Tiara Yachts is gutsy when it comes to technology. The successful, family-owned company was the first in the United States to seriously venture into pod-type propulsion systems some years back, partnering with Volvo Penta to launch the first American-built powerboat with Volvo's revolutionary Inboard Performance System (IPS). And now Tiara's upping the ante yet again with the intro of a sleek, solidly-engineered, IPS-powered production vessel, the 3900 Sovran, with the same joystick control Volvo Penta demoed for dealers and members of the marine press at the Miami International Boat Show last year.
The Sovran's an open-water greyhound. I know because I had the exclusive opportunity to wring 'er out amid the islands of Lake Erie's west end, thanks to the folks at Lakeside Marine Group in Port Clinton, Ohio. Conditions were uproarious. Winds whooped at velocities approaching 20 knots, and brown foamy seas crested at six feet or thereabouts, with short, steep troughs in between. But the Sovran took it all in stride, turning in an average top speed of 38.7 mph in a comparatively flat patch of water we found behind Kelley's Island, accelerating like a rocket-propelled rabbit and producing a dry, true-tracking ride no matter which way I pushed her in the rough stuff, whether up sea, down sea, or side sea.
You couldn't beat the handling. Cornering was tight and solid, the IPS electric steering had a smooth, automotive feel, and the boat's lithe power and responsiveness instilled confidence, even while I barreled the Sovran straight into jagged six-footers off Catawba Island at 20 mph. Visibility from the electrically adjustable helm seat was superb, as the Sovran's windshield and side windows are immense.
Of course, all this grooviness was great, but it immediately took a backseat to the Sovran's dockside-maneuvering capabilities back at Lakeside's marina. I started the party by stopping the boat outside the breakwater, then hitting a push-button switch at the base of the joystick pedestal, thus boosting the maximum maneuvering revs of the Sovran's IPS units from 1200 to 1500 rpm—I figured I might need a bit more oomph considering the way the flags ashore were standing straight off their staffs.
Control was totally intuitive. I pushed the stick forward, the boat went forward. I pushed it astern, she went astern. I pushed it sideways, the boat went sideways. I rotated the knob at the top of the stick, the 3900 spun in the same direction. And as I continued to play around, adding subtle combinations and permutations to my growing joystick repertoire, the wind seemed to hold little sway over the power of the two IPS units vectoring beneath the hull.
Once I'd gained some joystick familiarity, I took the Sovran through the narrow opening in the breakwater, sidling sideways at one point to counteract a powerful set toward some rocks, arrived at our slip, pivoted the boat in her own length by rotating the joystick knob, and then slid her home, broadside to the zephyrs. Easy? The entire maneuver was so effortless and fun that an idea dawned on me: Why not give a local youngster a shot? I could do my dockside walk-through while we waited for school to let out!
"My son's eight years old," suggested Lakeside employee Brian McCune, catching fire with the concept. "Lemme make a phone call."
While awaiting Donnie McCune's arrival, I discovered a raft of nifty features onboard the Sovran, the niftiest of the lot being a midcabin area Tiara calls "The Theatre." Not only is the place lofty (with 4'5" sitting/stooping headroom), open to the bright, spacious saloon, and easy to enter, it's arranged in an exceptionally useable way, with two comfy, longitudinally configured sofas on either side (upholstered with French-stitched Ultraleather), a Majestic LCD TV solidly mounted in the aft bulkhead, and a Denon Surround Sound system nearby to add auditory pizzazz to your viewing pleasure. The existence of the theatre is attributable to the space savings compact IPS units engender.
Craftsmanship was another biggie. While the Sovran offers a conventional express-style interior layout with an island berth forward, head (with shower stall) and midcabin area aft, and saloon (with galley) in between, installation and finish is special. Drawers, for example, are crafted of solid, half-inch-thick oak with expertly dovetailed corners. The saloon sole is paved with real teak planks and holly strips—not imitation. And the aviation-style doors on the overhead cabinets in the saloon are fitted with high-end Blum articulated hinges, SpringLift gas shocks, and Lamp latches.
The engine room was the kicker. I entered after pushing a dashboard rocker that lifted an immense electro-hydraulically actuated cockpit hatch. It was cavernous, uncluttered (with 360-degree engine/drivetrain access), and easy to understand mechanically, thanks to the dearth of through-hulls and other complexities IPS facilitates. I admired the white-painted bilges of the resin-infused hull, the schematically laid-out wire and plumbing runs, and the array of Schedule 31 batteries neatly housed in high-end retainers to port.
Donnie appeared at three o'clock. And the way he subsequently took command of the 3900 Sovran's joystick after a little practice thoroughly validates my take on the vessel.
The Sovran 3900 is fast, seaworthy, and finely-finished, but her true forte's dockside maneuvering. Thanks to Volvo Penta's IPS joystick technology, it's child's play. Literally.
Maxwell windlass w/ rode, helm switch, and foot pedals; 5/Bomar s/s port lights; 2/Maxwell opening deck hatches; QL Marine trim tabs w/ EVC push-button monitor panel; Ritchie compass; Clarion AM/FM/CD stereo w/ amp, subwoofer, 4/speakers, iPod and MP3 ports, and remote; Denon media system w/ DVD/CD player, game ports, iPod and MP3 ports. 26" Majestic LCD TV; Corian countertop; saloon sofa w/ Sunbrella fabric; Panasonic microwave oven; Kenyon EuroKera cooktop; Nova Kool under-counter refrigerator/freezer; VacuFlush MSD; 80-amp Charles Industries battery charger; 25,000-Btu Marine Air A/C; Glendinning Cablemaster; 9.5-kW Onan genset; 3/2,000-gph Atwood bilge pumps w/ Sure Bail switches; Racor fuel-water separators
foredeck sunpad; 32,000-Btu Marine Air cockpit A/C; Raymarine electronics package (2/E-120 multifunction color displays, Ray 240 VHF, DSM Digital Sounder Module, ST8001 autopilot, and 4-kW open-array radar antenna); cockpit upholstery package
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/370-hp Volvo Penta IPS-500 diesel inboardstransmissions
- Transmission/Ratio: IPS 500/1.94:1
- Props: Volvo Penta T5
- Price as Tested: $568,930
This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.