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.
A closer inspection reveals still more attributes. For example, the windshield and console handrail are rigged with quick attachments so they can be removed or lowered, allowing boat and trailer to clear a standard garage door. In the cockpit, the four gunwale-mounted rod holders equipped with drainage tubes prevent water from ending up in the bilge. The neatly organized and accessible aft systems compartment makes servicing quick and easy.
The NX 21 console comes with LED lighting, a Yamaha controls and gauge package, and glove-box storage. A 12-volt power plug, stainless steel cup holders and a forward console seat also come standard. That seat holds an insulated, 32-quart compartment that can be plumbed as a second livewell. Vertical rod racks straddle the console. The combination cooler seat with reversible backrest comes standard as the helm seat, but there’s also an optional leaning post with a rocket launcher and storage bin. A Bimini or T-top with electronics box, coaming pads, and rear deck pedestal chairs or folding jump seats top the rest of the add-on list.
Ice the day’s catch down in the 100-quart insulated box on the port aft deck. Add aeration and this compartment doubles as a release well. A round, 66-quart well on the aft centerline will hold plenty of live bait. Stow safety equipment, foul-weather gear and tackle bags in the large forward deck compartment.
Want more examples of thoughtful design? The molded anchor locker can handle a real anchor, not a wimpy wannabe. Transitional steps make access to the foredeck fast and smooth, another welcome feature when fighting a hot fish or anchoring over the right spot.
Add it all up and I give the NX 21 high marks for its class. It’s solidly built, performs well and has an attractive price tag. Plus, you’ll feel comfortable letting the kids – the next generation of anglers – take it out for an afternoon of fun. And maybe they’ll even let you tag along.
SUNDANCE NX 21
**With a single 115 hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard
_Sundance Boats ? 912-449-0033 ? _www.sundanceboats.com