GRADY-WHITE CHESAPEAKE 290 COMPACT SPORTFISHER REVIEW
The Grady-White Chesapeake 290 shines through as the all-American class act — a monster list of options on top of a raft of standard accoutrements, just some of this rugged performer’s attractions.
The crisp predawn air whispers the promise of a perfect day. As a smudge of red colours the horizon the team slots a quiver of rods into snug holders with smooth efficiency. No words are needed, for these guys the routine is second nature. Fresh coffees are passed around as the Grady-White Chesapeake 290 slides by winking navigation markers and out onto the resting bay. The growing fire in the sky points the way as the boat accelerates to cruising speed. Faster still it almost flutters across the surface bound for distant seldom-touched fishing grounds.
Later with the sun high above, a first warning puff wafts across the deck. Surface ripples quickly turn to an increasing chop. Someone murmurs under their breath about "red skies" and "sailors’ warnings".
Just to be safe you flick on the radio and your heart skips a beat as the forecast blares ominously. "Might be time to bolt" the forewarner says — nodded agreements all round. With 40 miles to punch straight into the teeth of that weather you’re happy you bought a Grady-White.
BORN IN THE USA
If there is one sector of the global boating scene the US still absolutely dominates it is the 7 to 10m fibreglass offshore fishing boat market. Even the Kiwis, who aren’t as tightly constrained by on-road trailering restrictions as their Australian counterparts, haven’t seriously threatened these American heavyweights. And in that sector two names duel for the ultimate crown.
Boston Whaler is the more famous of the two, with its roots seemingly entwined in the history of the American eastern seaboard but its main rival, the North Carolina builder Grady-White — founded only a year later in 1959 — is arguably the better on-sea performer, with consistent and impressive results from independent organisations such as US-based consumer products tester JD Power.
Like many Down Under I have been an admirer of this marque from afar, taking the opportunity at boat shows to step aboard for a quick onceover. Until recently the prospect of taking one to sea was only a dream. I was delighted when Gold Coast-based importer of specialist American sportsfishing craft, Game & Leisure Boats, offered me a chance take a pair of Grady-Whites for a spin.
NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE
Those familiar with locally-made boats in this class often comment on the high standard of presentation seen on these craft. That is not to say the quality here is not good, it is more a reflection on the demands of the local market for a cheaper, more easily trailerable hull. No such concerns in the land of the monster truck. The Yankee market thrives on sexy and even at a glance the Grady-White Chesapeake 290 has those bases well covered.
But no boat can survive our shores on good looks alone. Those classic southeastern seaboard lines are underscored by a genuine robustness. There is a noticeable rigidity to the boat, at least partly due to its 100 per cent handlaid fibreglass construction. On close inspection almost every detail — the hatch edgings, the locker doors, even the out-of-sight interiors of the cupboards — are sturdier and better finished than the norm. The hardtop is held in place by a custom-built anodised aluminium frame. It appears over-engineered for the application it serves but in all likelihood is Grady-White’s way of future-proofing the vessel — should any owner look to install a tuna tower, the foundations required to carry such a structure are already in place.
Sometimes, even on products we know are standard-setting leaders, we have to look hard to see the features that give a boat its edge. On the Chesapeake 290 a blind man could smell the class. And it’s not just the finish that is quality, this boat has a standard feature list at least 70 items long and an optional list that extends to another 20. This is a boat with more fruit than a Kings Cross Mardi Gras.
A quick walk around the massive 56ft² cockpit left me wondering what could possibly have been left out. Padded bolsters line the entire circumference, including a foldout twin bench seat across the transom. Also built into the transom are a fully plumbed freshwater washdown sink and 265lt fishbox. Heavy-duty rod tubes, stainless steel cupholders and quality cleats (nicely recessed out of harm’s way) used up most of the leftover gunwale space.
Additional features of note include a high-pressure washdown hose and rubber-sealed battery isolation compartment. But it was the livewell that took things to a new level for me.
This 130lt rounded tank is fed by a 4000lt/h pump, which should ensure faultless performance in most conditions. Complete with a rubber seal to prevent it sloshing its contents across the deck, its location forward as part of the port helm seat moulding makes it easy to access, even when weather conditions are less than ideal.
Several seating options are available on the bridge. The test boat is offered with a Deluxe III helm chair with flip-up bolster (custom built for Grady-White by Pompanette) and a side-mount cockpit bench seat. It is a fair argument to suggest the visibility is overly cluttered with window framing and brackets, but the elevated helm position compensates for this factor adequately.
Although today’s boat was presented sans instrumentation (except for a basic Garmin system monitoring the twin Suzukis) there is room on the dash for a swathe of electronics, two 12in MFDs would fit side-by-side.
Overall the helm position worked for me, although saying that I am not a fan of the twin analogue engine control system employed by these motors. Perhaps I have gotten too used to the user-friendliness experienced in digital controls.
These days we expect to see a decent and secure cabin on any boat in this segment and the Chesapeake 290 delivered what appears to be a seamless, fully-moulded space, including the entry stairs and the kitchen unit — yet another example of how well things can be done with going overboard.
Full berthing for three passengers is provided by virtue of a comfortable single bunk in the forepeak, surrounding a small cherrywood table, and double berth back under the bridge sole. The kitchen unit comes complete with the electric cooktop, a sink and a refrigerator as standard. A fair-sized shower and head unit concludes the accommodation amenities. The whole cabin is finished tastefully, with just enough timber trim to warm the space including a teak and holly sole.
ON THE WATER
Sadly, a 40-knot-plus onshore tempest precluded any opportunity to head out to open sea for a decent sea trial, so we had to make do with a blast up and down the Broadwater. That said there is no doubt in my mind the Chesapeake 290 would have safely got us home if we had braved the elements, it is just that sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.
What I did discover, even in the confines of the inner harbour, was a predictable and soft-riding hull that promised much more than we would get a chance to realise. Like most boats from that part of the world the Chesapeake 290 has a fine entry and relatively low buoyancy forward. This acts much like a shock absorber when punching into a head sea and takes a lot of the sting out of the swells. The compromise is reduced cabin space forward but this is a small price to pay for superior rough-water performance.
The critic in me has to say that it took a while to get a feel for the balance between the optimum trim on the engines and the lateral counter trim from the hydraulic stabilisers. Some tuition from the demo-driver ironed out my issues and soon enough I was driving like a seasoned Grady-White owner. We were able to maintain full power across the solid wind chop that raced down the harbour and it was easy to see why these boats have such a reputation in the rough stuff.
As far as horsepower is concerned the twin 250hp four-stroke Suzukis performed well enough to satisfy most, although serious petrol heads should opt for the 300s to really get this great hull singing.
If my description of this boat seems in any way run-of-the-mill then I need to apologise to Grady-White for not doing the Chesapeake 290 justice. This is a classy boat with genuine X-factor. I really do believe the 290 to be a candidate for the best boat in its class available in Australia. If the build quality and ride don’t get you over the line then the sexy lines and exhausting list of accessories should.
The Grady-White Chesapeake 290 is a boat I would be delighted to own straight off the shelf and as such it needs no customisation to be a tournament contender. Christmas is only weeks away, best I clear some space under the tree.
This is a classy boat with genuine X-factor. I really do believe the 290 to be a candidate for the best boat in its class available in Australia. If the build quality and ride don’t get you over the line then the sexy lines and exhausting list of accessories should.
› Very pretty lines
› Solid construction, which lends genuine rigidity to the hull
› Huge accessories list as standard means little post-purchase customisation required
› Potential for class-leading rough-water performance
› Ready for action straight of the shelf
› The twin 250s are slightly underpowered for my taste
› I’d prefer electronic controls, should they be available
Specifications: GRADY-WHITE CHESAPEAKE 290
PRICE AS TESTED
Cabin air-conditioning, anchor windlass and bowroller, bowthruster, CE certification package, hot and cold cockpit shower, flatscreen 19in TV w/ DVD player and audio/visual inputs, 4kW diesel genset, international AC electrical conversion (220V 50Hz), and more
MATERIAL Handlaid fibreglass
TYPE Planing monohull
LENGTH OVERALL 9.07m
WEIGHT 3470kg (sans engines)
WATER HEATER 22.7lt
HOLDING TANK 37.9lt
MAKE/MODEL 2 x Suzuki DF 250
TYPE Petrol V6 four-stroke outboard
RATED HP 250 (each)
GEAR RATIO 2.29:1
REC. MAX HP 600
Game & Leisure Boats,
Factory 1 Runaway Bay Marina,
247 Bayview Street,
Runaway Bay, QLD, 4216
Phone: (07) 5577 5811
Fax: (07) 5577 5822
Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #434, December 2013.
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