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June 22, 2009

Sundance NX 21

Sundance's NX 21 hybrid skiff puts the fun back in boating.

Maryland rockfish anglers deserve credit for the current evolution of Sundance Boats. During a recent Annapolis show, several told company president Wally Bell they couldn't access the bay during low tide because the creeks leading to their waterfront homes and condos were too shallow. Bell took these comments to heart and tasked his designer to come up with a solution, inspiring the NX 21, the next-generation skiff from this Blackshear, Georgia, builder.

"We're calling this our back-to-the-future boat," Bell told me as we made our way through stacked Apalachicola rollers during a recent performance test. "It doesn't draw much water, it performs well with less power, it's easy on fuel and it costs less up front."

True to its purpose, the skiff loped along effortlessly once we found a stretch of calm water where we could open it up. Powered by a 115 hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard, it sips a modest six gallons per hour at 4,500 rpm. That works out to 4 1/2 miles per gallon. Jamming the throttle to wide-open, we made more than 38 miles per hour with three big guys - Bell, Marc Grove of Wefing's Marine, and me - aboard. Factor in an uptick after engine break-in and you may reasonably expect to see 40 miles per hour. That's a reassuring number when those afternoon clouds start rumbling or you're cutting it close for the kids' soccer practice.

This impressive performance comes from the new hull design. Starting with an entry of 40 degrees, the keel transitions to a notched air step that creates a trailing stream of bubbles to maximize hydrodynamics. An 8-foot-long planing pad carries aft. The combination of 20-degree negative trim, 5-degree transom deadrise, and a notched propeller pocket at the stern provide the lift and flotation to run shallow and operate with less horsepower. The NX 21 draws 9 inches of water at rest.

Boats with flat sterns tend to pound in rough conditions and typically ride wetter than a water slide: not so with this one. In either a head or following sea, the bow parted the chop nicely, keeping us comfortably dry. In a quartering sea, the wind did deflect some light spray, not surprising considering the ugly conditions. I've gotten soaked on 30-footers in similar blows.

Driving this skiff is just plain fun. It's responsive and pops on plane quickly with the torque of the four-stroke engine. Like a panga, its narrow beam does give it a little tenderness, though not to a fault. Similarly, the NX likes to ride on top of the waves. A little throttle bump keeps the stern from sliding in a tight turn. Adjusting the stainless steel wheel requires minimal effort thanks to standard hydraulic steering.

For its modest price, Sundance packs a lot of value into this latest addition to its line. Components like stainless steel pull-up cleats, a battery selector switch and a 10-micron fuel filter come standard. A waterproof circuit breaker protects the electrical system, while the bow comes pre-wired for a trolling motor with a beefy 6-gauge harness. The entire liner contains foam insulation, and a 10-year transferable warranty backs the hull.