Tartan 3500 Used Boat Review

The Tartan 3500 is now into its 11th year of production and after all this time it continues to be a popular choice for sailors looking for a performance oriented family cruiser. I, who have been a long time fan of Tartan boats, must admit I find the Tartan 3500 one of the more handsome of contemporarily-styled designs.

Designing a boat that maximizes a boat’s interior volume and waterline length, without it looking like the box it came in, is not an easy task, but, in this case, has been accomplished by Tartan’s in-house design team led by Tim Jackett. The 3500’s overall length is 35’ 2-1/2", beam is 11’ 9", and displacement is 11,400 pounds. She is offered with a shoal draft keel drawing 4’ 10" or a deep draft drawing 6’ 6".

Several recent inspections of newer Tartan models have left me wondering if the company may have slipped a bit from its traditionally lofty standards for quality control. I don’t mean to suggest that the construction quality of the Tartan 3500 isn’t as good as, and in some cases better than, other production boat manufacturers, but only that attention to detail is less than I’ve come to expect from Tartan. Bottom line: the Tartan 3500 is a well built boat with a hull constructed of chop strand mat, unidirectional fiberglass cloth and balsa wood core for stiffness. There is no core used in areas of through-hull fittings, chain plate, or keel attachments in order to mitigate the possibility of water intrusion and damage to the core. A layer of vinylester resin is used to improve blister resistance, and Tartan backs up its hulls with a five-year warranty against osmotic blisters.

The decks and cabin are likewise constructed of fiberglass composites with balsa wood core. Deck hardware is soundly attached with stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers and quarter inch aluminum or fiberglass backing plates for distributing loads. Tartan has not taken the same degree of care with installation of deck hardware as they have with through hull attachments. On one three-year-old model I recently inspected, I was surprised to find elevated moisture of the balsa cored deck core around several deck fittings.

The deck and hull are joined in Tartan’s typical fashion of using stainless steel fasteners drilled and tapped into aluminum plates, molded into the hull flange and bedded with 3-M’s 5200 sealant. I have never been a fan of the use of stainless steel and aluminum in this way, but Tartan has been doing it this way for more than 25 years, and I’m sure I’m not about to change their way of doing things.

The deck of the Tartan 3500 is well laid out and features a foredeck anchor locker, two-inch-high teak toe rails all around and good quality hardware. The T-shaped cockpit provides plenty of leg space, and seats are not so far apart that you can’t brace to leeward if necessary. There are foot cleats for the helmsman, and seatbacks are inclined for comfortable seating. At the transom there is a boarding ladder and molded swim step for easy entry and exit from the water.

Interior accommodations include two true double cabins separated by the main cabin and galley. The forward cabin has a hanging locker, four storage drawers, and large V-berth with enough foot room forward that two people can actually sleep comfortably. The main saloon has settees to port and starboard with a drop leaf table in between and easily seats four for meals or six in a pinch. To starboard there is a good sized galley and adequate navigation station. To the port side aft is the head and shower and a quarter berth cabin with large double berth.

Tartan offers new boat purchasers the option of teak or cherry interior finishes, and although the cherry is attractive, it doesn’t seem to hold up well to the occasional dousing of water that is inevitable aboard a boat. 

One other recent observation is that the fit and finish of interior joiner work doesn’t seem to live up to Tartan standards. On more than one occasion I have found doors that wouldn’t close properly, joiner work that was poorly aligned, and wood that was rotted after only several years service. 

Auxiliary power is provided by Yanmar’s 27 hp 3GM diesel which is installed in an engine box below the companionway steps. Access to the engine for service is better than that found on most boats of this type. 
When the engine box is removed, the entire forward part of the engine is exposed, although access to the aft part of the engine requires removing quarter berth cushions and some panels, but again, it is better than most.

With a sail area to displacement ratio of 19.4 and displacement to length ratio of 188, it’s pretty clear that Tartan took seriously the "performance" half of "performance cruiser" with this design, and, in this regard, she does not disappoint. The Tartan 3500 is easily driven, responsive, well mannered and has had success in a number of PHRF fleets around the country. For best performance the deep draft model is preferred although not very practical for the Chesapeake Bay cruiser who likes to get off the beaten path.

More than 140 Tartan 3500s have been built, and there is usually a reasonable selection of boats offered on the used market. 

Reviewed in the June 2002 issue of SpinSheet by Jack Hornor