As soon as I stepped aboard Pro-Line's 23 Express, I made a quick mental note: This is a surprisingly big 23-footer. I double-checked the boat's decal. Yeah, 23 Express. No mistake.
With 52 square feet of cockpit area and a cockpit depth of 25 inches, this single-outboard cabin boat provides the room anglers want and the safety families need. Pro-Line vice president Johnny Walker says this express, the smallest in a lineup that includes 29-, 32- and 35-footers, has "big-boat feel."
The Gulf of Mexico lay flat as a pancake griddle and almost as warm on the December day we ran out of Crystal River on Florida's west coast. About the roughest water we could muster was the wake we created running in circles.
The 23 took the wake in stride, of course, landing squarely and solidly, keeping spray away from the deck with its proud bow and broken sheer line.
Before the water calmed, I let the vessel rock in the swells and found a fairly short roll moment with moderate transitions. I trimmed the engines down and prepared to throttle up.
The 200 Mercury OptiMax surged quickly and punched the Express onto plane in about five seconds. Pro-Line allows for up to 300 hp on this transom, so a 250 might produce a bit peppier hole shot, if that's your goal.
A flat-out run proved so pleasurable on the calm seas that I took my time trimming up the engine to find a top end. At 5,600 rpm, we ran 43.2 mph, carrying a half-tank of fuel, two humans and our safety gear. At 3,500 rpm, we cruised at 24.2 mph.
Taking left and right turns at speed, we swapped directions in about one and a half boat lengths. Boat speed bled off promptly, and the hull slid comfortably in the turns.
The 23 Express spun responsively in reverse. At all forward speeds, the trim tabs (optional for the 23) evened out the ride immediately when a passenger shifted position.
The boat we ran featured the Express' state-of-the-industry, optional hardtop, fitted with a custom windshield through-bolted to the deck all the way around. The hardtop also provided four rod holders across the back for out-of-the-way rod storage.
The standard Express comes with one pair of in-gunwale holders and under-gunwale storage for six rods. Optional in-gunwale holders may be added.
Two ample 80-gallon, macerated fish boxes in the cockpit sole allow angling families to keep plenty of what they catch and keep it cold. An 18-gallon baitwell with raw-water washdown in the transom bulkhead holds enough liveys for some kite fishing or slow-trolling. A tuna door offers access for releasing or wiring bigger fish at the transom swim platform.
The boat we ran featured the Express' optional aft- and forward-facing bench seats - a real plus for families. The seats fold up quickly and cleanly to clear the decks when it's time to fish. Optional coaming pads around the cockpit give anglers comfortable stability at the gunwale.
Though the standard 23 features captains' chairs, our vessel came with a bench seat atop a large storage compartment. Anglers opting to stand beside the helm to watch the troll find a convenient handrail opposite the bench.
Moving toward the bow to deploy the anchor proved effortless for me, though the generous cabin headroom does whittle away space for much fancy footwork forward. Bottomfishing anglers will approve of the anchor roller and rode locker.
Design and Construction
Behind the cabin door, this 23 takes on even more big-boat feel. The V-berth sleeps two comfortably with a deck hatch and two portholes for ventilation.
Beneath the sleeping platform is a holder to anchor an optional table. In the aft starboard corner sits a Porta Potti, and in the port aft corner, a sink and storage space. All the elements combine to provide functionality and comfort.
At the waterline, this Express features the same construction as all of Pro-Line's hulls. Pro-Line carries National Marine Manufacturers Association certification and offers a 10-year transferable warranty.
The company builds its hulls using a knitted fabric of woven roven and chopped strands stitched together and bonded with a blend of ISO and GP resins. Pro-Line laminates the fiberglass foam-filled stringer system into the hull bottom and integrates it with the composite transom.
Pro-Line bonds the composite-core deck to the stringers with polyester bonding putty, using a calibrated gun that pre-mixes putty and catalyst. The hull and deck fasten together at the gunwale with stainless-steel screws every 6 to 8 inches and a stainless cap.
Options abound for this boat and include tilt steering, trim tabs with indicators, spreader lights and a hardtop with outriggers. Dress this boat up and take it anywhere.