Photography by Billy Black
Out With the New
A test of the True North 34 proves that while propulsion packages may change, good design is timeless.
Sitting in her slip tightly packed among the rows and rows of new boats at the Annapolis Power Boat Show was the red-hot True North 34. The boat’s handsome profile, with its plumb bow, sweeping sheerline and reverse transom, stood out from the crowd.
But this particular True North was different than any other True North. It had a pair of Yamaha 250s hanging on her transom, replacing the 370-horsepower inboard diesel that’s typically been the standard. Having already made the jump from a diesel-powered boat to one with outboards for my personal use, I couldn’t wait to see how these 4-strokes would compare to the original, inboard-powered model.
A meaningful review of this new model requires a brief look back at True North’s history. Originally introduced as the True North 33 in 2003 when Mark Pearson was running the marine division of TPI Composites in Warren, Rhode Island, it was the smaller sibling of the True North 38 first launched in September of 2001. Both models were capable, distinctive-looking coastal cruisers inspired by the New England lobster boat. The series won acclaim for its no-nonsense approach to boating. Good rough-water performance, high-quality construction, and a nod to simplicity were its main attributes. Complex systems, exterior brightwork and other high-maintenance items were discouraged and available only if demanded by the customer. Eventually modifications were made to the transom of the 33, making it a 34.
While the brand enjoyed a good measure of success for the first half of the decade, the economic downturn that followed couldn’t have come at a worse time. After a series of different corporate owners, name changes, and management shakeups, Pearson left to make his mark in other industries.
Eventually US Watercraft, LLC, acquired the assets of the Pearson Marine Group, which in its heyday was building True North boats, the Alerion Express sailboats, and several J/Boat models. The new company has continued to build the Alerion line, and after recently acquiring C&C sailboats, it has introduced two new, high-performance racing models. It also builds the North Rip 21, a center console fishing boat. Manufacturing continues in the same 250,000-square-foot facility that housed TPI in Warren.
Production of the True North series had come to a halt during this time of corporate transition, but as a new company began to emerge, it brought in a design team to help give this once-popular product line a facelift. The True North 38 went back into production, development of an all-new 50-footer is continuing, and the True North 34 Outboard Express was born. Hull number one—in some respects a prototype—was introduced in the fall of 2014.
US Watercraft continues to utilize the SCRIMP process that fiberglass pioneer Everett Pearson (Mark’s father) helped develop and promote. This resin-transfer system uses a vacuum to pull resin through layers of dry fiberglass fabric, eliminating voids and reducing the amount of resin used—thereby reducing weight. As a result, hulls built this way are generally lighter and often stronger than conventionally built fiberglass hulls. An added benefit is that the process prevents the evaporation of the resin’s volatile components into the atmosphere. A 3/4-inch balsa core is used in the hull, deck, and some of the interior components of the Outboard Express. To prevent water penetration, the core is totally saturated with resin, and in areas where deck hardware or through-hulls are fitted, a high-density polyurethane material is substituted for balsa.
To minimize maintenance there is no exterior wood trim, unless requested. While there is enough interior brightwork to satisfy the traditionalist, the artful use of composite materials is not only attractive, but also resistant to wear and tear. Active families will appreciate this boat for what it has, and also for what it doesn’t have.
As noted earlier, the new Outboard Express follows the True North “back to basics” formula inspired by New England’s working lobster boats. The open back design creates an expansive living area on one level. An L-shaped settee that seats 3 to 4 is to port facing a small, triangular table. The settee is long enough to serve as a single berth. A small galley to starboard has just the basics—a sink, one-burner cooktop, and refrigerator. Forward of the galley, the helm features a curved, raised dash where a 10-inch MFD, autopilot, and engine instruments are installed. Easy-to-reach rocker switches control key electrical accessories, and the entire dash pivots forward for access to the boat’s electrics—a smart, practical feature.
Another nice touch is the specially designed helm chair with a swing back seat that converts to a leaning post—ideal for running the boat from a standing position. When seated, there is a flip-down teak footrest. Overall, the visibility fore and aft is excellent, the middle section of the front windshield opens for ventilation, and all three sections are equipped with two-speed wipers. To port, an extra-wide copilot seat rotates 180 degrees to provide aft-facing seating if desired. For improved visibility when seated on the settee, the cabin sides have been fitted with two longitudinal fixed windows below the main side windows. With a large opening hatch overhead, and an attractive white-ribbed, composite ceiling with just the right amount of teak trim, the saloon is bright and airy. A cherry interior can be substituted for teak.
Two steps below, the stateroom has a V-berth, a hanging locker to starboard, and a head with a shower to port. This particular boat had a small microwave oven mounted on top of the locker—a rather odd location for a microwave. I think space for it might be found on the helm deck where it would be more convenient. Below the main cabin sole where the engine would be on the diesel version is a large stowage area with an optional ($13,525) 4.2-kilowatt generator, but little else. Interestingly, the generator is diesel powered for safety and uses a separate 10-gallon, diesel fuel tank. This boat is essentially a prototype; so much can be done to improve the use of this found space. Slatted teak floorboards, shelves with storage bins, and perhaps a freezer compartment come to mind.
The interior finish is well done, elegant in its simplicity and likely to be a breeze to clean. While the absence of a back bulkhead in the helm-deck area creates a sense of added space and easy movement to and from the cockpit, a hardback enclosure is available as a $15,000 option. Add a heating system, and the hardback model would be an ideal boat for the Pacific Northwest.
The spacious cockpit has built-in seating across its aft end. Other details, such as seating that faces aft and improved access to the outboard engine well and swim platform, were still being worked out at the time of my test. A side boarding door is an $8,200 option, which could be worthwhile since access to and from the swim platform is restricted by the outboards. A handy stowage locker located under the cockpit sole is large enough to fit kayak paddles athwartships, and other options like a scuba-tank rack, built-in dive compressor, rod holders, and a livewell are available to fit the particular needs of cruisers, fishermen, or scuba enthusiasts.
The side decks are wide enough for easy access to the bow, and handrails along the low-profile cabin roof are well within reach. In fact, the low profile makes it easy to stow kayaks or a small inflatable on the roof. For aesthetic reasons, the standard boat does not include safety rails leading to the bow, but two different railing options are available that would make it safer to move forward. The cockpit sole and decks feature an effective, molded nonskid pattern, although teak decking in the cockpit is an option. Additionally, for those who don’t mind the expense and work of maintaining exterior teak, varnished-teak coaming pads around the cockpit are available for a more “yachty” look.
Performance? First, let’s consider how the boat ran as originally designed with its 370-horsepower diesel engine. According to the builder, top speed was 25 knots, and high cruise was 22 knots. At the latter speed, fuel consumption was 15.3 gph, resulting in 1.43 nmpg. For a couple extra knots, a 435-horsepower engine is an option, and fuel burn at 24 knots is 16.3 gph. More importantly for a boat designed for coastal cruising, her range at cruising speeds is roughly 230 nautical miles with the standard diesel and 180-gallon fuel tank—assuming a 10-percent reserve. Obviously, this is not a long-range cruiser, but it can still make the offshore run between Montauk, New York, and Cape May, New Jersey—one of my non-scientific qualifiers for making my short list of capable cruisers.
A big argument for inboard diesel power over gas outboards is, of course, fuel efficiency, and a look at the accompanying test data shows how this performance is affected when those 500 horses are strapped to the transom. At a cruising speed of 24 knots, the Outboard Express burns a little over 22 gph, resulting in 1.09 nmpg. Compared to the 435-horsepower diesel, this equates to a 33 percent increase in fuel burn. To compensate for this lower efficiency, the outboard model has been fitted with a 300-gallon fuel tank, which will give the boat a safe range of 288 nautical miles at 24 knots. Slow down to a comfortable 20 knots, and the range is nearly 350 nautical miles.
There’s more to performance than fuel efficiency, and when it comes to top speed these outboards win hands down. On a choppy, windy day we were able to achieve 36.7 knots at WOT while turning 5700 rpm. Whether this is an appropriate, comfortable speed for this boat is debatable, as its hull was originally designed for an ideal speed range in the mid-20s. But when the seas are flat, speeds in excess of 35 knots can be safely achieved—although at the cost of burning up to 49 gph. Since this hull seems to have a sweet spot when running in the 22- to 24-knot range, I wonder if 200-horsepower outboards would make more sense. Yamaha’s specifications indicate their 200s burn considerably less fuel than their 250s, and I would think a total of 400 horsepower would be more than sufficient. Horsepower is horsepower, and since the 370-horsepower inboard diesel does a good job of driving this boat, so would 400 outboard horses.
One of the arguments favoring outboards is their low noise levels. When underway the Outboard Express is especially quiet and vibration free. Considering there is no solid bulkhead separating the main cabin from where the engines sit, sound levels at the helm are still quite low (the highest sound reading of 80 decibels was measured at WOT). Based on the experiences of running other boats with similar outboard power, the hardback version would surely provide an even quieter ride with the door closed. I would guess that at idle speed, the engines could barely be heard at all. An additional argument for choosing outboards over an inboard is the ability to raise the engines to reduce draft when exploring shallow areas, as well as raising them completely when docked to keep the props free from marine growth.
Our test boat incorporated a SeaStar Solutions Optimus360 Joystick Controller to help maneuver in tight quarters. While this takes a little time to get used to, it works well enough to obviate the need for a bow thruster. It would be interesting to have the factory price the boat both ways—joystick without thruster or thruster without joystick. Overall, the True North hull form has proven itself to be an impressive performer in rough conditions, often being able to proceed in steep head seas when others run for cover. Making speeds in the mid-20s, she turns sharply without heeling a lot and communicates a sense of overall confidence to the helmsman. This is one solid boat.
The True North Outboard Express is a great variation on an already proven theme. The dependability and quietness of today’s 4-strokes make a good argument for considering them over traditional diesel-inboard power. And the ability to raise the engines for beaching or when not in use makes the argument for switching to outboards even stronger. In this case, however, I think 200-horsepower engines might be a better choice than 250s. I would like to see the factory run the numbers and offer them as an option.
Assuming the folks at US Watercraft can figure out how best to utilize the space gained in the original engine room, and how best to arrange the cockpit seating/stowage, the Outboard Express will make an ideal platform for cruising, fishing, or diving. Her premium price puts it in some rarified company, and only time will tell how she will compete in this upmarket league.
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Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 60°F; humidity: 50%; seas: 2'
Load During Boat Test
225 gal. fuel, 64 gal. water, 3 persons, 300 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/250-hpYamaha F250X outboards
- Props: 15x15¾ 3-blade aluminum
- Price as Tested: $457,411
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.