tiara-3900-openBy Capt. Grant Rafter
The mold for the 3900 sat on the far side of the plant, a rust-colored shell wrapped in a scaffold, and in it was Hull No. 3 with its balsa core already enshrined in AME 6000 vinylester resin. A few hundred feet away, a group of female workers in Tyvec suits stood on the upturned deck of No. 3, spraying the flowcoat beneath florescent lighting.
I crossed the shop floor with Dave Walsh, Tiara's director of marketing, as he pointed out different departments that were all housed in the 800,000-square-foot facility in Holland, Michigan. "[From] metal fabrication to woodwork to looming," he enthused, "it's all done on-site." In-house fabrication heightens Tiara's control over components, he explained, such as certain deck hardware and most cabinetry, allowing the company better quality control.
We continued our peregrination through the plant, and in a few minutes were standing beside a finished saloon. It sat out on its own, as if it were a walk-through model on a showroom floor. Tiara enlists modular construction like this to both expedite manufacturing and keep quality uniform, as it allows technicians unfettered access to virtually everything. Such prefabrication also allows technicians to more easily check the integrity of all systems and examine the layout of their wiring and plumbing runs before access becomes trickier. It also cuts down on man-hours, according to Walsh.
A good example of the role this philosophy plays in Tiara's boatbuilding processes can be found in the preassembled panel that attaches to the forward engine-room bulkhead. Technicians can mount equipment like the Racor fuel-water separators and Fireboy fire-suppression system to it at the same time without interfering with each other's projects. Hull No. 1 had undergone this process a few months prior and was now nestled in her slip at the company's lakeside facility, a couple of miles down the road. As I examined her, I began to realize that this is a boat built for Americans who take their penchant for the outdoors to heart. The sunlight reflected off her windowless hull sides and optional integral hardtop—just two components of her sportfisherman-inspired styling. My test boat was equipped with the Fishing Package, which includes a pair of 28-foot Rupp outriggers, a transom baitwell, and a rocket launcher.
The 105-square-foot cockpit comes with two 651⁄4"x16"x151⁄4", insulated, split-hatch, flush-deck fishboxes. The aft bulwark held a starboard-side tuna door, which aligned perfectly with the corresponding fishbox. Tiara also opted for a flat transom, as opposed to its more common reverse design, which means there's less of a chance a taut line can rub against the gunwale. One place that the line might snag on the otherwise clean setup is on the oversized hinge for the gate—a recessed cuddle hinge that sits flush might be a better option. There was also a standard 21"x21" aluminum backing plate laminated to the underside of the sole in case a serious angler decides to mount a fighting chair.
The highlight of the cockpit for me, however, was not its fishing capabilities, but rather the alfresco relaxation area provided by its mezzanine seating. Both the molded parts and the seat cushions are manufactured in-house, and it was as comfortable as it looks (see photo on page 85). The best part? There's stowage in the footrest, under the seat, and behind the backrest, each with a door that each opens on a gas-assisted strut.
The 3900's designers aimed not only to keep the outdoorsy feel but also to protect everyone onboard from the elements; to accomplish this delicate balance they focused on using lots of clear acrylic to boost natural lighting. The windshield has a single centerline mullion and two unobtrusive outboard mullions, leaving sightlines to each side clear. Above it are two small opening ports that did a fine job of cooling the helm area while underway (a 32,000-Btu helm-area air conditioner is an option).
One thing that surprised me was the aforementioned lack of hull-side ports: our boat's saloon, head, and stateroom had fully 'glassed walls. Below-deck windows are optional—Hull No. 2 has them in all the aforementioned locations—but the natural illumination was plentiful enough due to a wide companionway, a 22"x201⁄2" deck hatch in the saloon, and a 781⁄2"x171⁄2" flush-deck window with an integrated emergency hatch in the stateroom. All come with shades and screens (see "Companionway Doors" this story) for added protection. However, the latches—both the magnetic ones topside and the plastic ones on the cabinetry below—seemed insufficient: The magnetic ones popped open when we hit a big wave and I had a difficult time latching them. I prefer to see sturdier elbow-style catches. I also found no emergency fuel shutoff; the only way to cut fuel flow between the tank and Racors is to twist four ball valves in the lazarrette. And finally the stateroom pocket door and shower door both rattled underway.
Yet our sea trial on Lake Michigan reinforced my feeling that fine products continue to be built on U.S. soil. Our 3900 glided over the one- to three-foot chop without a single hard landing. Her acceleration was exceptional, reaching 30 mph less than 15 seconds after I flattened the throttles, and although her trim angle hit eight degrees as she passed through 2250 rpm, I suspect that was exacerbated by the empty water and 222-gallon secondary fuel tank, both forward. I set the engines back to 2250 rpm to test my theory, and the 3900 stayed on plane. With go-big-or-go-home zeal, I cut a hard turn to port. She promptly and smoothly healed into the turn, making tight two to three boat-length circles—impressive cornering at 27 mph in the chop.
My boat did not have the optional 8-hp bow thruster, but as it turned out, it wasn't necessary. At slow speeds the response of the Cummins electronic controls was immediate yet smooth, and precise enough that a single bump moved her gently a foot or two each time.
After the test I took a slow drive through Holland, Michigan, Tiara's home base. Besides Tiara, Holland's home to furniture makers, metal fabricators, and car-dashboard craftsman. Holland's even got the world's biggest pickle factory. But the city is about more than manufacturing; its Rockwellian downtown, with sweet shops and pizza parlors, is reminiscent of an Andy Hardy film, a modern reflection of the classic blue-collar suburban dream. And the 3900 is part of that American tradition; she's a boat the workers are proud of—fun to drive, smartly engineered, and comfortable. She may be built in the heartland, but she's ready for the sea.
For more information on Tiara Yachts, including contact information, click here.
Keeping the 3900's open feel was important to Tiara. That's one of the reasons it opted for a translucent pocket-style hatch in the companionway. But what happens when you want to let the breeze circulate through the boat but don't want mosquitoes and the like to bother you? Well, Tiara added another hatch on a track behind the first one, and this covering is inset with mesh to keep dusk's flying pests at bay. There's also a privacy screen that you can slide into place when it's time for bed.
The pocket style of the hatch takes up less space then a conventional saloon-style doors. It's made in-house at Tiara's plant out of 1⁄2"-thick acrylic plastic that should hold up through years of use.—G.R.
This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.