Boat Review February 2006 Issue

Tartan 3400

Treading a fine line between speed and comfort, Tim Jackett’s new 34-footer takes advantage of an epoxy hull and carbon spars

Honoring tradition while maximizing technology might seem like a contradiction, but the Tartan 3400 makes it seem elegant, intelligent, and a good way to go. Tartan Yachts started in 1960 with Sparkman & Stephens’ first design in fiberglass (the Tartan 27). By virtue of her up-to-the-instant innovations in design, production, and outfitting, Tim Jackett’s latest creation puts much more emphasis on the future than the past. A modern “dual-purpose” boat, she is geared to be cruised comfortably yet still be at home on the race course. She has an oven-cured epoxy hull, tapered carbon spar, innovative carbon boom, a self-tacking jib, and a good bit more. She is thus set well apart from most of the others in her size and price range. There are certainly 34-footers that you might sail away for less, but we found that her capabilities, quality, and character made the T3400 a value worth exploring.

In about 10 knots of breeze, the Tartan 3400 cuts a fine figure under the pull of an asymmetrical spinnaker.

Charlie Britton founded Tartan Yachts. He was the type of guy who, while stationed on a destroyer based in Japan, had a 42- foot yawl built. When he was discharged he sailed her home and, before long, jumped into the boating business. This was the late 1950s and designer Sandy Douglas and builder Ray McLeod (Highlander, Thistles, etc.) from Britton’s native Ohio were looking to get into fiberglass. Britton was looking to invest. The Scotsmen (thus “Tartan”) and Britton collaborated and the new company was born.

 

The first boat they built was the Tartan 27. Designed by Sparkman & Stephens (Bill Shaw, best known subsequently as president of Pearson Yachts, was the project manager) the “small but capable auxiliary” was envisioned as “at best a 5- to 10-boat proposition.” She went on to sell over 700 before she was retired in 1976. The sailing and sea-keeping qualities that made S & S pre-eminent, plus the affordability and maintenance benefits of fiberglass were a big part of that appeal. She also had a certain “shippy” appearance that was neither “endy” nor “Clorox bottle” and set her apart from other pioneering production boats of her day.

Tartan built plants at Grand River, Ohio and Hamlet, North Carolina and, at one point in the early 1980s, was producing a boat every 4 days. Over the years there have been 29 models. Most were — like the 27 — centerboarders; cruising ease and shallow draft continue to be prime concerns. The 3400 is available with either deep fin, shoal keel or centerboard. The latter harkens back to the days of the Cruising Club of America rating rule, when boats like the famous S&S design Finisterre were considered “rule-beaters.”

It is legend that Britton once fired a pistol at a Tartan to show that his boats were “bulletproof.” Fact or fiction, the anecdote spotlights the emphasis Tartan has long placed on quality construction. Extended production runs of relatively classic designs (like the 30, 602 built; the 37, 546 built; and the 34, nearly 1,000 built) indicate owners were satisfied with how their boats held up. There have been big Tartans (48 feet) and small (Tartan Ten) but the company’s greatest success over the years has been in auxiliaries at and around 30 feet. “I really like small boats,” says in-house designer and CEO Tim Jackett. “Fighting to get an ounce of performance or an inch of liveability in a boat where they genuinely matter makes me feel like I’m really doing my job.”

Jackett came to work on the floor of the plant in 1974. He has been there ever since. Britton, however, sold his interest in 1983. For a while, owners came and went until a new group, Polk Industries, bought Tartan and moved it to its current location. There, in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, with Jackett in charge, the new company (Fairport Yachts) builds both Tartans and a new line of C & Cs. We asked Jackett about the tug-of-war between his cruisey Tartans and the racy C & Cs.

“Obviously, different purposes produce different boats. With a C & C, for instance, you can anticipate a good-sized group of live bodies to be deployed on the weather rail when you need stability. A Tartan should stand on her feet without live ballast so that she can be cruised by a couple. But mostly I find that being immersed in the construction and performance technology at the racing end gives us lots of opportunities to build better cruising boats.”

The Design
There’s nothing all that new about the idea: marry a large, controllable mainsail with an efficient self-tacking jib and you can get not only easy sail-handling (no genny to wrestle) but good performance. “Optimum performance with minimum hassle” is how Tartan outlines the objective. We applaud the attempt to break beyond the tyranny of the overlapping headsail, and we were anxious to see how Jackett and company managed it.

To begin, the jib is tall, nearly masthead. This 15/16 arrangement provides maximum leading edge. The greatest amount of lift is generated in the forward part of the sail, so the longer the leading edge the greater the lift. The jib is small but efficient. Second, the mast is tapered. The double-spreader carbon spar is thus lighter, cleaner, and more controllable than a conventional aluminum extrusion.

Full battens are used in the mainsail. We didn’t work enough with the battens’ custom-engineered slide/glide feeding system to determine whether the sail will always go up and come down without much friction, but the approach looks promising.

Finally there’s the boom, a unique sail-gathering spar. Other than some (probably neglible) endplate turbulence that might prevent airflow from passing from the windward to the leeward side of the main, the boom plays little role in the boat’s performance. Drop the main into its accommodating bin at the top of the boom, however, and you begin to appreciate the boom’s convenience. The v-shaped trough gobbles up the loose main. Zip up the integral sail cover and you’re free of furling and buttoned up.

The optional “Q”-sail — a lightweight roller-furling reacher — adds tremendous horsepower and remarkable versatility. Simple as a cruising chute, removable as a furling jib, these reachers are sailor-friendly yet mega-powerful. And they can be carried close to the breeze and well up in the wind range. We drifted about for a while in winds under two knots during our test sail. The self-tacker was an annoyance, but after setting the reacher we began to burble along quite purposefully. To make the T3400 performance package complete, we strongly recommend a reacher.

Below the water, Jackett applies the same “lead” or difference between the center of pressure of the rig and the center of buoyancy of the underbody on all of his boats. “I also use the same formula to relate the size of the rudder and the amount of sail area,” he said. “Every designer has ‘comfort zones’ like these that help the process, so that you know what you’re getting.” A third “comfort zone” is the underwater foils. While the rudder is elliptical and well aft (for maximum steering leverage) the T3400 keel/centerboard isn’t much different than the one on the T-27; the Beavertail (shoal draft) was developed over a decade ago. Jackett is seemingly reluctant to saddle his cruising boat with a low-wetted surface foil, so even the 6’6” bulbed fin is relatively conservative. With planning and attention to the stub design, however, Tartan has engineered a threesome of keels that are truly interchangeable. We wonder why or when we’d do it, but it’s nice to know that you can.

Designing a hull with the displacement to support serious cruising, the stability to stand on her own, and the slipperiness to be at her best in good sailing breezes completes the challenge. Jackett recognizes the need for a certain amount of volume, and where you put that volume has a lot to do with the kind of boat you’re going to get.

“My boats are balanced in the ends,” says Jackett. “You can’t distort the shape by putting too much or too little in any one spot. I try to distribute volume so that a boat will stay on her lines. The shape of the sections is critical. My boats heel like a barrel, not like a triangle.”

Like most modern boats, the 3400 is beamy aft (for sail-carrying and a higher prismatic coefficient to improve top-end performance) and fine forward (for upwind efficiency and seakeeping). Few designers, however, have Jackett’s years of experience refining that archetype.

From the beginning, Tartans have looked salty and right. The 3400 is hardly your grandfather’s dual purpose boat, but she has a traditional air. Her portlights are purposeful and practical. Her sheer is noticeable. Her ends are less plumb than the boats around her. Her cabintop is squared-off. She has a teak toe-rail. You might almost say that her look is closer to the T-27’s than it is to most modern performance cruisers.

Accommodation
The boat’s two sleeping areas are as far apart as practicable, and that affords maximum privacy. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the living area is the stand-alone sink to port of the companionway. Look at it a second time and you’ll see that it makes the galley ideal for bracing while cooking at sea, yet it leaves a very generous space for making meals while the boat is sitting upright. Although you lose the counter space adjacent to the sink, a fold-out or drop-in cutting board would resolve this. Like the rest of the interior, the conspicuous deck support pole is cherry. A white overhead accented with cherry battens brightens the area belowdecks, but we found the wooden ceiling strips forward of the settees a bit gloomy and depressing.

 

From the double-deep drawers beneath the aft berth to the double hatches providing ventilation in the forecabin, thought, ingenuity, and a commitment to comfort are in evidence. We liked the positive closing latches on all the lockers, the well-placed overhead lighting, the standard fan in the aftercabin, and the separate sump with its own pump for grey water in the bilge. The side-opening fridge still gives us pause, the elbow room in the head was minimal, the chart table wasn’t as big as we’d like, and fiddles generally were too low for serious stowage. The electrical panel got high marks, the noise level below was better than average, and legroom in the saloon was more than enough for a six-footer. Few production 34-footers that we have known offer as many positives.

Performance
Needless to say, the light, puffy winds for our test sail hindered our evaluation. With a lightweight reaching sail, the bow and stern began to push apart, and the speedo began to register.

When we switched to the working jib she tacked through 100 degrees in the slow stuff. Maybe we were grasping, but it felt as though she had the sort of mix of carry and acceleration that makes a boat responsive. Compared with other boats that we’ve lolled around in airless doldrums, she never lost steerage, always maintained a wake and proved poised to do much better when the breeze filled in.

When at last the wind decided to cooperate (still blowing less than 10 knots), we were already legging for home with the reacher up again. The final minutes of healthy boatspeed, even downwind (with an apparent wind angle of at least 160 degrees), were minor rewards for all our mast-scratching and wayward whistling, and they convinced us that the 3400 is more than likely capable of delivering on the promises that her designer and builders make.

Although we’re wary of saildrives for cruising, the Yanmar unit excelled at what saildrives do best. It ran quiet. We noticed, however, that the distance between the propeller and the rudder produced a mysterious lag time in prop wash when we tried some turns around a mooring buoy. Engine access was much better, we felt, than it is on many conventional inboards. Speed was good (over six knots at three-quarter throttle) and the controls were crisp.

Conclusions
There are lots of things about the T3400 that make sense. Bringing quality construction and race-honed design into the world of the weekender and the club racer is an excellent, worthwhile goal. For the most part, Tim Jackett and Tartan seem to have succeeded.

Exterior wood is used on Tartans, as it always has been, as a traditional aesthetic element. What has become of the perforated aluminum toerail? Sure, it’s not as pretty, but how much more functional and labor-saving is it than teak? And it was C & C, don’t forget, that made it an icon several generations ago. Lots of people love exterior wood. But for pure functionality, aluminum makes better sense.

Were she built and rigged conventionally, the T3400 would be a smaller, heavier, slower, more unwieldy boat. Jackett was able to accomplish the positives that he has by drawing on decades of design experience on the one hand and orchestrating significant production innovations and improvements on the other. We wish that he’d make his fiddles taller and his nav tables bigger, but, aside from that, “Well done!”

 

Also With This Article
"Hits and Misses"
"Tartan 3400 In Context"
"Construction Details"
"Rig Refinements"

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