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.
Not that you need it when fishing for light-tackle small game fish, but as with every Grady-White, you can lock your toes under something when working over the gunwale. In this case, a faux wood-grain strip of starboard runs beneath the rod storage area and works perfectly.
Despite its relatively narrow beam, the 180’s gentle roll in a beam sea made drifting and trolling comfortable. Fishing backcountry means frequent anchoring, and I’d like to see Grady make a slight change in its anchor locker. The shank of the anchor can’t go down far enough in the locker to close the lid because the anchor line gets in the way. I’d like to see some means of segregating the line from the shaft.
Grady provides storage for two rods under each gunwale. Our boat had two rod holders in each gunwale (one pair standard) and four vertical rod holders attached to the helm console. It also came with the optional live well under the padded, console-front seat, which doubles as an insulated cooler. I enjoyed using a prototype bait-cutting table that attaches to the splash-well grab rail. Expect to see it offered on future models.
Each hand-laid Grady hull ends up with eight layers of glass on the keel. No coring, just solid glass with the stringer area filled with foam. Grady uses Excel marine plywood for stringers and transom. It’s guaranteed not to rot for a lifetime.
Grady has introduced a few trick innovations with this Sportsman. I’ve never liked reversible helm seats. They always feel under-engineered and with only two positions – fully forward or fully back – are just not utilitarian enough. Grady has taken the same 1-inch-diameter stainless rail material they use throughout the boat and made a reversible seat-back with four positions. Now it can be used as either a seat-back or heavily padded leaning post.
You’ll find storage quite adequate for both fish in the bow compartment and dry goods in the console. But the best storage spot has to be the electronics box. Most little skiffs force you to mount your electronics atop the console. Of course, you must then remove it all each time you leave the boat. The 180 has lockable storage for the flush-mounted electronics that can fit a VHF, color video sounder and GPS with room to spare. The clear Plexiglas cover allows you to see the instrumentation while keeping it protected from the elements.
All in all, this new Grady-White 180 Sportsman offers a lot of boat in 18 feet. And entry-level buyers should appreciate the opportunity to get Grady-White quality at an affordable price.