Albemarle 360XF

The 360XF is one of the most maneuverable and efficient fish boats you can buy.

If there were a way you could save hundreds of dollars every time you ran offshore, extend your range and maneuver on game fish gone wild like a pro, would you be interested? You can do all these things aboard Albemarle’s 360XF. Just buck up an extra $50K for volvo Penta’s IPS.

First, the hard numbers. At 26 knots, you’ll burn 36 gallons per hour with twin 575 hp Caterpillar C9 diesel inboards, according to Albemarle. Fitted with twin 435 hp IPS 600s, my test boat burned 27 gph to achieve the same speed. Figuring four bucks a gallon for fuel, that’s a savings of $36 for every hour running. Don’t let the horsepower disparity throw you — the top speed of the boat is within two knots with either propulsion choice. IPS burns less because it uses smaller engines. But compared with struts, rudders and down-angled shafts, it also achieves efficiency through drag reduction and horizontal thrust angle of the pod drives, and so loses no performance. Hence, 435 hp engines with a “600” model designation. IPS makes the 360XF cheaper to run.

The close-quarters maneuverability provided by the joystick is another IPS plus. Most offshore fishermen I know have the experience to dock their boats conventionally, so marina work may not be a great selling point. But many have not experienced the way in which a joystick can enhance fishability. Our tester could be made to stand stock still while side to a brisk current. Imagine holding the boat a short flip-cast away from a weed line to bait mahimahi, instead of having to run up and drift back all the time.

Now imagine a pair of billfish hooked up and doing what they do. The joystick lets you spin the boat in a circle, juke sideways, shunt away at an angle.... It’s impossible to cite all the specific movements. IPS will not give you the instincts a 30-year veteran of the charter trade uses to guess what the fish will do next. But with IPS joystick in the “sportfish mode,” a regular guy can adjust to both the fish and the anglers faster, and with more finesse, than anyone using a pair of levers. IPS makes the boat more fishable.

It’s all moot IF the dog won’t hunt. I taped the 360XF’s cockpit at 11 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 6 inches — nearly 100 unobstructed and clean square feet. On centerline is a huge fish box, plumbed to a macerator pump. Though I wish this box were insulated, it does have quick-disconnect fittings. Remove the box, and your access to the IPS drives and the bilge is excellent. It’s also convenient for offloading your catch to a dockside cleaning station. Though this hatch and the access hatch aft of it feature deep gutters and thick gaskets to keep out water, Albemarle went the extra mile and installed lexan splash guards above the IPS drives anyway.

Another detail was discovered when I pulled open the tackle center drawers and found they were fitted with stops to prevent them from falling out should someone leave the cabinet open. It’s a no-brainer feature, you’d think, but one that many boats have lacked in my tests. Closed, thick gaskets mean you can blast the tackle station with the hose without fear of soaking gear within. Large scuppers are 15 inches above the waterline, enhancing safety and making cleanup a snap. I admired this same feature aboard Tiara’s 3600 Open ($550,565 powered like my test boat). The Albemarle’s gunwale top, as well as that of the Tiara and other boats in this size range, is high above the water — too high to lean over and bill a fish.

You command the 360XF from a centerline “pod” helm, modeled after those found aboard custom boats, fitted with a nicely dished, three-spoke wheel and separate single-lever engine controls on either side. Visibility, especially of the cockpit and your transom corners, is great from here. Of course, when you face aft to fight a fish, you’ll use the joystick and not really need those side-mount levers. The centerline location still helps, though, because there is room to stand to starboard and operate the joystick while facing aft. Were the helm mounted to starboard, you’d need to stand sideways while backing down. Rampage’s 34 IPS ($464,910 powered like my test boat) has a centerline helm as well.

Belowdecks, the yachty decor smacks of Herreshoff’s: white and light-colored bulkheads and tops accented by grainmatched teak. The head is generous and boasts a separate shower. The 360XF sleeps five or six, with ideas borrowed from the crew quarters of large yachts: a separate single berth hangs over the queen in the master stateroom, and a “pipe berth” hinges open over the salon settee, which itself converts to a double berth. A family of four could make it work for a weekend. More to its mission, there are digs aplenty where a tournament crew could crash — and wake up fresh and ready to roll.