Mallacoota abalone diver Grant Shorland Jr takes a break from snuffling snails and cruising for bluefin in his Grady-White Journey 258 to test drive the latest Grady-White to hit our shores — the Express 330

Why would an abalone diver from Mallacoota care for a Grady-White Express 330? Because when Grant Shorland Jr is not picking up snails from the ocean floor, he’s chasing striped marlin, swordfish and bluefin tuna in his backyard. He also has the means to buy one, if the price of abalone licences is anything to go by (a licence is currently worth upwards of $4.5m). Oh, did I mention he already has a smaller Grady-White Journey 258 he’s rather enamoured with?

On this premise, Sam and Ryan Short of Short Marine (southern distributor for Grady-White Boats) invited Grant up to Sydney to test drive the Express 330. Grant packed his black Dodge Ram (the one with the “CUB1N” numberplates) along with his compulsory game-fishing accessory, Matt Cassar, and headed north to Sydney Harbour. Not everyone was happy with his Sydney sojourn. His partner, Cass, was at home, three months pregnant, while his accountant had his hands full trying to account for the latest home renovations, a new shed, a black Dodge Ram and expansive baby nursery, let alone a new boat.

FIT FOR A KING

Grant rates his Grady-White Journey 258 one of the best-finished boats he’s been aboard and was eager to see how a bigger, modern Grady scrubbed up. “It’s world-class,” Grant says. “These boats are all about luxury game fishing. There are fine details — the quality of the latches and stainless steel, the colour-coded Fusion speaker covers to match the Grady-White colour, the upholstery, padded combings — that justify the price. There’s a dive door that doesn’t let water in. Who would’ve thought?” (The Captain thinks this might be a sarcastic reference to Aussie manufacturers who struggle to keep the wet stuff out.) “There’s also the latch on the dive door — I thought I was opening the airtight hatch on a submarine.”

Fishie features include an insulated 240L fish box on the transom that can be refrigerated or set to freeze. “No more wasted cubes”, says Grant. The Grady-Whitelive bait tanks are exceptional — five filling vents at various depths to improve aeration, smooth edges and a sky-blue gelcoat Grady claims will help soothe the fish by putting them into a yoga-like trance.

Grant spied a few tasty options not fitted to his Journey 258 that he could easily live with — the outdoor BBQ grill as well as a diesel genset ideal for coastal cruising. There’s also room for two 12-inch screens, mounted to a retractable panel and operated by the flick of a switch. It sits just above the Yamaha joystick steering, known as Helm Master.

Grant is also smitten with the seating arrangement. “It’s got the big dog helm seat in the middle. It’s like a roundabout and you’re the king on your throne. You’ve got your posse hanging around the outside like they’re in a Brunswick Street lounge bar. Everyone is super-chilled and comfortable. I felt like I was in a Bentley. Everywhere is comfortable on this boat — I even fell asleep on the step on the way home (travelling at 30 knots, mind you). Captain’s note: we actually ran out of beer, otherwise Grant would have been wide awake at the wheel. For those who care about such things, Jack did the beer order.

EXPRESS YOURSELF

Wikipedia reckons an Express is a fast cruising boat, but we like to think of it as a game boat without the flybridge and wide-open cabin. The Express configuration is second only to a flybridge for spotting fish and observing the deck. We asked Grant, who regularly fishes overseas on notable game boats, what he thought of the layout.

“At the helm, it’s like looking out of a Kenworth,” he says. “You can navigate all around the boat without rubbing shoulders with someone else relaxing or rigging gear — but the helm is still connected to the rear deck, which is great when you’re holding court. The jump seats pop out at the transom for the lads down back. It’s a small thing, but you can also get past the outriggers without falling in the drink, which happens all too often on game boats with aftermarket riggers.”

Drinking is a favourite fisho pastime and Grant is happy with the beverage accoutrements. “Everywhere you look there’s somewhere to put your drink.” In fact, there are nine strategically placed holders on the helm alone, as well as two more for cups. This was handy because by 9am, the Captain Morgan was flowing freely. There’s also a fridge next to the fore bed, to save Grant lumbering out for a cold one in the morning while scratching his boxer shorts.

BOLT-ON POWER

Grady is committed to outboard power — namely Yamaha. So the deck of each boat is designed for maximum fishability — no engine boxes or shafts in sight. “The beauty of outboard power is that once they’re done, you unbolt them and throw them away, fit the latest ones and you’re off again,” says Grant. “There’s no cutting of floors or shafts to worry about.” (The Captain suspects only a commercial operator who spends more time at sea than on land could treat a pair of 350HP Yamaha V8 outboards like a pair of old Calvin Klein underpants.)

Then there’s the ride. “It rides like the colour of Grady-White boats — like butter,” Grant says. “The grip is phenomenal — a boat this big shouldn’t be so responsive in a turn. As we came out through the heads, I didn’t quite know what to expect with the north-west crosswinds. I thought we’d get saturated down the back — but there wasn’t a drop of water. I got more spray on my face opening my first can of beer.”

Even if the Express 330 did cop a splash, it wouldn’t matter as it comes with wipers featuring built-in washer jets for smudge-free visibility. “

I asked the boys what numbers we were doing,” Grant goes on. “It was around 28 knots burning about 110L per hour combined — with twin V8s. That’s what I get out of my boat, which is half the size and weight. Those Yamaha V8s could put a horn on a jellyfish. They were a little bit noisy, but that’s a compliment in my book.” Grant notes the spacing between the engines. “When it’s on the plane, the motors have a clean and separate prop wash, they’re not fighting each other. They’ve nutted absolutely everything out on this boat.

BIGGIE SMALLS

The boating market has seen a shift away from moored game boats towards large trailerable boats, but to The Captain’s patched eye, the Express 330 justifies having a mooring. It may be five tonne and carry a 12ft (3.5m) beam but the ride is infinitely better than any trailerboat we’ve been aboard. Top speed is a respectable 44 knots (80kmh) and the refinement goes up several notches from a typical Aussie boat manufacturer. All your friends are invited — eight can comfortably game fish, or two couples or a family of five could easily cruise up the coast. It’s an all-weather option, too. In extreme weather, clears can be dropped from the stylish roof and the cabin is instantly air-conditioned or heated. For summer days trolling, just pop the sunroof open and activate the front vents with a push of the button.

GRANT’S VERDICT

We posed Grant the question: would he prefer a single Express 330 (worth $800k) or four Journeys? He eventually decided he could leave a Journey in each of his four favourite fishing locations then fly his father’s chopper to the spot where the bite was hot. He did say that if his home port (Mallacoota) was open to the sea and had a deep entrance then he’d be tempted by the Express. His parting words were, “If you’ve got the dough, spend it. If you want the best, I’m sitting in it.”

The Captain notes that Grant was last seen thumbing through Gumtree for an excavator. He may well need a bigger shed, and maybe a new missus, too. Mind you, we wouldn’t put it past Grant to sell Cass on the Express 330 as “the ultimate baby nursery”. He’d probably tell her, “Love, this babysitter also rocks the baby to sleep”. If only.

THE CAPTAIN’S CREW DIVIDED

Which Grady did it better? The Express 330 or Canyon 376 (shown above and below, also tested in the Black Label Edition). The Captain’s crew are divided.

JACK’S affection for the Canyon 376 is well known. In fact, he rates it his favourite boat — $800k of boat has that effect on people. “This boat is all about the zones,” he says. “There’s the tanning section up front, beer garden down back and tactical operation zone in the middle. It screams summer days trolling for pelagics and the ride is the absolute steamroller of the sea. 900HP with a 1500L tank, Sydney to Gold Coast on one tank — say no more.”

TRAV, on the other hand, rates the Express 330. He reckons it’s an all-weather option with a smarter helm station and more usable cabin (he has kids and lives on the NSW South Coast). “The Express is game fishing and entertaining in equal parts,” he says. “The transition from helm to the fishing deck is effortless. In homemaker magazine parlance, they’d say: ‘It brings the outdoors in’. We had seven guys game fishing, but it resembled a black hoodie convention partying in a lounge bar.