Albemarle recently introduced a new version of their popular 36-footer, re-engineered to accept Volvo Penta's incredible Inboard Performance System drives. With this new power option, the 360 Express Fisherman became more nimble and more efficient and now offers a bit more speed throughout the entire rpm range. It's hard to go through a fishing marina in the mid-Atlantic and not find an Albemarle boat. Founded by Scott Harrell in the mid-70s, this company started with family-built vessels that have evolved into a line of smartly designed, well-built fishing boats, and the new IPS-powered 360 XF is the latest extension of that line.
With Albemarle in the hands of Harrell's grandson, senior vice president Burch Perry, expect more of the same as far as quality boats, as well as a voice on the phone to talk to when you need it. I got to test the 360 XF out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a blustery winter day with 20- to 25-knot north-northwest winds producing a rolling sea offshore. I'm a huge IPS fan, having run and fished a number of different hulls with the innovative drives, and I was eager to feel the 360 XF and test its performance with the pods. As I pushed the throttles up, the 360 XF slid to plane with little effort and took off running like a horse stung by a bee. I had to pull it back to lope out the cut, and as I ran it offshore toward the live-bait fleet, I got a good sense for its down-sea and quartering ride. It clipped along with little stall falling off the seas and produced only a bit of spray when tacking offshore to the northeast. It handled the head sea well, as expected, plus it turned and reacted to the trim tabs very well.
Once offshore, it trolled perfectly, bobbing along like a cork across the sea and leaving a clean and fishy wake behind it at our slow sailfish troll. As I pushed the boat through the range to lure speed, the wake generated by the IPS drives remained clean and offered fish a good shot at seeing a bait behind the boat with little wash. I was also impressed with its lateral stability when drifting - it lay side to the wind, again floating over the seas like a cork and not rolling you out of your seat. The maneuverability and handling of the IPS drives is incredible, and as I have said before, the drives make a good boat handler better and a poor handler good.
I could turn up-sea, back down-sea, spin the boat on its own axis and then continue down-sea again at a rate of speed not common in a conventional boat, all without sucking the transom down and burying the cockpit in water. Don't get me wrong: I could have if I'd wanted to, but what's the point? Even with a fish on, it's not necessary and is too hard on the equipment and the crew. By feathering the rate of power, it is possible to come back real hard and not get wet.
Down below, the 360 XF offers a spacious cabin area with an athwartship berth with storage all around it. The berth features doors which close to create a private stateroom. Aft of the berth to port, the sofa folds out into a double berth, and above it, a Pullman converts to a single berth. With the Pullman mattress removed, this space can also serve as an enclosed rod locker. To starboard is a hanging closet and an enclosed head with separate shower. The galley comes with a solid-surface countertop, a stainless sink, an electric cooktop and drawer-style refrigerators with storage underneath. Over the countertop sits a microwave and cabinets.
The helm deck and the centerline helm station offer great visibility all around, with all electronics and controls within easy reach of the helmsman. A passenger seat sits to starboard, while the entrance to the cabin lies to port. Behind the helm chairs, an L-shaped seat rests to starboard, with another bench along the port side.
The spacious cockpit offers everything needed for a day's fishing, including a stainless freezer and bait-prep area with sink and tackle storage to starboard, as well as a large and deep livewell that doubles as a drink box to port. In typical Carolina-boat fashion, it has a 56-gallon transom fish box on the centerline and a transom door to starboard. There is also a 57-gallon in-deck fish box that, when removed, offers spacious access to the lazarette. Our test boat was rigged with the molded hardtop and tower, which is a great setup; however, the folks at Albemarle also offer custom tower packages to suit your fishing needs.
With its functional, purposeful layout and solid construction, the 360 XF with IPS drives offers handling and effic-iency that make it a distinctive boat in its class - add the people behind the scenes who are building Albemarle boats, and you've got a great combination for success. If you've thought of stepping into an express-style boat in the mid-30s size range, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't check out Albemarle's 360 XF IPS.
LOA......38'8" with pulpit
Base Price......$499,995 With twin Volvo Penta IPS 600s
Albemarle Boats / 252-482-7600 / www.albemarleboats.com