After a 30-mile cruise from the fishing grounds, we near the shoals of Cape Lookout. My copilot has local knowledge of the area's constantly shifting sand bars and channels, so I move over to the passenger side and reach up to grab a pipe of the T-top to steady myself. Suddenly, it hits me like a flip-flopping bull dolphin bouncing around the cockpit: For the first time ever in my entire boat-testing career I'm grasping a T-top support that is so thick and beefy, my hand doesn't wrap all the way around the pipe. Yup, on Grady-White's new Bimini 306, the four main T-top supports are twice the diameter of those found on lesser boats. They're still comfortable to grip but just in case you like a 360-degree finger lock, there are smaller pipes welded parallel to the big supports for handholds.
Those mega-pipes are indicative of the way Grady-White approached each and every construction detail on the Bimini 306. But don't take my word for it. You want another example? Good-if I were laying out big bucks for a fishing machine like this one, I'd want to see the details with my own eyes, too. So during your walkthrough, make sure you swing open the transom gate and look at those hinges. You won't find hardware that hefty in a Hummer. And check out the hook-shaped latch that holds open the door. Yup, it's almost big enough to use as a backup gaff. Now jump off the boat and walk around to the bow. Gaze up and assess the stainless-steel strike plate securing the anchor. Think it could take a direct hit from an RPG? Damn straight.
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE. Although the new Bimini 306's running surface is the same as Grady-White's previous 306, there are some major-league changes abovedecks. First and most important is the transom. Gone are the livewell and stowage box. Instead, the new model houses a mammoth 304-quart fishbox. It's big enough to haul a pair of 100-pound tuna plus a few of those bull dolphin. Up against the transom rests Grady-White's patented fold-me-with-one-finger transom bench seat. Those of you who have experienced wet transom benches will be happy to hear that after our 30-mile cruise through a two-foot surface chop on top of lumpy three-to-four-foot rollers, the bench seat remained dry and salt-free. Another boat that charges through the slop without dousing the cockpit is Yellowfin's 31, which lists at $120,000 with twin 250-hp powerplants. This boat has 1' less beam, 5" more LOA, and is 2,000 pounds lighter. Why does it weigh so much less? There are several reasons, and if you compare the T-top supports to those on the Grady-White, you'll see one of them clearly.
Another major change from Grady's old 306 to the new version lies at the helm. Gone is the big leaning post; instead, you'll find two helm chairs mounted on a livewell/tackle station. The chairs adjust fore and aft, spin, and even have an adjustable bottom cushion, so no matter what the length of your legs, you can find a comfortable position. The centered livewell holds 47.5 gallons, is lighted, and has the full column water inlet that eliminates "dead spots" in the well and keeps your baits fresh and perky. But it has a standpipe, too, which would be improved by switching to a side overflow drain. Don't walk away from that livewell without checking out the underside of the clear Plexiglas and fiberglass lid. The Plexi viewing port isn't merely glued on there, as you'll see on many other boats. Instead, Grady-White actually molds the viewing port into the fiberglass. Drop a sash weight on it by accident, and you won't bonk your livies on the head. Next to the livewell is a small bait cooler with a freshwater vegetable sprayer for your ballyhoo, and below that are four large tackle trays. Pop open the door on the starboard side, and you'll find a hook and rig holder. The station also houses two flush rodholders on the top and a Hose Coil on the side.
Another major change can be seen in the bow arrangement. Instead of a bow pulpit, the Bimini 306 has an integral through-hull anchor holder and strike plate mated to a windlass. Flip up the hatch on the forepeak and the one on the forward bulkhead, and you have complete access to the top and bottom of the winch, the rode locker, and a center cleat. Unfortunately, there are no forward controls and the windlass must be operated from the helm. That would make me nervous when a crewmember went forward to loosen a jam, and I couldn't see his or her hands. Fortunately, Grady-White says it's considering a way to add forward controls.