First of all, I would like to apologize to all the good people who wanted to fish the second day of the 1998 Hatteras Marlin Club Invitational Marlin Tournament. It was my fault the wind blew 30 to 35 knots out of the southwest, because that was the day I was scheduled to test the newly designed Albemarle 320 Express, and whenever I plan to test any boat - particularly an Albemarle - the wind decides to howl.
Actually, the wind blew pretty hard on the first day of the tourney, too, but all 53 boats went out and ended up releasing a few marlin in spite of the heavy seas.The Albemarle's crew caught some gaffer dolphin, but more importantly they demonstrated the 320's ability to fish alongside boats twice its size in pretty sloppyconditions.
The entire fleet took a lay day on day two because of the weather, but Birch Perry, Albemarle's Director of Sales and Marketing, along with Steve George and John Dikos from Boat Doctor Marine, the Albemarle dealer in Ocean City,Maryland, used the opportunity to show me what the 320 Express could do. We had nointention of running to the Gulf Stream, but wanted to run some speed tests in PamlicoSound and then see how the 320 handled the rough seas and cross currents of HatterasInlet.The usually tranquil sound was running two to three feet, but the sharp entry of the famous Albemarle hull cut through the chop with ease. The 3116 Cat engines pushed the boat to a top speed of 34 knots and a comfortable cruise of 25 to 27 knots.These 350-hp powerplants are optional, with the 300-hp version standard.
Albemarle has been building the 320 Express for several years, but it recently redesigned the model. The running gear and engines have been moved forward one foot and the 300-gallon fuel tank has been relocated under the cockpit.
These changes not only improved performance and handling, they also allowed the trim tabs to be recessed, clearing the transom of line-cutting hazards. The combination of better weight distribution and more efficient placement of the rudders and trim tabs put the 320 Express up on plane in a few seconds and made it easy to maneuver around the numerous crab pots in Pamlico Sound.
Response to the helm was fast and precise ,while the deep-vee bottom kept the boat on track.
After a playful romp in the sound, it was time to test the 320 Express in more hazardous conditions, and it is difficult to imagine a more hazardous place than Hatteras Inlet during a southwest gale. The inlet is guarded by sandbars, and the channel dog-legs so at one point you are taking a hard beam sea while trying to hold course through a narrow break in the bar.
Once through that obstacle course, the 30- to 35-knot southwest wind and accompanying six- to eight-foot seas greet you on the bow. Birch Perry ran the 320 Express in and out of the inlet, encountering just about every nasty sea condition one can imagine. The boat tracked steady in the beam and following seas without giving captain or crew any cause for apprehension.
Back at the dock I was able to assess the 320's other attributes. The revised version has a new forward deck design with a raised cap that translates into more headroom in the cabin. The interior appointments reflect North Carolina's reputation for fine woodwork. Not only is the interior beautiful, it is also practical, with a stand-up head, icebox, microwave, bunks, table and all the accessories necessary for an overnighter in the canyon or a weekend cruise with the family.
Back on deck there is plenty of storage space for tackle and enough room for a fighting chair in the cockpit. The big fishbox under the cockpit sole is equipped with a macerator pump for easy cleaning, and the transom door is big enough to accommodate almost any size fish.
The transom also holds a large insulated box that can be used as a live wellor cooler. Live-bait anglers will appreciate the convenience of having the live well in this location.
Fresh and salt water washdowns allow cleaning of the cockpit - and crew.The 35 gallons of fresh water and water heater should ensure that everyone is presentable by the time they reach the dock.
At the helm, the instruments are well laid out and easy to read. The electronics box will hold lots of equipment, and is positioned for quick access without obstructing forward vision. The big windshield allows the captain a clean, unobstructed view at any running attitude, including idle. Seating for captain and crew is very comfortable, with plenty of dry storage under the companion seats.
With all these features, it's easy to see why the Albemarle 320 Express is everything a blue-water angler could want in an affordable package.
Albemarle, 607 Queeen St., Dept. SWS, Edenton, NC 27932; (252) 482-7600, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.