BOAT TRIAL: GRADY-WHITE 325 DC

Lux­ury and Dura­bil­ity Meet Fisha­bil­ity

Sport Fishing - - FRONT PAGE - BY RANDY VANCE

AA Kenny Ch­es­ney song de­scribes boats as “ves­sels of free­dom.” Grady-White took that to heart and con­tin­ues to ex­pand its Free­dom series of dual con­sole fish boats, of­fer­ing a ton of fam­ily fun as well.

The lat­est, the 325 DC, is an­other ex­am­ple of why the com­pany has won the Na­tional Ma­rine Manufacturers As­so­ci­a­tion Cus­tomer Sat­is­fac­tion In­dex Award ev­ery year since it was in­sti­tuted in 2001. That track record had me jonesing to turn a crit­i­cal eye on my test boat in late Jan­uary, as I blended some free­dom on the water with a very se­ri­ous pe­riod of fish­ing and prod­uct eval­u­a­tion on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Could a boat this beau­ti­ful fish?

LOVELY LINES

The Free­dom 325 is def­i­nitely beau­ti­ful, with its up­turned bow de­signed to ease it through the treach­er­ous passes of the Caroli­nas. The bow lines sweep back and down in a grace­ful curve to the se­cure cock­pit, with­out in­ter­rupt­ing the boat’s fisha­bil­ity. The 325’s slender pro­file is length­ened by the tran­som plat­form sur­round­ing the deep mo­tor well.

The plat­form is deep enough to give own­ers easy ac­cess to both mo­tors, so the cowl can be lifted to check the oil and fil­ters be­neath. A

lad­der on the star­board side nests there and can be de­ployed from the water, a saving grace for a man over­board.

The ves­sel’s hard­top boasts in­te­grated sup­ports that keep it sleek, and a grab rail runs from the dash to the top, pro­vid­ing a se­cure grip for ex­tra sta­bil­ity in rough wa­ters. An over­head hatch makes rais­ing or low­er­ing the mast­head light sim­pler. Pol­ished, chrome-plated stain­less and pow­der-coated alu­minum sup­ports give it flash and el­e­gance.

Grady boats are known for their safety, as well as for other rea­sons such as solid, all-com­pos­ite struc­tural com­po­nent con­struc­tion. But con­struc­tion and flota­tion keep a boat afloat in un­likely emer­gen­cies; there’s more to a hull’s safety than that. A smooth, pre­dictable ride counts too.

CON­FI­DENT STA­BIL­ITY

On my Fish Trial day, with tem­per­a­tures in the 40s, the seas had climbed to about 5 feet. For own­ers of smaller boats, seas that size au­to­mat­i­cally mean al­ter­nate plans like golf. But the 325’s 33-foot length and 10-foot-9-inch beam promised not only safety in rough water but com­fort, just one more chalk mark in sup­port of boat­ing free­dom.

Our crew of four boarded the 325 in Clear­wa­ter Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. As we pow­ered up to leave the in­let, I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the smooth ride that di­min­ished the wind-driven surf and made rig­ging lines and baits on the way out prac­ti­cal. Grady-White never misses an op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote its SeaV2 hull, and I’ve ac­tu­ally never felt that the com­pany has over­stated its ben­e­fits. On test day, that con­fi­dent ride proved that point.

The vari­able-dead­rise hull pro­gresses from 20 de­grees at the tran­som to about 30 de­grees amid­ships, and on to a sharp, wave-cleav­ing stem at the bow. The 325 DC re­mained steady in these seas at 30 mph and re­as­sur­ingly sta­ble at rest.

In calmer water, the ves­sel pow­ered up to 30 mph in just 7 sec­onds with ag­gres­sive throt­tling. Lean­ing against the helm seat, I never lost sight of the hori­zon. At 30, the 325 of­fers a cruis­ing range of 400 miles.

FISH­ING SETUP

To ful­fill the fish­ing por­tion of my trial, our crew had set out pin­fish traps in the bay the night be­fore. We ap­proached the traps to port so we could pull them eas­ily through the side door. A stow­able lad­der can be de­ployed at deck level, but with­out it, we had a clean sur­face to kneel on and draw aboard the traps.

The cap­tain snapped the livewell switch, and swirling water quickly rose to the top of the 32-gal­lon tank. Even bet­ter, Grady-White’s pro­pri­etary wa­ter­in­flow man­i­fold en­veloped our bait top to bot­tom with fresh, aer­ated sea­wa­ter.

We planned to bot­tom­fish a shal­low reef just a few miles off­shore. While the 325 eas­ily could have car­ried us 40 more miles to deeper seas, the day’s cold tem­per­a­tures weren’t that invit­ing. We used the stan­dard wind­lass to an­chor us bow to wind and stayed tucked be­hind the dual con­sole’s wrap­around wind­screen.

De­spite the rough seas, we had no trou­ble keep­ing our foot­ing while

brac­ing against the coam­ing pads. When the ves­sel swung on the hook abeam of the seas, we rocked a lit­tle more — as ex­pected — but the SeaV2 hull and the boat’s wide beam kept us from los­ing our bal­ance.

When a cold front passes through, prac­ti­cally noth­ing bites. We caught small por­gies, squir­relfish, some small seabass and lizard­fish — all re­leased.

The 325 pro­vided plenty of rod hold­ers for this par­tic­u­lar project, with a pair in each gun­wale and a rocket launcher on the hard­top. How­ever, for other types of fish­ing, an­glers might ben­e­fit from shot­gun rod hold­ers at the tran­som and an­other gun­wale holder on each side. For off­shore trolling, out­rig­gers eas­ily mount to the hard­top.

Hor­i­zon­tal rod hang­ers un­der the gun­wales helped stow some rods in standby, and the bulk­head in the head com­part­ment opened to a stor­age area be­neath the port­side bow lounge. The ex­tended com­part­ment in­cluded butt and tip hang­ers to keep more rods se­cure.

MULTIUSE AMENI­TIES

For cruis­ing to the grounds, the 325 fea­tures two seats that slide out of the mez­za­nine at the touch of an elec­tric but­ton. Pop out the tran­som seat for two more cushy rid­ing spots.

If we’d needed to gaff a fish, sturdy toe rails of­fered se­cure foot­ing. A tackle-stor­age bin in the tran­som kept a cou­ple of util­ity boxes handy, and more could stow in com­part­ments un­der the helm seats.

Free­dom comes from the dual con­sole’s bow seat­ing area, ac­ces­si­ble via the walk­way be­tween the helm and pas­sen­ger side con­soles. A wind dam meets the wind­shield to en­close the cock­pit from cold breezes, but for warm days, spa­cious seat­ing lies ahead of the wind­shield. Arm rests, deep cush­ions and com­fort­able bol­sters make bow rid­ing pleas­ant at speed. Fill the area with a cen­ter cush­ion for a sun deck or raise the cen­ter sup­port for a cock­tail ta­ble.

For all-day com­fort and pri­vacy, a large head com­part­ment re­sides to port, un­der the pas­sen­ger con­sole. A clev­erly de­signed cabin un­der the star­board con­sole can con­vert from a set­tee to a dou­ble berth large enough for 6-foot­plus lounge lizards — an­other hash­mark on the plus side of free­dom.

I found it hard to ig­nore the smooth­op­er­at­ing Yamaha propul­sion on board, com­plete with Yamaha’s LCD dig­i­tal boat dis­play. I cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ated the twin 300 hp out­boards for cruis­ing, but the engines also pro­vide a pow­er­ful punch to launch a tu­ber or wake­boarder. In fact, the 325 has an op­tional re­tractable tow py­lon.

Grady-White adds ex­ten­sion han­dles to sea­cocks so an­glers can open them with­out ly­ing down on their bel­lies. The han­dles reach to just be­low the spa­cious hatch over the bilge ac­cess to pumps, plumb­ing and fuel fil­ters. To make it even eas­ier, Grady’s Cap­tain Grady iPad app ex­plains ev­ery­thing on board, of­ten with videos.

Grady fac­tory-rigs the Fu­sion stereo sys­tem but leaves the enor­mous dash­board a blank can­vas for your choice of dual nav­i­ga­tion screens and VHF ra­dio. I loved the dou­ble helm seat with split bol­sters, leav­ing cap­tain and pas­sen­ger the choice to stand or sit.

Grady’s track record for award­win­ning cus­tomer ser­vice, easy op­er­a­tion, and durable de­sign and con­struc­tion en­able the 325 to de­liver a laid-back boat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and the free­dom to choose whether to fish, cruise, dive or raise a zil­lion gig­gles from tub­ing kids.

Grady-White’s new 325 marks the 10th Free­dom model in the com­pany’s pop­u­lar dual con­sole lineup, which is capped by the 375.

Grady never for­gets fish­er­men: The 325 comes with a port­side tran­som 32-gal­lon livewell (above), and loads of stor­age for rods. By its dual con­sole de­sign, it also fea­tures a wide-open cock­pit.

Be­low: The cock­pit is rimmed with coam­ing pads that cush­ion an an­gler’s legs. Be­low right: A roomy head com­part­ment lies be­neath the port pas­sen­ger con­sole. The star­board con­sole of­fers a dou­ble berth.

The 325 DC pro­vides plenty of room for­ward for re­lax­ing or for rig­ging tackle. Lower the ta­ble and add a cen­ter cush­ion to cre­ate a sun deck.

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