All in the Family
An ongoing evolution means Albemarle’s 360 EXF is a fishing machine with a broader appeal than ever.
From its very start in 1978, Albemarle Sportfishing Boats has been a family affair. Founded by J. Scott Harrell, Sr., the company began with a 24-foot cuddy model built to handle the notoriously snotty conditions of Albemarle Sound and the blue waters off Cape Hatteras. Harrell had been running a successful boat dealership, and he was frustrated at having to do so much repair work on boats he was taking in trade. He decided he could build a better boat.
The success of the Albemarle 24 and her sibling, a 27-foot cuddy, led to a burst of growth in the 1990s. While a number of different business partners came and went during the beginning years, Harrell’s son, known as Scotty, eventually took command. New, larger models were introduced, and Albemarle’s facility in the quaint coastal town of Edenton, North Carolina, expanded to accommodate a workforce of nearly 200. The family-run business was earning a reputation for building no-nonsense fishing machines that not only delivered a soft, dry ride but that also offered well-appointed, comfortable interiors. Albemarle stayed focused on the popular, small-to-midsize market, building a number of models between 24 and 41 feet.
Scotty Harrell sold the company to Brunswick Corporation in 2005, and it soon became part of the Hatteras Collection comprising Hatteras, Cabo, and Albemarle. He remained with the company until 2007. Harrell Sr.’s grandson, Burch Perry, who had joined Albemarle in the early ’90s, took the helm and saw the company through what turned out to be its most difficult years. The economic downturn, rapidly rising fuel prices, and the challenge of suddenly having to fit into Brunswick’s corporate culture were a test of both his management and survival skills. But Albemarle endured in large part because of its solid reputation and loyal customer base.
Timing is everything, and as Brunswick sought to divest itself of some of its marine brands, along came businessman Scott McLaughlin, a fellow North Carolinian, an avid boater, and a longtime admirer of Albemarle. It’s a familiar story—a successful business owner with a passion for boats decides to buy a boat company. But unlike similar stories, this one does not end unhappily. On the contrary, since McLaughlin bought Albemarle in early 2009 and retained Burch Perry to run it, the company has made it through the worst of economic times and is once again focused on what it does best—building flat-out, high-quality fishing machines.
Albemarle’s 36-footer was first introduced in 2006 to rave reviews and has remained one of the builder’s most popular models through a program of constant evolution. Considered by many anglers to be the ideal size, her hullform has proven seakeeping abilities for serious offshore fishermen. “This hull, which was designed in-house, has earned such a strong following for its soft, dry ride,” Perry says. “We’ve continued to tweak and improve the overall boat. But there’s no reason to try and reinvent its fundamental hull design.”
Knowing What She Can Do
A very nasty front was blowing through on the day of our sea trial, accompanied by tornado warnings. Albemarle’s president, Burch Perry, and his sidekick, Ted Haigler, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, were determined to return the boat to her owner in Deltaville, a run of 100 miles down Chesapeake Bay. I tried to convince them to stay, warning them what things would be like as they approached and passed the mouth of the Potomac River. But they knew and trusted the boat. Nonetheless, I was worried and called them later that evening to see if they’d made it.
“Yeah, you were right about that spot near the Potomac,” Perry laughed. “So we slowed down a bit until we got past it.”
Not long ago the 360 was updated to incorporate Volvo Penta’s IPS drive system, making it more fuel efficient and uncannily maneuverable. Stringers were modified to accommodate the IPS600 pods and the engines were located farther forward than is standard in order to optimize weight distribution. Jackshafts connect the engines to the pods, and the fuel tank is forward of the engines to produce an ideal longitudinal center of gravity. While the 360 is still offered with conventional drives, Albemarle expects most buyers will opt for the $76,000 IPS upgrade once they experience maneuvering this already nimble hull using its joystick control. As our test run showed, it’s a real hoot sliding this baby sideways or spinning around in her own length. For those who need to more objectively rationalize the extra cost, they can take comfort in knowing that fuel efficiency is improved by up to 30 percent.
Most recently, Albemarle introduced an even newer edition of the 360—the 360 EXF which stands for “Enclosed Express Fisherman.” This slick upgrade will appeal to the boater who wants his family to join him on a weekend outing or a week-long cruise, as it enhances the level of onboard comfort while maintaining the boat’s primary purpose as an all-out fishing machine. Enclosing the bridgedeck is a $65,000 option, and it features a centerline helm with excellent visibility and room for three 15-inch displays. The windshield and two large side windows open for ventilation. Dropping the EZ2CY aft curtains provides full protection, and the optional air-conditioning system keeps the area cool or warm and comfortable. Aft of the helm is a raised settee with stowage underneath.
The entire bridgedeck is raised with the flip of a switch for easy access to the engine room, which is nicely laid out. There’s standing headroom to work around the engines and generator, and all vital components including filters and through-hulls are easily reached. Albemarle has done a really good job here with the details, as even the bilge area is finished with gelcoat.
Descending three steps into the interior, the teak and holly sole and wood joinery provide a rich, warm atmosphere. To port a settee converts to over-and-under berths, and a rod-and-reel rack is cleverly hidden above the berths. A galley with a sink, microwave, drawers, and counter space is to starboard. Nearby is a stainless, two-drawer refrigerator-freezer with a flatscreen TV above it that faces the settee. A full-size head with a separate shower stall is also to starboard. Separated from the saloon by a folding door, the forward stateroom features a double berth as well as an optional single berth above. In total this 36-footer can sleep five, and it has enough elbow room and amenities for a family to combine their love of fishing and cruising.
It says something about Albemarle’s construction philosophy that its first boat—built in 1978 (a 24-footer)—is reportedly still in service. Today its hulls are built using up-to-date materials including Armorcoat gelcoat and vinylester and polyester resins. Above the waterline, the 360’s hull utilizes Baltek balsa coring to increase strength and minimize weight. Stringers are encapsulated in fiberglass and bonded to the hull. The hull-to-deck joint is bonded with stainless steel bolts and 3M sealants.
Conditions on our test day proved to be a true test of the boat’s performance and construction integrity, as it was blowing a steady 20 to 25 knots causing the relatively shallow Chesapeake Bay to show its ugly side with steep, closely spaced 4- to 5-footers. The hull with its 16.5-degree deadrise and Carolina flare lived up to Albemarle’s reputation, although we did encounter a few square ones that got our attention. After we ran reciprocating courses to determine speeds and fuel-burn rates, we tucked into Annapolis Harbor to play with the Volvo IPS system. With her joystick control you can literally make this boat dance sideways. Find that perfect spot where the fish are hanging out over a wreck and you can stay there without dropping anchor by engaging Volvo’s Dynamic Positioning System. The boat simply takes over, automatically using the pods, gears, and throttles to stay put based on its GPS positioning.
Fishermen will be interested to learn that IPS drives deliver a more horizontal angle to the water than straight shafts, so backing down hard doesn’t tend to bury the transom. And when in Volvo’s “Sportfish” mode, the drives “toe out,” increasing directionality and torque to improve the boat’s maneuverability.
Perry later told me that he had taken his 86-year-old grandfather, J. Scott Harrell, Sr., out for a ride on one of the first 360s with IPS drives. “He’s been selling and building boats all his life,” Perry said. “But he was simply amazed at what this boat could do.”
NOTEWORTHY OPTIONS: Volvo Penta IPS ($76,000); hardtop enclosure ($65,000); Garmin Electronics and Satellite-TV system ($45,000); helm deck air conditioning ($8,995); anchor windlass ($5,795); additional forward berth ($5,995); premium entertainment package ($6,995).
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 73°F; humidity 90%; seas 3-5'; wind: 20-25 knots
Load During Boat Test
350 gal. fuel, 25 gal. water, 3 persons.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/435-hp Volvo Penta IPS600
- Price as Tested: $729,986