SportCraft 251 Review

This Walkaround features ample deck space and an expansive cabin.

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We tested the 251 Walkaround while fishing the rock piles and reefs off Steinhatchee in the Big Bend area of Florida's Gulf coast. Starting out early in the day gave us a chance to feel how the boat handled calm waters while the afternoon onshore breezes allowed us to run in an uncomfortable chop.

Performance
Our 4,600-pound boat sported a single 225-hp, naturally aspirated Mercury Offshore outboard, and I admit feeling skeptical about pushing this boat with so little power. But once up and running, a top speed of 46 mph eliminated any further doubts. As you know, you rarely get to use top speed on boats offshore, though most boats come from the factory propped for maximum top-end performance. Personally, I'd rather prop my boats for the most economical mid-range. In the case of the 251, a 32-mph cruising speed showed 4,000 rpm on the tach and proved very comfortable. Of course, a single engine will provide much better fuel economy than twins.

I also had doubts about the design of the dramatically raked windshield, but those too were soon put to rest. I found that while seated, I looked right through the middle of the pane. When I stood, I looked well over the top of it - and enjoyed the breeze. As with all cuddies, an enclosure is a good idea for inclement conditions. Make no mistake, though, the new SportCraft 251 WA runs extremely dry. In fact, I worked hard at stuffing the bow into the back of a wave, in the worst possible demonstration of seamanship, just to see what it would take to get a little spray on the windshield.

The Teleflex Sea Star hydraulic steering seemed to provide just the right balance between steering feedback and ease of turning. The 251 turns more like a big boat than a 25-footer. Sharp, high-speed turns cause the boat to lose speed. Otherwise, each turn is totally predictable and smooth.

Cruising down-sea provided a smooth ride with little noticeable lurching when confronting the back of the next wave. Running home in 2- to 3-foot seas, I had to really work at getting some spray onto the windshield. As the bow dropped off a wave, I experienced no pounding, slamming or loud hull noises. SportCraft attributes the smooth ride to the 6-inch-wide flat pad running lengthwise along the keel from about the forward end of the cockpit to the transom. Production director Sean Hall claims the pad helps the boat to run flatter, with the sharper bow deadrise rather than the flatter after-section cutting into the seas.

Fishing
Although three of us drifted for black grouper and snapper about 12 miles offshore, the roomy cockpit could easily handle twice that number. The full-cockpit coaming padding hit me right at knee level, so reaching the water to gently release small fish posed no difficulty at the transom. The forward end of the cockpit, however, required a bit of a stretch to wet your hands. I also discovered that walking forward to the bow with rod in hand was tight. Once on the bow, however, I found plenty of room to maneuver, and a comfortable, padded seat allowed relaxed angling.

I counted standard rod storage for eight rods - two under-gunwale on each side and four in-gunwale. However, our optional hardtop (which I recommend) also provides four more rocket launchers across the back.

Serious fishermen will approve of the large in-deck fish boxes with a macerator in the drain line as well as live well and bait-prep station with sink and cutting board that fill the full transom.

Design/Construction
It's easy to see why the side walkway is a little tight. SportCraft provides a full-width double berth when all the inserts are fitted in place. However, lift one up and it becomes a table around which you can honestly seat four adults comfortably. And the design provides copious storage beneath the berth and seats.

You'll immediately notice how much lighter and more airy the cabin feels compared to the mildew-generating caves on many comparable boats. With a porthole on each side and an overhead hatch, light and ventilation will always be more than adequate.

The 251 boasts solid fiberglass construction, using high-quality, custom-blended isopthalic resin and biaxial knitted fabrics. A fully encapsulated plywood transom and stringers plus balsa coring in the topsides and decks provide exceptional strength. Recent studies have shown that properly encapsulated marine-grade plywood offers better shear and compression strength than any other building material. In fact, overall construction has improved so dramatically that all SportCrafts are NMMA-certified for quality construction and full-foam flotation.