they really needed to be. As a result, a Howard Abbey hull is built like a tank in terms of strength and integrity.
The popularity of American Marine's Grand Banks line had been established with its wood models and this popularity continued to grow with the changeover to fiberglass. While I do not know the details of what happened, American Marine managed to severely over-extended itself and this put the company in financial jeopardy.
Howard realized the company was headed down the road to serious financial difficulty and in mid-1974 he quit American Marine "while his paycheck still cashed" and he and his wife moved back to the US.
But.... before he left he wrote his "bible," a thick book detailing every step and process in the making of a Grand Banks fiberglass hull to his extremely high standards. He left this book with American Marine, saying that if they continued to follow his processes to the letter, their hull and and house structures would retain the same high standard of quality as the boat's he'd supervised over the past year. There was only the one copy.
After is departure, two things happened, both of them bad. One, the financial problems the company was facing caused them to start cutting corners. The boats were still very good boats, but the layups were not to Haward's standards.
Second, and I'm not sure where this fits in the timeline, but American Marine hired a fellow named Tony Fleming to manage the Singapore yard. I don't know how long he did this but when he left to start his own boat manufacaturing venture, he took the one copy of Howard's fiberglass hull "bible" with him.
A few years after Howard had left, American Marine began having trouble with their hull layups. I don't know what the problems were, but they were sereious enough to motivate American Marine to bring Howard back to Singapore to fix the situation. According to an interview I read with Howard, when he arrived he was "appalled" at the way the hulls were being laid up. None of his processes were being followed correctly, or in some cases, at all.
So he asked what had happened to the book he'd written for them. That's when he was told that, in Howard's words, "some English guy" (Fleming) had absconded with it when he left the company.
Howard worked to fix the layup problems and then he returned to the US.
American Marine brought him back one more time to help them resolve more layup problems but by now Howard was getting pretty fed up with the company and he stayed only a short while and then washed his hands of them.
Bear in mind, the above is from an interview with Howard that a friend of mine and his sent me some years ago. So it's history through Howard's eyes.
The bottom line is that a lot of people believe those 1973 thorugh mid-1974 Grand Banks hulls are the best ones ever built because Howard personally supervised their creation. This is not to say that later GB hulls are not good. Just that the first ones are extremely good.
Except for the gelcoat. Buidling boats of this size in fiberglass was a relatively new thiing in the early 70s, and for whatever reason, the gelcoat of the era was not as good as the gelcoat in later years. On a boat that lives in a boathouse or in a more friendly climate, that early gelcoat is okay. But on a boat that lives in the weather or under high UV exposure, which our boat did for its first 25 years in SFO Bay, the gelcoat deteriorates faster than one would like. Our GB badly needs to be painted, which we hope to do ourselves when we have time.
But gelcoat aside, we are very happy to have a boat with a hull that was laid up under the watchful eyes and demanding, hands-on management style of Howard Abbey. Not long after we bought our boat we knocked a heavy bronze pumpout fitting out of the side of our boat in a colision with a huge dock cleat at Deer harbor in the San Juans. The impact was hard enough to bend the fitting's thck mounting flange back 90 degrees. I was certain from the noise that the hull had been pretty severely damaged.
When I got off the boat to examine the mess, I was amazed to see that the heavy bronze fitting was completely free of the hull, hanging on the attached plumbing, and the damage to the hull was...... one tiny scratch where the flange had been forced against it before it bent.
And I couldn't believe how thick the hull was that far above the water line (just below the rub strip). I didn't measuree it but it was surprisingly thick, solid glass. This was before I'd ever heard of Howard Abbey. Having learned about him since, the thickness of our boat's hull doesn't surprise me.
As manufactdurers gained more experience using fiberglass to make larger boats, they realized that the overbuilidng of the early days was not necessary. Just as Boeing came to realize the original wing of the 747 was way overbult and so redesigned its inernal structure to save weight.
So it's probalby not correct to say that Howard Abbey's hulls are better than the hulls that came later, because a lighter but sufficiently strong hull can offer desireable attributes, particularly in the area of efficiency.
But in terms of strength and attention to detail and intergrity in the layup, the belief held by many that Howard's hulls in 1973 and 1974 are the best GB hulls ever made is probably pretty accurate. I'm sure glad we have one.