Tom Slikkers has been around new boats since he was 13 years old and working for his father, Leon, who founded S2 Yachts. Today, Slikkers is CEO of the company, whose brands include Tiara Yachts.
What he sees happening with the new Tiara 48 LS is far beyond the norm. “I’ve launched a lot of boats in my life, and I’ve seen some pretty successful launches. But I don’t think I’ve seen a boat this large that’s been quite so exciting, ever in my career,” he says. “The combination of the features, the way the boat looks, the performance, the new engines, and just the way the whole thing got packaged together, it’s been impressive.”
The Tiara 48 LS is one of several new models from Midwest builders that comprise a new breed of family cruising boat: a hybrid design that pairs the outdoor amenities of a dayboat with the overnight accommodations of a weekend cruiser. While boats with similar design elements have been available for a number of years, today’s versions are bigger, more luxurious and seriously powerful. The Cruisers Yachts 42 GLS is the biggest boat of its kind that Cruisers has ever produced, and the Tiara was built specifically to run with Mercury Marine’s new 600-hp Verado outboards—an engine package that’s also available on the new Formula 500 SSC.
These hybrid designs are the marine versions of SUVs, offering a little something for everyone. A boater who wants to go fast has a hammer he can drop. A boater with young kids has an air-conditioned cabin where they can nap. A boater who wants to entertain has a deck full of features for lunch, cocktail hour or dinner. A boater who wants to cruise for a long weekend with a spouse has the comfort of a real stateroom.
“It’s just a melting pot of everything we’ve been successful with. We’ve put all of those features together in one type of cruiser,” says John Adams, the exclusive designer of Formula Boats. “What we’ve done, and what other manufacturers are trying to do, is create a boat that can really appeal to a lot of different lifestyles in boating, but not compromise in any direction.”
Tiara 48 LS
When Slikkers thinks about the hot reception that the Tiara 48 LS is receiving, the context that comes to his mind is the automobile industry and the SUV. Not all SUVs are the same, and some do one thing better than other things, but they all offer a lot of options for how they might be used. Today’s boaters have gotten to the same mental space, looking for designs that can satisfy the needs of the entire family.
“If you’d invented an SUV in 1980, people would say, ‘Why would I want this? I’m not going off-road,’” says Slikkers. Similarly, he says, if Tiara had designed the 48 LS back then, nobody would have understood it. Families were still doing a lot of extended cruising for long periods. On-deck features that are popular today wouldn’t have made sense to them. Then came the Great Recession, and people started doing more dayboating. Tiara responded with its Coupe line, which moved living spaces like the galley up to the main deck. “It became central, very similar to the way modern homes are being built,” he says.
From there, outboard engines skyrocketed in popularity, and Tiara embraced that trend. By the time Mercury Marine was ready to launch its new 600-hp Verados with a steerable gearcase, Tiara was ready to build an entire boat to go with them.
“This boat was specifically built around the 600 Mercury,” Slikkers says. “That’s why, on the back of the boat, you can see the extensions along the side of the engines. We knew that we could do that because the engine was not going to turn. We tried to leverage the back of the boat to make that as seamless and clean as we possibly could.”
Knowing that many buyers would use the 48 LS for dayboating also meant building in protection from the elements. That’s why there are sliding doors to port and starboard, along with a push-button retracting enclosure that surrounds the climate-controlled helm.
“We asked to what degree we could reasonably provide good protection, but not so much protection that we’re turning this boat into a cabin or a coupe,”
Slikkers says. “It’s still a dayboat that most people are going to enjoy in fairer weather.”
Formula 500 SSC
Adams has been designing boats for Formula since 1971, long enough that he can remember being unable to incorporate certain design details because there was no manufacturing process to build them. Today, the Formula staff includes an aeronautical engineer, showing just how much has changed about the way the builder produces a new model.
The Formula 500 SSC, Adams says, is the result of decades’ worth of designs that came before it. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Formula had a diverse product line that included cruising boats. During that time and into the early 2000s there were some subtle transitions in the way people used boats. After the Great Recession, though, people no longer had time to take longer cruises. They wanted more features ideal for dayboating—similar to what customers seem to be craving now, after more than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic. “When you go through something like a recession, and what we went through this past year, I think people focus on family more,” Adams says. “They think, life is short, I’ve worked hard, and it’s time for a trophy.”
The way the Formula 500 SSC is designed lets these customers have that trophy with features such as an enclosed coupe-top salon, a lounge bar aft, a full bow lounge, a queen-berth stateroom and Mercury’s 600-hp Verado outboards for power. “We basically took all those disciplines, knowing what makes a good cruising boat, what makes a good sport boat, what makes a good offshore cruiser, and we incorporated it all in,” Adams says. “People can go to this boat and be of the cruising mindset. They like the luxury of a cabin and air conditioning. At the same time, they may turn around and see those V-12s, and recognize they can accommodate eight or 12 people, and still have a coffee bar below, and a master with a queen-size bed. It fills their needs for a cruising boat, but still with the stepped-hull, high performance and all that horsepower on the back of the boat.”
As with other builders of today’s hybrid cruising boats, Formula realizes that timing is everything, Adams says. Part of the reason boats like the 500 SSC make sense to consumers is that they’re seeing more boats with similar attributes on the docks. His goal as a designer, he says, is to keep Formula ahead of the curve, but only by a little bit.
What that means for hybrid designs going forward includes a lot of possibilities.
“Will we build a 60? Probably not,” he says. “But we’re looking at other things that are pretty exciting, and that are in this same vein, things that give people some versatility and flexibility to create a boat that is unique to them. We’re not done.”
Cruisers 42 GLS
Cruisers Yachts traces its history to 1904, with the first known Cruisers Inc. catalog appearing in 1956. As boats evolved from wood to fiberglass, and added all kinds of new technology, the builder evolved too, eventually producing models as big as 60 feet long.
The design path that led to the new Cruisers 42 GLS started almost a decade ago with the introduction of the Cruisers 338, says Marketing Director Matt VanGrunsven. That boat had the open bow and cockpit of a dayboat, but with living spaces like the galley up on deck instead of down below. “You could also overnight or weekend on it,” he says. “It had sleeping accommodations and a head.”
Today, the Cruisers 42 GLS has all of that and more. The design actually began with the boat’s exterior, he says, because that’s where today’s cruising families want to spend most of their time. “We let the interior of the boat take shape based on the exterior,” VanGrunsven says. “We wanted the cockpit to be as livable as possible.” Features include foldout beach doors to both port and starboard, creating a beam that’s 18 feet, 10 inches, for even more usable space. There’s a bar with seats that rotate forward or aft, along with a full-size wet bar, icemaker, stowage, U-shaped seating and barbecue. “When we did our first photo shoot, we had 16 people on it, and we weren’t crowded at all. Some people were in the bow area. It felt great.”
To make the boat seem even more like a home away from home for the day, owners also can add optional TVs in the cockpit and lower salon, in addition to the TV in the stateroom. There’s standard bottle stowage in addition to regular stowage, as there would be in many modern pantries. And the helm has a conductive phone-charging pad, much like the ones found in many of today’s family kitchens.
Owners tend to use the Cruisers 42 GLS in different ways depending on where they live, VanGrunsven says. In Florida, a lot of buyers use the model as a dayboat. In the Great Lakes and Northeast, there are more long weekends aboard. And in a surprising turn of events, he adds, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have accelerated demand for models like this one. While the company has been moving toward building a versatile boat like the 42 GLS for a number of years, the pandemic created a new generation of buyers wanting to do anything and everything they could in a safe, socially distanced way. A boat that can carry the whole family comfortably while offering a bit of something for everyone turned out to be the right design at the right time.
“One of the great socially distanced activities is boating,” he says. “We’re caught in the moment. What we’re offering, what other manufacturers are offering, we’re assisting that, but it’s also a moment where we are culturally.”
This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.