In the overcrowded world of mid-range fishing boats, only a handful of center consoles and walkarounds are worthy of venturing into blue water, where life can depend on a boat's inherent seaworthiness. Grady-White has earned a reputation for such quality over the years and is setting a new standard with the 330 Express.
The 330 Express is a departure for the North Carolina builder, whose center consoles and walkarounds range from 18 to 30 feet. The rest of the line, while claiming to accommodate both the fisherman and family, leans more toward fishing. The new flagship, on the other hand, is stocked with fishing amenities and creature comforts. It is an ideal boat for families looking to trade up in comfort without losing the ability to troll tuna all weekend.
An 11-foot, 7-inch beam allows for 80 square feet of cockpit for hooking and fighting big fish, and 3 feet of freeboard will keep every family member safely in the boat. Thick bolsters pad the cockpit's edge, including the transom door. Easy-on-the-feet fiberglass toerails inside the gunwales will secure everyone on board.
Other thoughtful features include a 270-quart insulated fishbox; a 45-gallon live well with internal light; a bait-prep station with sink and insulated cooler; a rocket launcher on the hardtop; and a fold-down bench that turns the cockpit into an entertainment platform.
What you don't see is just as impressive, including the lift-out stowage bin covered by a transom hatch. Under the bin are the batteries, dry but within instant reach. The cockpit sole is reinforced for a fighting chair and has a screwed-in hatch that allows full access to the aluminum gas tanks.
The 330 Express has a C. Raymond Hunt-designed Sea V2 hull, which Grady-White uses on all its models. It is shaped like a series of wedges that respond to different sea conditions and speeds. The flatter after section delivers good stability during trolling; at speed, the sharp bow entry cuts through head seas to provide a softer ride.
Our sea trial in barely rippling Beverly Harbor, Massachusetts, offered little opportunity to gauge the hull's potential. However, the standard 225 hp Yamaha F225 outboards were so quiet that I turned the key twice without realizing they were running. They had us up and moving without the time lag often associated with four-strokes, and conversation was possible without raised voices.
The engines are designed for low exhaust emissions and excellent fuel economy, consuming only 2 gph at 1000 rpm. At a friendly cruise of 4000 rpm, at a speed of 24.5 mph, fuel consumption rises to 16.1 gph. If you spend eight hours cruising to the fishing grounds, then the rest of the time trolling, you should get more than 100 hours out of the 350-gallon fuel tank.
She handles nicely in turns and maneuvers like an inboard in tight quarters. The helm station has a standalone helm seat, a stainless wheel and starboard-side benches. A removable center cushion means you can sit facing backward or turn the area into a sunpad.
The helm is protected by a hardtop five people could fit under in a rain shower. A net that hangs beneath the hardtop provides handy stowage.
The most impressive part of the helm console is the pop-up electronics compartment that rises from the main console with the push of a button. The compartment allows for flush-mounted electronics that would be vulnerable if left in full view when the boat is docked. I thought the panel would obstruct the driver's sight to the engine gauges, but I was wrong. Visibility of the console, and around the rest of the boat, is first-rate.
Most Grady-Whites tend to be Spartan belowdecks, but the 330 Express has a comfortable, tasteful cabin. Teak magazine racks are under ceiling-mounted rodholders; a Corian countertop surrounds a practical stainless-steel sink; and the head has more than 6 feet of headroom, a porcelain VacuFlush toilet, an extending shower handle and a ventilation fan.
The teak-and-holly sole gives the cabin a touch of class, as do the pullout TV/VCR, Kenyon electric stove, phone jack and drop-down teak table. Again, everything is understated, so you don't feel like you're in a frilly, waterside condo.
Sleeping quarters are appropriate, with a V-berth a cozy couple or two kids could use, a queen-size berth aft for a couple and a dinette/table space that converts to accommodate a child.
Craftsmanship throughout the 330 Express is excellent except for the forward hatch that opens to the anchor locker. It seems flimsy compared to the rest of the boat and could use a rubber seal to make sure no water leaks through to the anchor locker. A Grady-White spokesman said he understood this idea, but that he was confident the hatch would not leak because it is surrounded by a 11/4-inch gutter for draining.
The 330 Express's base price is $215,380, and hardtop outriggers will add $3,725. The list of standard equipment includes a 4.5kW Onan genset, a custom-built hardtop, an electric anchor windlass and hydraulic trim tabs.
Most important, though, is the quality built into the boat. It's the same standard that earned Grady-White top honors in the center-console division of last year's J.D. Power and Associates consumer satisfaction awards.
Contact: Grady-White Boats, (252) 752-2111; fax (252) 830-8462; www.gradywhite.com.