BOAT TEST: GRADY-WHITE FISHERMAN 180

By: JEFF STRANG, Photography by: JEFF STRANG

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

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Jeff Strang rated the Grady-White Chesapeake 290 as the best compact sportsfisher we tested in 2012, and now asks its little sister Fisherman 180 to walk in big shoes.

BOAT TEST: GRADY-WHITE FISHERMAN 180
The Grady-White Fisherman 180. For its size it’s a relatively simple and fun fishing rig, with an incredible ride to boot.

When in doubt apply the rule of KISS. Yes, that's right, "keep it simple stupid". Sage advice liberally applied to many of my grand and glamorous schemes over the years. Indeed one of the key complaints about the boating lifestyle is the sheer volume of fuss that can be involved with owning, using and maintaining many vessels. You've heard of a lock-up-and-leave apartment? Well meet a hose-down-and-leave boat.

If you think I have painted a picture of a drab and unexciting backyard draught horse you would be very wrong. The Grady-White Fisherman 180 looks hot and rides like a racehorse - ears pinned back and full of gallop. My point is that it is just so easy to own and use. And that blend of quality and simplicity proves to be a very appealing package. Why? Take a seat and I will tell you.



IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE FUN

Above all else, boating, at a recreational level, has to be fun. Too often it's not.

Smaller, cheaper boats usually come with a budget ride and a budget list of accessories. By the time you kit it out properly to be fit for purpose you no longer have a cheap boat, but you still have a budget ride. Larger more glamorous vessels, such as those we often present in these pages, require considerably bigger budgets to own and often a reasonably elevated level of fuss to utilise. When boating gets too hard or too uncomfortable people stop getting involved and that is not good for any of us.

We hear these comments from two separate groups of boat owners - keen fishos who are semiretired and looking to downsize for ease of handling and reduced costs, and current big-boat owners in search of a quality runabout for convenience and spur-of-the-moment adventures. Both are likely to find the Grady-White Fisherman 180 a near perfect fit.



SMALL PACKAGE, BIG HEART

The Fisherman 180 is the baby of the Grady-White family and is the smallest boat we have featured in these pages for a very long time. With an overall length of 5.44m it looks like a smart, efficient and easily managed package, tailor-fitted on its trailer ready for action. Prior to launching, proud owner "Cappy" mentioned he was keen to demonstrate the vessel's easy one-person launching ability, so I stood back out of the way while he deftly executed the procedure.

Once floating, and at the mercy of the wind and tide in the water, it was clear that at 975kg sans engine the Fisherman 180 is not the lightest boat we have featured. It sits solidly in the water resisting the moderate breeze's attempts to gain control.

Most of the weight comes from the handlaid fibreglass laminate construction. Computerised measuring processes are utilised at the Grady-White factory to ensure precise glass-to-resin ratios are applied, which ensure the resulting product is neither brittle from having too much resin or at risk of delamination from too little. The stringer and transom systems are built from a no-rot plywood product that carries a limited lifetime warranty. Some of these techniques could be considered somewhat old-school but they have proven the test of time in thousands of hulls and across millions of sea miles.



LIKE A GLOVE

With a stiff breeze building and a worsening forecast (more than 45kts) predicted for the evening, we thought we had better get moving, keen to test the boat's hull not our bladder control.

Pulling up in the lee of a sandy bay gave Cappy the opportunity to offer a detailed walkthrough of the boat he describes as fitting him like a glove. The Grady-White Fisherman 180 is a classic pocket fisherman centre console.

A sporty console sits more or less right in the middle of the hull, slightly farther aft than you would expect on a conventional hull. Like an American car it's left-hand drive - the wheel offset and the throttle control in the middle. This allows two to comfortably stand in the shelter behind the windscreen without having to bump shoulders. For me the windscreen could be higher, just to provide a little extra protection from spray on rougher runs at high speed - I have seen this modification added to a few other centre console boats I've fished on. It is surrounded by a very study grabrail, just one of many well-placed handholds around the boat.

The dash itself is well styled, with lines that give that touch of class often overlooked by lesser builders. Of course there's the obligatory stainless steel drinkholders below the wide dash, which on Cappy's boat boasted a Garmin GPSmap 5012 supported by a Garmin digital readout for engine monitoring.

Comfort for the skipper and navigator is provided by a reversible bench seat. And although most prefer to stand when underway, it is high enough to give good visibility over the helm if sitting, an issue many centre console boats fail to adequately address. As mentioned it is reversible by simply flipping the backrest forward. Facing aft this bench seat offers the perfect perch to wile away an afternoon, rod in hand.

Further seating for extra passengers are provided via a pair of very comfortable recliners either side of the transom, a shotgun seat forward of the console and another padded option in the bow covering an insulated cool box adjacent to the anchor well.



BUILT TO FISH

A deep well, a no-step floor and the abundance of handholds make this boat very easy to negotiate, as it needs to be to seriously contend in the competitive American flats boat market. Web research suggests Grady-White's Fisherman range is very popular with professional salt-fly guides, a group renowned for expecting only the very best from their equipment. Other features of the boat's layout also show the vessel has been designed with input from the pros.

All the boat's cleats are recessed to ensure they don't snag lines at inappropriate times. Custom-designed lockers on either side of the cockpit provide snug and secure storage for the wide range of tools a serious angler needs to keep handy. There are a good range of rodholder options, but to really cope, a serious arsenal of a few more would need to be shoehorned in. The essential livewell lives under the shotgun seat and a tidy washdown hose is handy for ensuring the working deck is kept clean and tidy.



A TESTING TIDE

From an engineering point of view Grady-White has wisely kept the Fisherman 180 as simple as possible. Tidy, quality wiring and battery supplies are correctly labelled and neatly secured in place inside the central console and under the twin seats aft. Both compartments look adequately sealed against water ingress. Again Internet research, mostly on American boat owners' forums, suggests Grady-White boats have a reputation for longevity and reliability.

Power on this boat is supplied by a very tidy Suzuki 150 setup, which may explain the Garmin electronics as there is an existing relationship between those companies in Australia. The Suzuki unit is controlled by a cable system rather than fly-by-wire in keeping with the keep-it-simple philosophy and the steering is hydraulic.

By now the wind had built beyond the fresh level and I was looking at the white caps created by the wind-against-tide effect with some trepidation - after all the Fisherman 180 is the smallest
boat I have tested in quite some time.

As it turned out I needn't have worried. Like most centre console boats the Fisherman 180 is beautifully balanced, with the bulk of its weight sitting closer to the fore and aft centreline than most conventional boats can achieve. This factor, along with the extra weight discussed earlier combines to produce a delightful ride. The fine entry sliced the significant chop with ease and we glided through the rough stuff at pace - more than 26kts.

I was also surprised by the dryness of the ride. It is usually folly to leave your raincoat behind on a centre console test, especially if there is bit of wind about. I guess the flair knocks most of the spray down and the windscreen catches the rest, although I would still opt for a higher one.



THE VERDICT

Refreshingly open to the elements this style of vessel is the ideal small platform for the serious tropical angler. The visibility afforded by this configuration allows you to spot every angling opportunity. It is amazing how often a slight swirl spotted in your peripheral vision leads to a day-changing opportunity. Those that want more shelter from the sun can opt for a bimini, something Cappy has since fitted to this boat.

What sets the Grady-White Fisherman 180 apart from its competition is the quality of the build and the extra effort put in to give it a more refined look. The off-cream colour glows in the sunset and its lines make it the perfect accessory to a new European (or Australian if you prefer) tow vehicle. Frankly it's just prettier than most other options and with that extra weight and fine entry its ride at least equals anything else I've tested in this category.





[TRADE-A-BOAT SAYS…]

The Grady-White Fisherman 180 is presented as a very classy and reliable package, yet it has still managed to keep things relatively simple. It's a very useable boat and easy to manage one-up. While the brand is still relatively unknown in Australia, it has a huge following in the States, particular down South in conditions very similar to Queensland and northern NSW.





Specifications: GRADY-WHITE FISHERMAN 180


PRICED FROM

$69,000



GENERAL

MATERIAL Handlaid fibreglass

TYPE Planing monohull

LOA 5.44m

BEAM 2.26m

DRAFT 0.38m

WEIGHT 975kg (sans engine)



CAPACITIES

FUEL 227lt

COCKPIT AREA 4.5m²



ENGINE

MAKE/MODEL Suzuki 150

TYPE:Four-stroke petrol outboard

RATED HP 150



SUPPLIED BY

Game & Leisure Boats,

Factory 1 Runaway Bay Marina,

247 Bayview Street,

Runaway Bay, QLD, 4216

Phone: (07) 5577 5811

Fax: (07) 5577 5822

Website: www.gandlb.com.au




Originally published in Trade-a-Boat magazine #436, February 2013.

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