It was an alluring sight—Tiara's Sovran 3600 express cruiser, parked in the shade of Walstrom Marine's vast boathouse in Harbor Springs, Michigan. I talked briefly with a couple of guys in the front office, then hurried down some steps, past The Boater's Lounge (which offers transients everything from showers to bookcases full of mysteries) and headed toward the test boat. The scene through the open end of the boathouse was postcard picturesque. Gorgeous, white-hulled sailing vessels bobbed in a jade-green anchorage off to the right. A guy in a red dinghy languidly rowed toward one of the little sloops, undoubtedly relishing his solitude as a couple of gulls cruised about.
I stopped at the stern of the 3600, the first of a series of freshly designed express cruisers Tiara will debut over the coming months. She was a pure, heartthrob beauty for three obvious reasons. First, her gelcoated exterior had a lustrous, flawlessly smooth appearance. Then there was the gutsy windshield-hardtop fusion, melding simplicity, composite-fiberglass brawniness, and the latest in automotive-style, flush-fit window technology into one dramatic, eye-catching statement. And finally, the swept-back, elliptical bowrails looked radiant even in the boathouse gloom—my eyes were repeatedly drawn to their sweep.
I stepped aboard via the swim platform, a huge affair (4'x13') with four padeyes for securing a dinghy. I scuffed the platform's surface with one of my Sperry deckshoes, the soles of which are wearing pretty smooth these days. Thunk! Tiara's diamond-pattern nonskid put the breaks on the ol' Sperrys like they'd just hit a glob of 3M 5200. "That you, Bill?" yelled Tiara rep Rob Everse from somewhere below decks.
We hit the trail soon enough, although halfway down the fairway I had to turn around and go back—I was using an extra laptop for the sea trial and I'd left it in my car. Later while coasting toward the mouth of the boathouse slip we'd just departed, preparatory to backing down, I cut a sly glance toward Everse, wondering if he was up for a little early-morning terror while I attempted to deal with a situation that often frustrates me: an inboard test boat equipped with gasoline powerplants and "split" engine controls (throttles on one side of the wheel and shifters on the other). If there's a good reason to install four sticks on a boat when the average Joe's got just two hands, I wanna know&mdasah;especially when the engines lack sufficient low-end torque to facilitate maneuvering with the shifts alone.
Surprise! Thanks primarily to a set of big, three-bladed wheels and a comparatively deep V-drive gear ratio (2.5:1), the 36 made my day (and Everse's, too, I suppose), swinging a sweet little arc in front of the slip and backing down with aplomb. All I had to do was center the wheel, mostly maneuver with the shifters, and tweak occasionally with the throttles. Was the gasoline inboard/split controls thing really that bad? Made me wonder.
Our sea trial was equally impressive. I recorded a respectable average top speed of 35.1 mph, a number that might have been a tad higher had Tiara's engineers seen fit to forego the prop/gear combo necessary for the dockside handling I'd just thoroughly enjoyed. The dashboard layout was savvy, too. With VDO gauges on top and a Raymarine plotter and other optional electronics just below, I could keep tabs on my instruments by shifting my eyes only slightly from the water ahead. Visibility over the bow was superb even while coming out of the hole, thanks to the large panels in the skiff-type windshield and the adjustability of the helm seat, which moved vertically as well as horizontally. Turns were smooth, with no prop blowout and little speed loss even in tight ones (a testament to fine tunnel design), acceleration was brisk, and the ride was silky-smooth in the two-footers that prevailed on test day. At the end of the trial, I had to squeeze the test boat into a slip that was well beyond the boathouse and fraught with a serious crosswind, as well as a dozen vulturish spectators. Again, a piece of cake.
My subsequent dockside examination of the 3600's machinery spaces produced nary a negative impression. Engine access is excellent. The whole lower cockpit sole tilts up on electric actuators, affording standing headroom over the mains and stoop headroom over the V-drives. Four fluorescent lights on the molded underside of the hatch provide lots of light even under darkened or shady conditions, engine access is great from every angle, and redundancy and long-term cruising capability are watchwords. Our test boat's electrical system, for example, featured six AGM batteries, two 50-amp Charles Marine battery chargers (one was optional), and two high-output, 100-amp Balmar alternators Tiara had swapped for the standard ones Crusader installs. Moreover, the Fireboy MA2-700 automatic fire-extinguishing system on the forward firewall was oversize, and the plenum boxes along the sides of the engine room were baffled and eductor-equipped to guarantee dry intake air.
I liked the interior of our 36 as much as I liked her handling and her machinery spaces. It features the perfect layout for a cruising couple, meaning an ample sleeping area forward (with pedestal berth and bulkhead) and plenty of living space abaft, with a full galley and a large head. Once again, redundancy and cruise capability were obvious. Both the master and the saloon/galley/dinette area are equipped with CO detectors and fire/smoke alarms, and the dinette seating area and the port-side lounge are both convertible for sleeping.
Everse and I finished up around midafternoon, turning the test boat over to a sales guy from Walstrom and a bunch of prospective customers. They were a cheery crowd, I must say. But then, shopping for new boat'll gladden the hearts of most folks I guess, especially when the boat's as solidly engineered, savvily designed, and flat-out beautiful as Tiara's new Sovran 3600.
Maxwell windlass w/helm control and footpads; VDO instrumentation; Teleflex engine controls; Ritchie compass; Isotherm refrigerator; 2-burner Force 10 cooktop; Emerson microwave oven; Panasonic SA-DM3 DVD home-theater sound system; 2/Sharp Aquos LCD TVs; Handcraft marinized innerspring mattress; VacuFlush MSD; 17.5-kW Kohler genset; 19,000-Btu Marine Air A/C; 50-amp Charles Marine C-Charger battery charger; 6-gal. Seaward water heater; 2/Shurflow Flojet water pumps; ARG-1250-S main-engine sea strainers; full bonding system w/Dynaplate and 8AWG wire; 100-amp high-output Balmar alternators; PYI P.S.S. shaft logs; 4/flourescent engine-room lights; Fireboy MA2-700 auto. fire-extinguishing system; Bennett trim tabs
ACR RCL 100 remote spotlight; Glendinning engine synchronizer; Reverso oil-change system; raw-water washdowns for anchor locker; macerator for MSD; teak-and-holly sole
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/385-hp Crusader 8.1 MPI gasoline inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 63 IV 2.5:1
- Props: 22x23 3-blade, nibral Federal EPX-300 (# 5 cup)
- Price as Tested: $308,900
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.