Capt. Bill Pike joins Tiara Yachts founder Leon Slikkers on board his brainchild, the Q44 Adventure Yacht, for a long, cool Lake Michigan boat ride.
I adjusted my duffel’s heft and studied my watch under one of Charlevoix, Michigan’s downtown streetlights—it was 4:45 in the morning. Off in the distance, the municipal marina seemed moonlit and empty, but as I got closer, I caught sight of a light, a faint one. Maybe it emanated from the vessel I was looking for—Tiara’s new Q44 Adventure Yacht? Maybe Leon Slikkers was already on board?
The latter possibility seemed unlikely, of course. After all, Slikkers is the legendary guy behind two of today’s most successful recreational marine companies, Tiara Yachts and Pursuit Boats. And, with nearly 70 years of boatbuilding experience under his belt, he’s also one of the most venerable recreational boatbuilders presently inhabiting the planet. Surely, he’d choose to sleep in a king-sized bed in a nearby hotel, not on board a 44-foot dayboat, no matter how luxurious.
I arrived at the stern of the Q44 just as Leon slid open the companionway hatch, allowing yellow light to flood the helm/lounge area. For a moment, he stood between both two-person helm seats looking around. I checked out his faded blue jeans, running shoes, and light jacket—the look was contemporary, blue-collarish, and about as far from corporate as a boat guy can get. “You’re up early, Bill,” he said, noticing me, “Come on—I’ll show you around.”
The short tour that followed served a couple of purposes. For starters, the belowdecks portion addressed the reorganization of a scissors-type island berth into two hullside lounges, as well as the stowage of a variety of personal items including sheets, a blanket, and some smartphone paraphernalia. But it also allowed me to peruse the Q44’s relatively simple interior layout, with its sleeping/lounging area forward, split head aft (shower compartment to port and MSD compartment to starboard), and cabinetry (with a microwave-equipped mini-galley and numerous lockers and drawers) in between. The place seemed compact, yet eminently overnightable and solidly, finely crafted.
“Spent eight days on board—we’ve been up around Drummond Island this past week … beautiful place,” Leon noted, by way of explaining the modest jumble, I guessed, as well as emphasizing his very own hands-on way of determining a new boat’s real-world positives and negatives, “and so far I’ve slept on the boat every night but one.”
The Q44 is, by all accounts, Leon’s baby. And the second half of our tour, which took place topside, showcased a design sensibility that’s as forward-leaning as the latest smartphone app. Leon may have been born in 1928, but his thinking is decidedly Twenty-First Century, not Twentieth.
“Lemme show you somethin’—sorta the key to the whole boat,” he said, flipping on the lights in the hardtop and then hitting a small toggle near the starboard helm seat. A cool zhoooop followed, taking me back to the sound the portals on the Enterprise used to make on Star Trek. “Push-button sliding doors,” he continued, “On either side of the helm area—they’re very quick and they make the boat so much more useful.”
After watching Leon play with the door a few more times, I strode across the bridgedeck and toggled the portside door a few times myself. A whiff of enlightenment quickly came through, borne upon the frigid (at least by a Florida boy’s standards) blasts the doors admitted each time they opened.
The push-button thing was key! Need an express-style layout for cool weather? Zhoooop the doors closed, maybe even fire up some Cruisair reverse-cycle heat. Want an open, walk-around, walk-through, single-level platform where outdoorsy fun on the water is paramount? Zhoooop the doors open—in a split second you’re in touch with two exterior (albeit wholly integrated) “social zones:” at the rear, an island-style, backyard-worthy, grill-topped galley (with a reversible transom sofa and immense, beachy, hydraulically actuated swim platform nearby) and, up forward, a comfy lounge area with wide side decks. There’s even an exterior ladder for fast access to the coach roof where a custom stowage system locks down bicycles (Leon still rides a custom bike a few thousand miles a year), kayaks, and paddleboards.
“Not everybody at Tiara agreed with the push-button concept and some of the dealers were wary,” Leon said, with a grin. “But I stuck with it—the boat had to have ’em. They’re what make the whole package work. They turn the design into what people want today, a genuine SUV on the water.”
The Younger Generation
Once the sun was up and we’d been joined by two more crew members—Leon’s grandson Alex and his Marketing Director David Glenn—I briefly examined the Q44’s engine room, which featured an ample cockpit-hatch entrance (with ladder); stoop headroom; lots of clearly labeled components (many expertly secured to vibration-nixing isolation mounts); and a set of long, balance-promoting, performance-enhancing jackshafts connecting a pair of 435-horsepower Volvo Penta D6 diesels with their IPS units. Maintenance access to these units seemed potentially inconvenient, by the by, since it consists of small hatches located farther aft, in the bottom of the boat’s large transom stowage compartment. At any rate, at about 7 o’clock, we hit the trail for Tiara’s homeport—Holland, Michigan—some 200 nautical miles south.
“I like the old-fashioned levers,” said Leon, using the binnacle-type engine control (as opposed to the Volvo Penta joystick) to work the Q44 out of her slip and into the midst of Round Lake, a well-heeled little body of water fringed with fabulous sun-washed homes. “I just prefer ’em.”
Thanks to the prevailing northerly zephyrs, conditions were a tad sporty as we entered Lake Michigan proper. In fact, due to the orientation of our route’s first leg, which took us past North and South Manitou Islands at a cruise speed of about 24 knots, we had 2- to 3-footers slapping our starboard side quite forcefully, a development that seemed to affect transverse stability hardly at all. Once we altered course to a more southerly direction, though, we had the seas behind us, which made for a mellifluous ride, all told.
“Want me to take over for a while, Grandpa?” Alex asked, as we swept past Sleeping Bear Dunes, rising all sandy-tan and chalky-white from the water’s edge. The question was an ancient, almost archetypal one, at least where boats and highly enthusiastic youngsters are concerned, and Leon promptly handed off the con to Alex, who seemed to greatly enjoy it, in part thanks to Volvo’s kick-back “joystick driving” option.
Not long after pulling out of Ludington, where we made a short stop to take on fuel and sample the excellent “Lake Perch Baskets” at the Sportsman’s Restaurant, I wrestled the helm away from Alex and did a little driving myself. Leon sat next to me, making an observation or two. It was midafternoon, warm (even by Florida standards), with light airs, and the lake’s cold water a deep and spectacular blue—both push-button doors were wide open.
“Boating’s changed a lot—just in the past five years,” Leon said, as I tightened the Q44 into a turn at an average top-end velocity of 32.9 knots, with minimal slide and no blowout. “You know—we like to call it day yachting. Staying on board overnight is less significant. Having fun, during the day, in a variety of ways, that’s what’s important now.”
“Yup,” I agreed, while carving a second, full-throttle turn, and then swooping into a third—the wind-in-the-hair openness of the boat was remarkable, exhilarating, “fun is a biggie these days.”
A couple of hours later, with evening coming on, I took advantage of a giant Taylor Made Clean Curve windshield, two sets of huge side windows, and the absence of a bulkhead aft, to maneuver the Q44 into the little marina Tiara maintains in Holland and then back her into a slip. Because the joystick is mounted atop her helm seat’s slightly protruding arm rest, I was able to finish the backdown while standing in the open doorway on the starboard side of the Q44, half outdoors and half in, looking aft along the vessel’s hullside while my right hand maneuvered the stick—I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed docking a boat as much or felt more in control while doing so.
“Hope you liked her, Bill,” Leon said, once we’d finished a short tie-up, “My goal was to build a rugged, easily managed, very useful, and contemporary Tiara.”
“I think you hit the nail on the head, Leon,” I replied, “and contemporary ain’t the half of it.”
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Noteworthy Options: Nautical Structures hydraulic swim platform with teak inlay ($57,935); teak decking, aft cockpit and walkway ($40,860); Med-style sunshades, fore and aft ($6,440); and hardtop toy storage system ($4,190)
Generator: 9-kW Cummins Onan, Warranty: hull is warranted for 5 years and accessories for 2 (both warranties are transferable)
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 64ºF; humidity 82%; seas: 1' or less; wind: variable, light.
Load During Boat Test
205 gal. fuel, 80 gal. water, 4 persons, 2,000 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/435-hp Volvo Penta IPS600s
- Transmission/Ratio: Volvo Penta IPS; 1.82:1 ratio
- Props: Volvo Penta T3 propset
- Price as Tested: Upon Request
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.