A full moon, a 10-knot wind from the northeast and clear skies made getting up at 0300 worthwhile. Nothing in the world beats the beauty of a perfect night offshore.
I joined Capt. Tred Barta to try out his new twin-engine Albemarle 28 Express, Makaira. Leaving from Oakland's Marina at Shinnecock Inlet on the south shore of Long Island for a long ride out to the canyons takes careful planning in a 28-footer - especially when it's a father-son trip with small boys. But the planning was excellent, the conditions ideal and the boat more than up to the task. In fact, after running 188 nautical miles round-trip and trolling all day, we ended up spending three times as much for ice and bait ($270) as we did for our fuel ($87).
Nowhere does the Albemarle shine better than in a stiff head sea. Its sharp entry cuts into waves, throws spray down and out to the sides - and keeps on moving forward unfazed. Heading dead downwind, the 28 doesn't slow down at the back of a wave, but likes a quartering or beam sea better. Like other Albemarles, the 28 leans rather dramatically into turns. However, once you're used to this idiosyncrasy, you stop thinking about it and simply appreciate how sharply the boat turns and how smoothly it rides.
This Albemarle offers a unique power package for an offshore fishing boat, and it appears to be the most efficient of any boat I've ever tested: Twin 41-series Volvo Penta turbo diesels that the company rates at 200 hp each, coupled to jack shafts and stern-
drives. From an engineering standpoint, no propulsion system transfers thrust into the water as efficiently as a stern-drive. The jack shafts allow positioning the engines forward - to the center of the boat - for perfect weight distribution.
With full fuel and offshore gear and supplies for every contingency you can imagine, as well as four people - 5,800 pounds total - the boat hit a flat-water top speed of 30 knots (34.5 mph). Take off all the gear and the 28 Express will touch 32 knots.
The fact is, we ran a very long day and used very little fuel. Everyone still had enough room to nap, fish and play without getting bored and to stay safely aboard in all sea conditions.
At trolling speed, the stern-drives with underwater exhausts make very little noise compared with straight inboards or outboards. Add to that clean alleys in which to skip baits and a very stable platform in a beam sea, and you'll be glad to take your family offshore fishing with nary a qualm.
I find it hard to believe that a 28-foot boat can have a fighting chair in the cockpit and still provide enough room to move around and fish. An in-deck fish box offers plenty of room for offshore game fish, and the transom box can be used for smaller fish or ice management. When bottom fishing, we found it exceptionally easy to walk forward to the bow, even while holding a rod in one hand.
I don't mind admitting that I hate towers. The older I get, the more I dislike climbing up a heaving, wet metal ladder and crouching on my knees under a rail. However, Albemarle's tower allows you to enter the upper station completely upright, thanks to an open walk-through design.
And finally, for those who worry that stern-drives might cut your line, I believe they work infinitely better and more easily than outboards. Certainly they still have props protruding from the transom like an outboard does, but you don't have to deal with a large pair of powerheads sticking out as well.
Unfortunately, the tuna that had been running strong all week prior to our arrival totally shut down the day we fished. I was so glad to hear that it picked up again the day after we left!
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
Any naval architect will tell you that a smooth ride in rough seas ties directly to the weight of a boat. Heavier boats ride better in heavy seas. The Albemarle 28 won't qualify as obese, but neither can it be called a lightweight. Albemarle combines 24-ounce woven roving overlaid by 12 inches at all stress points, chines and keel and a marine plywood-cored transom to make the 28 solid as a rock.
Marine-grade plywood stringers encapsulated in glass, combined with engine beds covered with two additional layers of fiberglass composite mat, give superior structural stiffness. And remember that despite the marketing hype of some builders, nothing has ever proved to be a better core material than properly installed marine-grade plywood.
One of the few things I'd change can be found in the lazarette arrangement. To access batteries and fuel filters, you must lift out the removable centerline fish box. Since the boat has diesels, I'd much rather see the filters mounted in the engine room where you can change a dirty filter without having to take all your fish out of the box. Also, a 12-volt light in the lazarette would be very helpful, since working while holding a flashlight in your mouth can be awkward.
As you might expect on a 28-footer, the belowdecks area isn't spacious. However, the berths fit well, and the stand-up head functions fine in a sea. The boys had no problem sleeping and playing belowdecks while under way, and that more than proved the comfort level and utility of the living quarters.