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October 02, 2008

Grady-White 290 Chesapeake

The Grady-White 290 Chesapeake includes most of the innovative features found in the company's 33- and 36-footers - but in a much more manageable and affordable package.

Some boat tests strain me to discover real-world abilities when confounded by flat-calm seas. During other tests, Mother Nature hands us our butts through squalls, big seas, near-zero visibility and high winds - exactly what we encountered fishing out of Beaufort, North Carolina.

Two facets of the New Grady 290 Chesapeake kept coming to mind, while we bounced around 50 miles offshore: First, a 29-footer is a small boat, and second, I gave thanks that I never once felt insecure or imperiled because of that. Whether we presented our stern, beam or bow to the four- to 10-foot seas, the boat stayed dry and stable.

The day proved deceptive as we passed the sea buoy off Morehead City's Beaufort Inlet. Conditions were pretty good. The farther out we traveled, however, the worse they got - culminating in seas running four to 10 feet and winds a steady 20 knots; in squalls, day turned to midnight.
The 290 Chesapeake wore a pair of Yamaha's new digital 250 hp four-strokes. Though the vessel was capable of more, at times offshore, we could only run prudently at 20 mph, but it didn't feel like a sacrifice. In the calmer water inside the inlet, I managed to coax 47.8 mph out of the twin 250s (which feature the company's new digital technology) while turning 6,000 rpm and using 43.9 gph. That equates to 1.09 mpg - rather impressive economy for wide-open throttle. Optimum cruise of just less than 30 mph burned 17.7 gph total or 1.67 mpg, which surprisingly offers owners a range of more than 300 miles!

The 290 represents a hefty boat - one factor that contributes to its soft ride in a heavy sea. That same heftiness also contributes to its five-second hole-shot. But even in this hurry-up world, that's probably of little consequence.

A quick word on Yamaha's digital technology -- internally called the F250B: "When we introduced Command Link digital electronic control on the F350 last year," says Yamaha Marine president Phil Dyskow, "the response was so positive that we had to bring the technology to the F250."

The F250 uses the same Command Link control system introduced for Yamaha's F350 and F300 last year. Some of its benefits include the fact that it has no cables and therefore provides smoother operation. Rather, you simply connect the electrical wire in plug-and-play fashion, which gives control, seemingly infinite engine information and interface ability with other electronic instrumentation. Perhaps equally important benefits include precise trolling control in 50 rpm increments, automatic engine synchronization and easy installation of a second helm control station.

The 290 Chesapeake handled turning, drifting and close-quarters maneuvering all with great aplomb. And honestly, with the optional bow thruster (I don't believe any other 29-foot outboard boats offer this), even the most ridiculously adverse conditions won't faze you as you back into your slip.

Talking about a Grady's fishing features constitutes gilding the lily. Everyone involved in designing, building and selling these boats fishes as much as they can. So you'll always have all the fishing amenities you want and need close at hand.

The 290 sports plenty of rod holders around the cockpit, in and under gunwales as well as across the back and on the legs of the factory-standard hardtop. Thoughtful touches like the dedicated space for a pair of downrigger balls under the gunwale on each side abound.