A tale of two Tiaras

Barry Tranter | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 4

The Tiara 2900 Coronet is a distinctly American style of boat, with some solid engineering inside its gleaming gel coat.

There are two parts to this story, which has become a story of two Tiara 2900 Coronets. The first boat, a couple of months ago, was being handed over by Mike Gaffikin – of Mike Gaffikin Marine, Australian Tiara importers – to Australia’s best-known boatbuilder, Bill Barry-Cotter, the man behind Mariner, Riviera and now Maritimo. I was there to write a press release about Bill’s new boat. The first question – the obvious question – was why would the man who has spent his life building luxury cruisers, who could presumably build for himself any boat he wanted, buy an American-built weekender-style boat? A case of coals to Newcastle?

It turned out Bill wanted a smaller boat than the ones he builds, so he could moor it at the bottom of his garden on the Gold Coast. He would use it to commute between his Maritimo factories, with an occasional run offshore.

That press release wrote itself because it turned out that Bill was a long-time fan of Tiara engineering. Years ago, he had suggested to Mike that he (Mike) take up the Tiara dealership. Finally, in 2005, a number of factors fell into place and Mike did exactly that.

A cynic would point out that Mike and Bill are old mates and that this was an old mates’ deal. But it was Bill who pointed out – literally – the engineering features he liked; the features that had attracted him to Tiara years before. From a lifelong boatbuilder with the money and knowledge to have any boat, this is decent testimony.

The 2900 Coronet represents a style of boat the Americans have made their own. Styling is conservative and so is the engineering; a compliment in an era when engineering basics tend to get overlooked in favour of flashy gizmos. In the engine compartment, Mike shows us double-clamped hoses, aircraft-standard wiring and doubled engine mounts at the rear of the twin 5.7-litre petrol Crusader V8s.

The 2900 Coronet could probably be termed a weekend boat, but the accommodation is complete – in the forecabin is a vee berth (6ft 4in) with vee-infill to make a double bed. There is a fridge, sink, microwave, and fully-enclosed head with electric toilet and 75-litre holding tank.


The cockpit is an interesting place. The aft furniture is removeable if you want to go fishing. The seats are held in position by clever locking pins; press the central locking bit with your thumb and pull up the pin. Out comes the furniture. The cockpit sides are fully-lined: “This is a hose-out boat,” says Mike. This is confirmed by Norm, who runs a boat detailing company. Norm proves to be a great source of information; we will come back to him later.

When we arrive, the cockpit table is in position. This can be lowered to form a sun lounge or it can be removed completely as it, too, is located by those magic pins. Mike reckons Bill is now using them on the hatches of his offshore race boat. The furniture module includes an L-shaped lounge on the port side, helm seat and, behind the helm seat, a moulded wet-bar area.

You can specify coloured or white gelcoat. Norm reckons dark-coloured hulls have to be washed down after each outing. No doubt he’s right, but the classic dark hull colours – red on this boat, dark blue on Bill’s with a gold cove line – are worth the extra effort.

Another interesting detail concerns the bimini: when it’s up there’s a 160mm clear panel between the screen and the bimini’s leading edge, to get full headroom under the bimini. The panel can be removed on a hot day.

The Crusaders live beneath the raised floor of the boat’s centre section. Press a switch in the cockpit side and the whole centre section of floor and furniture hinges up. The injected Crusaders have 5.7 litres and 330hp each. They are based on GM blocks, with multi-port fuel injection. They are fully-marinised, including the exhaust manifold, says Mike, so everything is freshwater-cooled, including the exhaust manifold. I love it that the Americans still call these ‘small-block’ V8s. For ‘big-block’, you can to go to the optional 8.1-litre jobs (“Overkill,” says Mike). The diesel option is 230hp Volvos.

There are three bilge pumps – forward, aft and amidships. The automatic fire extinguisher is mounted on the aft bulkhead of the engine bay.

Akuna Bay is one of the world’s beauty spots, on an arm of the Hawkesbury River in Ku-ring-gai National Park, 40 minutes from Sydney’s CBD. These days you would have a snowdrop’s chance in Hell of building something similar, but if you are going to put a marina in a national park, this is the way to do it. It snuggles into a tight little cove, and as the access road curves around headlands each side of the cove, the marina is immediately lost to view.

Today is mid-winter and there are no waves and no wind; not a ripple on the surface anywhere. We will not find out today how the Coronet rides.

We drop the lines (led through holes in the deck to underdeck cleats, which look good and don’t snarl fishing lines) and idle out.


Conversation is easy all the way up the rev range. The factory sound readings, taken with the bimini down, show the decibel level hits 87dBA at 2500rpm, and at 4200rpm it has climbed to only 91.

Mike reckons the shafts are big and made of special stuff, and the props are balanced. Certainly there is no shaft vibration and no structural frequency vibration at any point in the rev range. The hydraulic boxes engage gear smoothly.

The hydraulic steering has terrific feel; it is very low-geared, which for some reason, seems appropriate for this solid boat. The slow response may contribute to the boat’s tendency to wander slightly at idling speeds.

The Crusaders punch the Coronet onto the plane so fast it barely registers. The props run in half-tunnels, and it makes a difference.

Open the throttle, up to speed, throttle back. That’s all it takes. The brochure lists the dry weight at 10,000lb or 4540kg – “2000lb more than its competitors,” says Mike with pride – and perhaps as a result of that the Coronet feels like a one-piece structure, hewn from a solid block. Norm has been offshore in the Coronet and reckons it handles well at sea. “A good length for the seas off Sydney and she never wants to broach running down-sea,” he says.

The trim tabs are recessed into the hull’s trailing edge so they don’t protrude. We were well down the river before it occurred to us to use them because with this sort of torque the hull doesn’t call for them. They worked fine.

She will cruise happily at whatever revs you dial up. The performance sheets show that, with four people on board, 3000rpm gives just over 33km/h, 4200rpm is 50km/h and top speed is up around 58km/h.

The boat has a 760-litre fuel capacity. Run at around 3000 revs you get a range of around 290km at 79 litres/hour.

This is an easy boat to like. At around $240,000 so it should be, but likeability does not come automatically with price – cheap boats can be desirable; expensive boats can be forgettable. So, who will buy this boat?

Mike says that local Tiara buyers have the boating experience to prefer sound engineering over the flash and splash of more superficial craft.

Good engineering translates to good seaworthiness; one of those old-fashioned qualities in danger of going out of fashion. A bit like self-reliance and commonsense. Seaworthiness is not quite the right word; this is a seamanlike boat.

Tiara can build boats of this style because the American market is so big it enables a builder to choose a niche and stick to it. In a world where buyers are more interested in a boat’s entertainment system than the fuel filters, Tiara build the boats they want to build.


Length: 9.63m (inc. swim platform)

Beam: 3.45m

Draught: 800mm

Dry weight (approx): 4540kg

Fuel: 757 litres

Water: 113 litres

Holding tank: 75.7 litres

Deadrise at transom: 19deg

Power: Two 5.7-litre, 330hp Crusader petrols

Base Price: (at A74c/US$1): $242,342 (incl. GST). The boat shown here is priced at $273,356.

Contact: Tiara Yachts Australia, d’Albora Marina, Akuna Bay, Sydney. Tel (02) 9450 1322.

Boat Test