Albemarle’s 360 Express Fisherman has been the best seller for Albemarle since she was introduced just over 5 years ago. While there has been the natural progression of changes over the years, the most notable took place for this model year. This time Albemarle added Volvo Penta's IPS600 drives, thus upgrading the boat from conventional inboard drives to pods with joystick. We went to see for ourselves if this system will convince even the traditionalist fisherman that pods are is the way to go.
|Length Overall||36' 8'' / 11.78 m|
Acceleration Times & Conditions
|Time to Plane||6.2 sec.|
|0 to 30||13.4 sec.|
|Load||4 persons, 1/1 fuel, 1/1 water, minimal gear|
|Climate||90 deg.; 85% humidity; wind: 0-5 mph; seas; 0-3|
2 x 435-hp Volvo Penta IPS600
2 x 435-hp Volvo Penta IPS600
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By Captain Steve
Don’t Fix It If It Ain’t Broke?
Sometimes things should be left just the way they are, but sometimes progress is good. DVDs morphing to Blu-ray comes to mind, as well as the 360 XF's latest makeover, where the IPS600 drives were added to the already popular boat. But fishermen, at least the ones who have been doing it for a long time, are loathe to change. Some are still using paper spool fishfinders, so it's only natural that they hang behind. But once they see and feel the new technology, they always end up hooked (forgive me).
I've been convinced of the benefits of IPS since its launch, and mostly from a performance and economy standpoint. I don't really have a lot of trouble at the dock, but even I have to admit that my hand is firmly on the joystick when docking, as opposed to just doing it by hand. One may not need it, but it's great to have and use anyway.
Albemarle went with a pair of Volvo Penta 435-hp IPS600s and that seems appropriate. The previous engines were either 575-hp Cat C9s, or Cummins QSC at 540-hp. But that begs the question of how the 435-hp Volvo Pentas will keep up performance with less power on hand. The answer is through the efficiency of the pod drives. These are called IPS600 because they should perform the same as 600-hp inboard engines, according to Volvo Penta.
So let's get to it. This is the highlight so I'll get to the boat layout later.
Top speed came in at 3500 rpm and 32.1 kts. At that speed we were burning 43 gph for a range of 359 nm. Best cruise came in at 3000 rpm and 25.2 kts. Now we were burning only 29 gph for a range of 419 nm. At that speed, we were getting exactly 1.0 gallons per hour which the folks at Albemarle told us was the best mpg reading they had ever seen with the boat.
Because the 360 Express Fisherman with IPS is more fuel efficient, she has a greater range than when powered with conventional straight drives. As a result, Albemarle was able to reduce the size of the fuel tanks by 16%, from 535 gallons to 450 gallons. This, of course, saves weight which leads to greater fuel efficiency.
Then there's the perk of Volvo Penta’s Sportfish Mode. Not being content with simply driving the boat in reverse to chase down a fish, Volvo Penta added a cool feature to its joystick mix. With the press of a “Sportfish Mode” button, the drives will cant themselves outward which improves the steering dramatically when backing down.
Reverse speed didn't seem to be improved -- either with or without Sportfish Mode engaged, I was getting a max of roughly 7 kts over the bottom -- but steering was improved. I had much more control over steering the stern, and certainly much better over inboards. I didn't really need a side-by-side comparison to realize that.
Dynamic Positioning System
This boat also had Volvo Penta's DPS. It uses a dual GPS antenna on the hardtop, coupled with a digital compass and Volvo Penta's normal 7" (17.8 cm) display. With the push of a button on the joystick the 360 XF will hold its position, and heading, without the driver having to do anything. I tried it while offshore and found it to work great against a light wind and tide, but I needed to show it on camera so I headed to a day-marker to try again.
Now with a much closer visual reference, I engaged the system and found the same results. It nailed the location every time. But realistically, when would one use something like this? Well, I can think of several occasions, starting with holding position waiting for a bridge, when waiting for a fuel dock to open, a lock to drain…
When not to use it is when people are in the water. The pods and props are still turning so use caution. Don't use it to hold yourself over a wreck for divers. And I wouldn't use it at the dock as a method of tying up the boat single handed. I found it to have about a 2' (.6 m) margin of error when testing it in a slip. Most of the time it was even more accurate, so it's a very useful tool.
The 360 XF
The rendering on this page shows the way, the truth and the light of the 360 XF. The business department features two substantial fishboxes, a generous bait prep station and a 25 gallon (94.6 L) livewell. The centerline helm ensures no voids in visibility. At 78 square feet (7.25 sq m), the cockpit has plenty of room to accommodate a fighting chair, and double hook-up should be no problem especially with Sportfish Mode at the captain’s command. Back at the marina there is also plenty of room to entertain one's friends and tell them about the fish they could have gotten. The seating around the helm adds to the 360 XF’s sociability quotient.
There's a 56 gallon (211.98 L) fishbox in the transom and the bulk of it bulges into the cockpit. I'd rather see it bulge into the transom which would leave room for improving the rumble seat. I found that the seat impedes access to the 57 gallon (215.76 L) deck fishbox. By the way, the deck box is removable to give access to the twin IPS pods. A jackshaft connects them to the engines which are under the boat prep counter. There are two washdowns, freshwater to port, and raw water to starboard.
The side decks are wide enough to facilitate line handling, and if one manages to take water over the bow, it gets channeled overboard, rather than along the decks and into the cockpit, through 3" (7.62 cm) deck drains. At the bow, the rail height is a safe 25.5" (64.8cm), and the molded pulpit adds roughly 3' (.91 m) to the LOA. Our test boat had the optional anchor, windlass and chain (add $6,595) but I'd like to see a hatch in the foredeck so I can reach under and untangle any snarls without traipsing to the bow stateroom.
The helm deck is up two 9" (22.8 cm) steps from the cockpit and the test boat had the area enclosed in isinglass which kept the helm air conditioning (standard) from escaping into the 90-degree (32-degrees C) outside air. I love a center mounted helm for both visibility and it just feels more natural when backing down on a fish.
There is plenty of seating to port and aft with storage under the aft seat. (The port storage was taken up with the air conditioning.) The helm is nicely laid out with twin 12" (30.5cm) displays, plus plenty of other ancillaries. Although I never got to test them since those wide Carolina flared bows prevented me from taking any spray, there are separate wipers and washers for all three forward windows. Maybe if it rained…
Below decks, the 360 XF is a comfortable place to hang out when the weather is nasty or fish tales need telling. There's an enclosed head with separate shower (a unique feature in a boat in this class), a full galley and a small dinette. The boat would hold her own for a weekend afloat. But that’s not why you’d buy this boat.
With a forward berth that sleeps two good friends, a settee that effortlessly drops down to sleep one more, and a Pullman style berth that pulls down from above the sofa, the 360XF will sleep four if it needs to -- but certainly three will be much more comfortable. The decks are Amtico with a teak and holly look.
Since the layout of the 360 XF hasn't changed, but the IPS600s made a significant improvement in weight, range, and economy, it's safe to say that the "best seller" moniker of the 360 XF is here to stay. Whether the sales of the IPS version will rise over the inboard version, we’ll find out soon. But since Albemarle still offers the inboard option, it takes some fishermen more time than others to embrace new technology, but I think they’ll all come over to pods eventually.