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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Tiara 3600 Open

Not long after I’d topped off our 400-gallon composite fuel tank, I noticed the slip where I was supposed to dock our Tiara 3600 Open stern-to was configured a little differently. Instead of being perpendicular to the concrete bulkhead that constituted its inner end, the thing was angled toward the mouth of the fairway and the river beyond. If you’re old enough to remember diagonal, side-by-side parking for cars, you get the idea.

Anyway, I made my approach with a vague sense of uneasiness, mostly because I was going into what seemed like an oddball lash-up with an unfamiliar boat under conditions that weren’t ideal. While the breeze was light, the current was serious—I could see it stacking up against the outboard edges of some nearby pilings and setting quite sportily across the mouth of the slip. A salty-looking sales guy from Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group of Naples, Florida, the Tiara dealer that had made the 3600 available for a couple of days, strolled over to sit on a nearby dock box. He yawned, evincing the maddening composure of linehandlers the world over.

I gave him a smile. Then, to get a feel for the 3600’s maneuvering characteristics prior to actually maneuvering her, I stopped the boat short of my destination by pulling her big, silky Teleflex mechanical gear-shift levers into reverse, then returning them to neutral. The effect was smooth and satisfying: The boat simply paused politely, leaving me to wonder exactly what parameters might be at the bottom of such endearing behavior. Sweet balance? Big wheels? A deep gear ratio? Or some combination of all three? As the current pushed the boat ahead, I quickly discovered I could both restrain and play with the 3600 by simply bumping her clutches into and out of gear—a delightful and educational process, like dancing with a gifted partner.

“What a sweetheart!” I told myself, having rapidly achieved the confidence to cooly move on. Doing the necessary twin-screw pirouette at the mouth of the slip was pure, heart-gladdening fun, mostly thanks to the ergonomically savvy setup of the helm station, which let me face aft comfortably while working the dual-lever sticks. The 3600 slid into the slip with a precision that was as gratifying as it was impressive. “Ya’ make it look easy,” grinned the sales guy as he tossed a line into the cockpit.

I shut the mains down soon after—my dockside-examination time was limited. Once the dealership folks had finished stocking the 3600 with soda, ice, Willie Nelson CDs, and other traveling necessities, we were headed south for a slip at the Galleon Marina in Key West. I was anxious to sea trial the boat in open water, but I was also antsy to take a look at her engine room and interior.

I commenced with the engine room, accessed via a day hatch in the bridge deck between the helm and companion seats or by activating a set of electric rams that elevate the entire bridge deck on hinges.

I chose the latter arrangement, but found it a bit tight. To squeeze my 170-pound, 5’11” frame into the test boat’s machinery spaces, I had to first crawl in on all fours, rotate with care on a StarBoard entry step, and then, while keeping my head low, drop down between the engines while facing aft. “You can pull the pins on the actuators,” explained the sales guy, “which lets you swing the bridge deck farther back for more head room.”

Aspects of engineering I observed from my hard-fought vantage point were solid, although I was a bit surprised to see no soundbox for the Westerbeke genset, which was installed between the mains, under the StarBoard step. Serviceability under tight space constraints was the concern here, a Tiara rep explained by phone after the test. I liked what I could see of the twin gel-cell battery-bank system, however--two for engine start and three for house usage. Lots of battery firepower is always good. I was also pleased to see time-tested mufflers from Centek Industries—they’re popular with all sorts of boatbuilders these days—and big, 100-amp alternators.

I toured the interior while the dealership guys were winding up. With a queen-berth stateroom forward and everything else aft, including a dinette that converts to a double berth to starboard and a head and galley area opposite, the layout reminded me of other express-type cruisers I’ve tested over the years. Moreover, the fit and finish of the teak joinery throughout was precise, stowage spaces beneath the teak-and-holly sole were clean and smoothly gelcoated, and the galley was an eminently workable one, with Corian countertops and a long list of top-of-the-line mainstream standards.

Hitting the trail to Key West entailed transiting the busy Gordon River to get to the Gulf of Mexico. In some spots, I had to put the 3600 on plane to make time. In others, conditions dictated displacement speeds. While the boat ran smoothly between these modes, she evinced a problem I’ve seen in other express types with engines and fuel tanks well aft to boost interior space: Visibility forward while coming out of the hole was limited, making it occasionally difficult to keep tabs on PWCs in the channel. I noted another problem as well—our running lights were mounted on the bow pulpit. I say, put them on the radar arch, where they’ll be higher and easier to see.

Performance was excellent once we entered the Gulf, though. The ride was soft, dry, and speedy (average top hop: 39 mph) in modest, two- to three-foot seas. Sightlines were fine with the bow tabbed down, and the Teleflex steering was as silky-smooth as the engine controls. Additionally, our optional twin 380-hp Cummins diesels ran like rabbits: quiet, vibration-free, and, increasingly important these days, squeaky clean and fuel-efficient. With modern diesels evincing many of the same positive characteristics that once hallmarked only gasoline powerplants, today’s boat buyer simply has to consider them.

I completed my long-haul sea trial of Tiara’s 3600 Open with a certain symmetry. Backing into the slip at the Galleon was just as much fun—and just as easy—as backing into the slip in Naples.

“Nice-handlin’ boat,” I exclaimed at last. It’s a compliment I never use lightly.

Tiara Yachts
(616) 392-7163

This article originally appeared in the August 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.