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October 26, 2001

Grady-White 180 Sportsman

From angling the shallows to hitting the open water on a calm day, 18 feet of Grady-White Sportsman can go a long way.

If I wanted to simplify my life, I'd own a small boat that I could run by myself and wash down in under 10 minutes. I'd want it to fish the shallow backcountry as well as run out of sight of land on good days when the dolphin or tuna were biting. I'd pick the new Grady-White 180 Sportsman center-console as the vehicle. It comes as close to being the perfect utility boat as any I've seen.

A cold winter morning with temperatures at about 58 degrees (that's cold for south Florida) and a perfectly clear, windless sky greeted us at the dock on Estero Key on Florida's Gulf coast. Our 180 came equipped with a 130-hp Yamaha, which moved it along quite economically, if not with blazing speed. We reached a 30-mph cruising speed at 4,800 rpm. Top speed at 5,500 rpm is 38 mph. I'm certain that the max-rated 150-hp power option would bring that up to between 45 and 50 mph.

But then, speed isn't this skiff's top priority. For example, running the serpentine backcountry passages between islands is a treat because the 180 carves turns beautifully. It gets up on plane in four seconds with the 130. Blasting out of a canal, we came upon a shallow flat blocking our way. Our guide, Capt. Steve Waugh, just trimmed up the engine and gunned it. The boat flew over the shallows with no problem and without tearing up the turtle grass either.

Most skiffs this size make me feel like Gulliver in Lilliput. But the ergonomics have been scaled to be both user-friendly and good-looking. There's one place where there's no escaping its size, however. The Grady 180 is somewhat sensitive to athwartship (side-to-side) weight distribution while under way, though three of us along the rail didn't seem to make the boat list very much while fishing.

The Grady-White's 19-degree deadrise at the transom is fairly steep for a skiff such as this. It probably sacrifices a little speed in flat water, but on the other hand, you'll have absolutely no qualms about taking this little one offshore. That's where its deep-vee deadrise shines.

Reds, snook and jacks galore gave us a rip-roaring morning on and around the flats. With three of us aboard, you'd think fishing would be terribly tight - but it wasn't.