IN THEIR WORDS
When a parent can pass along something he or she loves to a child and the child loves it, too, that’s something special. Can a 1995 Albemarle 320 Express help form such a parent-child bond? You bet, says Gary Dixon, a father of two.
“My 8-year-old loves to go out on the boat,” says the 38-year-old corporate pilot from Mount Holly, N.C. “I come home, and he’s there pulling on my arm saying, ‘Let’s go.’ And I’ll tell you, there’s no better way to spend family time with your kids. We got together with my dad, who’s 64 now, and the three of us all went out fishing, and you know what? We caught a lot of fish and had a great time together.”
The Albemarle 320 Express is a tournament-style offshore fishing boat with the comforts of a family cruiser. It’s the first boat Dixon has owned. “When the time came to look for a boat, I wanted a real fishing boat, but it also had to have some cruising comforts,” he says. “So [my wife], Connie, and I settled on an express, which we thought combined the two.”
The well-cared-for boat was in excellent shape, and the price was around $160,000. Dixon had admired it from afar as it sat in its slip in the South Carolina marina he fished out of with friends. “I’d drooled over this boat, but it just wasn’t for sale,” he says. “So as I traveled the country [as a pilot], I’d look at boats wherever I was when I got the chance. Then one day I got a call at home from a friend. He said, ‘They’re hanging the for-sale sign right now.’ I literally dropped what I was doing and put in my offer right then.”
Dixon says the boat’s been a winner, starting with the express’s family-friendly bridge deck. The helm area includes plenty of seating, and the high bulwarks help keep young kids in the boat. (The Dixons’ second child is 3 years old.) The cabin layout fills the family bill, too. The boat sleeps four, with a convertible dinette and an enclosed head that includes a shower. The galley has a microwave, refrigerator and pressure hot and cold water — another family convenience.
But when the boat’s offshore and the action’s hot and heavy, that’s when the Albemarle shines, says Dixon. “It’s got a big cockpit and a great fishing layout, with a bait prep station with a sink, a cutting board, a sprayer and plenty of tackle drawers,” he says. There’s also room for a fighting chair, a big live well and in-deck fishboxes that make it easy to get the day’s catch on ice.
The 32-footer’s tower, with controls, offers great visibility and a good platform for working the boat. Set the outriggers and downriggers, and the boat is surrounded. “I can put a lot of rods out,” Dixon says.
And how does the Albemarle run? Dixon recalls his sea trial, off Little River, S.C., where he found and still keeps the boat. “It was during hurricane season two years ago, and we’d just had a tropical storm pass through,” he says. “We didn’t poke out too far, but we were in 10- to 11-foot seas, and she took it pretty well. One of the reasons I bought an Albemarle was its reputation for solid construction and seaworthiness.”
Power comes from twin 300-hp Caterpillar 3116 diesels for a cruising speed of 27 to 29 mph and top end of a little more than 34 mph. “It’s just about perfect for us, right now,” he says. “It’s a boat we can spend the weekend on, with the sleeping quarters we want for ourselves and the kids, and it’s a great fishing boat, too, that’s for sure.”
A walkthrough of the Albemarle 320 express rightfully begins in the cockpit, which takes full advantage of the boat’s ample 11-foot beam. Standard features include a live well, insulated in-deck fishboxes, and a bait-prep station with sink, cutting board and tackle storage; there’s room for a fighting chair, too. A tower adds a second helm station and serves as a platform for spotting fish, leaving the cockpit free for working the catch. Side decks allow access to the foredeck, with bow rails for protection.
A metal-framed windscreen surrounds the bridge deck, and the helm station is to starboard, with pedestal skipper and companion seats, and a large fiberglass dash for instrumentation and electronics. An enclosure wraps around the entire area for protection from the elements.
A centerline companionway leads to the compact cabin below and its typical overnighter amenities. The galley has room for a microwave oven and/or stove, refrigerator, sink and storage. The enclosed head compartment has a marine head and a shower. The V-berth can be used as a dinette, seating four or more at a full-size table. The table drops down to convert the seating into either a divided V-berth or a large single berth. Seat backs fold up to hang as single berths.
Albemarle boats can be found up and down the East Coast, but they’re especially prevalent around the Carolinas and Florida. Prices for a 320 Express range from less than $100,000 for an early model to twice that for newer boats in good shape. A 2000 model in “excellent shape … turnkey” was offered in Florida for $215,000, with a custom tower with controls, full electronics (with color radar) and twin diesels. A twin-diesel 1999 model was for sale in North Carolina for $189,900, with recent major mechanical upgrades, fighting chair, transom door, tower with controls and electronics, teak-and-holly sole, air conditioning and heat and generator. Among the older boats, a 1993 model with flybridge in North Carolina was selling for $135,000, with twin “mechanic-maintained” gas engines, GPS/chart plotter, GPS/sounder and radar. In Florida a 1991 model — “just reduced … excellent condition” — was priced at $115,000, with twin 330-hp diesels, a flybridge with controls and electronics, fighting chair, outriggers, and rocket launchers.
Some 30 years ago, J. Scott Harrell Sr. was running a North Carolina dealership specializing in sportfishing boats. Business was good, with Albemarle Sound and CapeHatteras close by, but Harrell found he had one drag on his profits: the cost of getting his trade-ins back into shape for resale. The local anglers fished their boats hard, and the vessels just weren’t holding up to the rugged local conditions. So Harrell designed and built his own boat.
In 1978 he introduced a 24-foot fishing cuddy, and Albemarle Boats has been turning out vessels at its Edenton, N.C., shop ever since. Harrell followed with the 27 Express, another early success that gave the builder a solid reputation in the competitive market. The first 32-footer, a convertible, appeared in 1988 and eventually led to the creation of express boats in the same size range. The builder also helped popularize the jackshaft system linking a midships-mounted inboard with an outdrive.
Albemarle is part of the Brunswick Boating Group and today offers nine models of center console, express and convertible fishing boats from 24 to 41 feet.
LOA: 32 feet
BEAM: 11 feet
DRAFT: 3 feet
WEIGHT: 17,800 pounds
HULL TYPE: modified-vee
TANKAGE: 300 gallons fuel,30 gallons water
PROPULSION: twin gas or diesel inboards
BUILDER: Albemarle Boats, Edenton, N.C. Phone: (252) 482-7600. www.albemarleboats.com