Better known as the builder of quality racing yachts, Warkworth-based builder Dean Grice is becoming something of a silent assassin on the powerboat front with the launch this month of his second Vindex 40, Sea Chant.
The launch of Sea Chant from Sandspit earlier this month is further proof that home grown powerboat production is in good health, although the term "production" somewhat undermines Dean Grice's level of craftsmanship.
The Vindex brand is a household name in New Zealand and has been since the 1960s when designer Jim Young first penned the distinctive hull design. From its inception, Vindex became an overnight success with various models and sizes launched throughout the 1970s.
Vindex production reached its height in the 1980s with the Vindex 350 and 375 models being produced in big numbers by Nobelcraft Industries. Although some were professionally built, many were sold as hull and deck packages for fitting out at home by amateur builders.
The '87 share market crash killed production overnight and the Vindex moulds lay around gathering dust. Two years ago, however, Grice purchased the 375 moulds as part of a master plan to reinvent and improve the solid Kiwi icon.
Grice's research showed that Vindex owners loved their boats for their sea-kindly and solid construction, but felt that their boats would have benefitted from a more generous accommodation plan and a larger cockpit.
The primary complaint, says Grice, was that by modern standards, the Vindex lacked a proper owners' double cabin. Many felt that the cockpits were too small for family entertaining. He says there was also concern about the cost of maintaining the stern legs.
With that advice on board, Grice approached Jim Young and asked him to redraw the hull and extend the cockpit to allow room for a spiral flybridge staircase, bait tank and cockpit lockers. High Modulus were brought in to redesign the hull laminate, core topsides and decks and Mike Menzies advised on the practical approach to alleviate any risk of osmosis.
From the exterior, the new Vindex 40 looks nothing like the Vindex of old, but rather more like a stretched Formula 33. This is not too surprising given that it was Grice's association with Formula that led to the development of the Vindex 40.
Having almost exclusively concentrated on building performance yachts such as Cruise Control, Cosmic Cruise, Young Turk, Floyd and Cadillac, Grice changed tack in the mid-90s, turning his skills to launch building.
This followed a commission from his uncle and aunt, Brett and Gaye Melling, to build a Formula 33. The boat was sold soon after completion for a healthy profit. The Melling's placed a second order for a Formula 33 and then a third, each selling after launching for good money.
The buoyancy of the powerboat market gave Grice the confidence to expand and strike out on his own as a production launch builder. He went to work on the Vindex and in November last year launched Tanzanite, the first of the new 40s.
His second Vindex 40, Sea Chant, was launched earlier this month and features a large master cabin with an island double berth in the bow, a separate shower, circular flybridge staircase, aft galley and double opening cockpit doors that recess into the stairwell.
Grice says that the design philosophy behind the new 40 has been to keep the boat light, strong and foolproof. A lot of thought went into keeping operational costs and maintenance requirements to a minimum.
This saw Grice elect to install a single 440hp Yanmar Diesel on a Hurth V Drive with a 2in shaft spinning a 24.1/2in x 26in Briski prop. While a traditional twin-engine installation is an option, the single power plant performs extremely well and keeps engineering and running costs manageable. The addition of a bow-thruster takes the hard work out of manoeuvring in a marina.
Engine accessibility and servicing has received close attention, with generous access to the engine from both sides of the engine room via a removable bulkhead located behind the engine. A bolt-in floor also lifts out over the motor providing easy access to battery switches, breakers, skin fittings, plumbing, central heating plant and the diesel and water tanks.
Owners Terry and Leisbeth Bennett commissioned Sea Chant after viewing Tanzanite at last year's Auckland on-the-water boatshow. Having recently sold their former displacement launch in Britain, both Terry and Leisbeth had firm ideas of their own, which helped shaped the final package. Their wish list included a fully enclosed flybridge, separate shower, central heating and a custom bar and entertainment station opposite the galley. They also wanted cockpit steering and a saloon helm station that folded away to become part of the saloon's main seating plan when at anchor.
The overall changes are such that the boat has the internal volume and feel of a much larger vessel. The master cabin features a large island double with split-level walk-around access and huge storage underneath. Drawers have been fitted into the foot of the bed for clothing and linen and there is a large hanging locker to starboard with cabinet shelves to port. Parcel shelves run along both sides of the bow, which is fully lined.
The joinery is first-class throughout, with extensive use of light American oaks. Twin Weaver hatches overhead provide natural lighting and ventilation and the topside windows protrude through into the master cabin. The cabin gives 6ft3in headroom and this is carried throughout the boat. Halogen spots are mounted in the ceiling panels.
The guest cabin is on the starboard side, just aft of the main cabin and directly opposite the shower and head. Again, clever use of space has allowed Grice to fit in a generous double and a full-length single bunk with extensive shelving and lockers underneath. There is further storage under the double. The cabin is also finished in American oak, lined and carpeted with overhead ventilation.
The bathroom and shower opposite would not look out of place in any swanky apartment with Corion-like bench tops and a fully moulded white lining to help keep things smart and dry. The shower has its own safety glass door and sides and features polished stainless mixers and fittings. With hot and cold water, Lectrasan toilet and central heating duct, full-length mirrors, overhead hatches and halogen downlights, the heads are fit for a queen.
The main saloon is aft and up four stairs, which can be raised on a gas-powered strut to give an almost indecent amount of storage in the guts of the boat for bulky objects such as tools, deck chairs and the like. The companionway is well lit and airy and finished in oaks. Although it is not the biggest in its class, the main saloon features a U-shaped dinette to starboard with a fold down table to make a third double berth if required. Opposite is a three-seater settee, which would double as another single berth. The settee squab lifts off to give access to the saloon helm station seat.
The Yanmar engine controls and gauges and electronic steering is located under the angled back windscreen. While the saloon helm station is practical, the boat is very much designed around the flybridge. The saloon is light, airy and comfortable with the combination of light-coloured timber oaks and richly upholstered camel leather loungers. Summer temperatures won't be a problem with large sliding windows and rear sliding cockpit door.
The ceiling and internal topsides are fully lined and the saloon is carpeted throughout. Moving aft and to starboard is the galley, which has a full length wrap-around Corian-like bench top with twin stainless sinks and twin mixers, one with pressurised salt water. Amenities include a full-sized oven and hob, domestic 12/230-volt fridge/ freezer and microwave oven. There are plenty of 230-volt outlets for domestic appliances within the galley and saloon and a sensibly placed central heating duct.
Opposite the galley is a small bar with timber benchtop and a foldaway bin for wine and spirit bottles. Here the television is mounted into a corner unit with the main DC switchpanel and circuit breakers. The galley floor is finished in teak and holly and gives the boat a traditional feel.
The Vindex 40 has a moulded spiral staircase to the flybridge with solid teak steps. A stainless steel handrails is yet to be fitted. The opening is oval-cut and wide enough to make the accent painless. The flybridge itself is fully moulded with overhead vinyl liners and moulded safety glass windows. There is a forward-facing two-seater lounger set against the port side and a three-seater bench at the helm with a reversible back. The idea here, says Grice, is that flybridge passengers can all see where they're going when underway, yet face each other when relaxing or entertaining at anchor. It works well.
Visibility is unrestricted from the helm and the instruments are nicely housed in a white moulded facia, which includes all the necessities for safe navigation. The steeply angled back windscreen opens out for ventilation, which is a nice summer touch. All in all, the flybridge is the place to be and does not look or feel like it has been perched on top to the detriment of the boat's overall lines and styling.
The cockpit is a traditional Kiwi affair with little in the way of seating but with a stack of room for fishing. It is nicely finished with moulded liners and a Flexi-teek cockpit sole. A sink with shower rose and general storage cabinet is located in behind the flybridge staircase. The TFX engine and bow thruster controls are located on the port cockpit combing. A clever stern gate slides open and shut on genoa tracks and disappears into the stern mouldings when not required.
Further aft there are bait tanks, one each side of a large swim/dive platform with a pullout stainless boarding ladder. The cockpit combings have been finished in teak giving the boat an overall nautical feel. All up, the Vindex 40 is a beautifully finished and comfortable cruiser that would lend itself well to extended cruising as a live-aboard. Perhaps the best thing about the Vindex 40 to my mind is its stylish good looks and well-proportioned superstructure. Designers know that it doesn't take much to get flybridge design wrong but, in this instance, Grice was spot on. Moreover, at a base price starting at $430,000, the Vindex 40 represents real value given that it is a true turn-key package.
Grice initially plans to build two or three boats a year under the same tight quality controls to ensure the Vindex remains a true production boat, thereby protecting owners' investment and resale values.
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