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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Tiara 3900 Convertible

It's all in the details.

After testing boats for more than five years, I've found it's that philosophy that makes the difference between okay, good, and exceptional vessels. And one builder I've noticed that is consistent in its attention to detail is Tiara. I've always been impressed with its helm layouts, clean wiring, and good performing, solid-fiberglass, modified-V hulls. But what impressed me most was Tiara's decision 12 months ago to hold back a boat it felt wasn't ready even though there were already orders and media inquiries about her. Seven or eight 3900 Convertibles—Tiara's first midsize convertible in about ten years—were already on order before Hull No. 1 was finished. However, when the builder launched that first boat, it felt that what Dan Springer, vice president of new product development, terms "finer handling points" were not what they should be and that more work was needed on the hull bottom. Springer adds that while Tiara could've modified the existing design, it decided to "start over from scratch" and develop a new hull bottom.

This kind of candor endears a builder to its owners, which explains why Tiara will build more than 400 boats this year. Springer says that even though the company wanted the 3900 to launch on its original date and provide its customers with the boats they'd ordered, Tiara wasn't going to give the public access to the boat until she was right.

So in July, about one year after the scheduled launch, I took a trip to Holland, Michigan, to get a first look at the new Hull No. 1 and test her. But before I ran the numbers, Springer offered me some wheel time. Our test site, Lake Michigan, was checkerboard-flat, and I firewalled the optional single-lever Glendinning electronic controls. The 3900 popped out of the hole and got up on plane in about seven seconds as the optional 575-hp Volvo Penta D9 diesels spooled up to a 2250 rpm cruise (the engines are rated at 2600 rpm). According to the onboard Raymarine GPS, we were making about 35 mph when I put the wheel hardover. Power-assisted Teleflex steering enabled me to carve a circle within her length with only a slight lean inboard and virtually no drop in rpm. Later I confirmed that cruise speed with my Stalker radar gun and also measured a top average speed of 39.5 mph. Overall, the 3900 performed well, although I'd like to see her run in some rough stuff since Tiara is billing this as an offshore, tournament-able vessel.

I also simulated backing down on a fish, suspecting that the proximity of the side-by-side in-deck fishboxes (33"x18"x13" and 691?2"x181?2"x13") to the door would surely mean water could get into them. But I could only manage a minimal amount of water through the well-secured transom door. While I wasn't going hardcore on the throttles, I still suspect that if you back down hard enough to bring water over her transom you'll get some in there. However, I was able to determine that Tiara's centralized scupper system, which has one in-deck grating on centerline aft in the cockpit, evacuated any water on deck in rapid fashion. Tournament anglers will appreciate this feature, along with several other ones.

For instance, my 3900 was equipped with an optional 48-gallon in-transom livewell and bait freezer forward to port in the cockpit, and a standard bait-prep center with sink. There is tackle stowage to starboard next to the door leading to the saloon. Four in-gunwale rod holders are standard, but if I were going to fish this boat seriously, I'd add two along the gunwales. My test boat was also rigged with a standard deck plate for a fighting chair and optional Rupp outriggers. Rod stowage is located in the guest stateroom.

One other thing anglers want, while not fishing-specific, is a solid windshield. Tiara offers an optional centerline 50"x38" window that brightens the saloon and galley and compliments the long side and large aft cockpit windows. However, if you're going to push this boat through some seas and weather, solid is the way to go.

As well equipped as the 3900 is for fishing, she's equally adept at entertaining for tournament lay days or cruising with the family. Immediately upon entering from the cockpit and to port there's an Ultraleather L-shape settee that faces more L-shape seating (also Ultraleather) in the dinette across, and both offer clean views of the standard 26-inch Sony flat-panel TV forward and to starboard. The seating was quite comfy, and I sat high enough to take in views through all the windows. (Regarding comfort, Tiara found that by mixing high- and low-density foam, you get a comfortable but not-so-soft-I'm-sinking-into-the-furniture feel.) The table for the dinette stows in the forward master stateroom's cedar-lined closet, allowing the settee to convert to a double berth. The port-side galley is down from the saloon and has a clean look with everything flush-fit, including the standard two-burner EuroKera cooktop. Access to the below-deck's and saloon's air conditioning units are through an in-sole hatch here.

The 3900's interior features her builder's familiar satin-finish teak throughout. After touring the Tiara factory later that day and watching employees doing the joiner work, I understood why the grain matching and clean corners were some of the best I've seen from a production builder. My test boat had the optional teak-and-holly sole; plain teak is standard.

The 3900's accommodations area is laid out as efficiently as her entertainment areas, with the aforementioned master forward having a double-size step-up berth. Just aft and to starboard is the guest stateroom with bunks. Everyone shares one head with a circular shower stall, just aft to port of the master. With 6'6" headroom throughout the saloon and below decks, the 3900 felt as spacious here as in her cockpit.

However, there were two places where I felt cramped. The first was the aforementioned flying bridge. I could manage my 5'7", 160-pound frame around the back of the helm seats against the hardtop piping, but it was tight, and trying to get between the seats was a no go. In addition, the seating in front of the helm, which accommodates four, doesn't provide a lot of room to stretch your legs. (My legs reached the front of the flying-bridge when they were extended.) I've been on several similar-size convertibles that have more legroom here.

But the toughest spot for me was the engine room. While regular maintenance points are inboard on the engines, which have 29 inches between them, outboard access required ducking and crawling, especially on the port side. The Racors and sea strainers are aft but also require ducking and stretching. And, the standard 11.5-kW Onan genset is all the way forward in a hushbox behind a bulkhead panel that must be removed for access. I couldn't see another place for the genset, but if it has to sit forward, I'd rather not have a panel in front of it so that routine maintenance would be easier.

Despite these space issues, I think Tiara has made a strong statement about its commitment to quality and to its return to the convertible market. The 3900 offers an impressive turn of speed, a long list of standard amenities, plenty of options, solid construction, and the ability to function as either a serious sportfisherman or a family cruiser. And most important, her builder has obviously done its homework and attended to the details to ensure buyers will be getting the best boat possible. And ultimately, that's what makes this boat worth her price.

Tiara Yachts
(616) 392-7163

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.