You may well ask, “What does a 34-footer have to do with unsinkable runabouts?” Sure, Whaler had to do some things differently to build a boat so much bigger than anything that it’s done before. But when the day is done, the 34 Defiance still has all the design, construction and safety features the company is famous for building into all its other boats, plus a lot more room.
I’ve been able to fish the new Defiance several times now in varying conditions, from big seas to little. Most recently, I idled out the flat-calm Ponce de Leon inlet in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and found the speed – 4.9 knots at 600 rpm with both Yanmar 420-hp diesels barely burbling through the innovative exhaust system – just a tad too fast for live-bait trolling. Outside, top speed maxed out at 37 mph at a relatively high (for a diesel) 3,500 rpm while burning a modest 44 gph or 0.74 mpg. However, you can cruise for just over 350 nautical miles on a tank of fuel when running at about 29 mph. Expect to burn an even gallon per mile. Trolling speed (8 mph) serves up a range of over 1,000 miles.
Though the Defiance performs high-speed turns in a stately fashion, close-quarters maneuvering on fish or around the dock tell another story altogether. This Whaler fairly leaps at your commands.
The Defiance’s bow rises when coming up to plane (which took about eight seconds) and falls back to normal running attitude quickly, assuring excellent visibility at running speeds.
Hull number one (which we ran) had twin 420-hp Yanmars; however, standard power consists of twin 3116 CATs at 350 hp each.
Unfortunately, the best winter sailfishing in Florida happens during northerlies, when the seas kick up and the meek stay ashore. On just such a day, the Defiance 34 handled the kites, the seas, seven passengers and crew while backing down on feisty sails with nary a problem. Its cockpit provides lots of space to move around, yet the very large live baitwell in the transom to the tackle drawers and rigging station are never more than a step or two away.
In fact, this Whaler offers more in the way of fishing features than any before. Pods at the forward end of the cockpit contain an insulated cooler (or optional bait freezer) to port and a rigging station with fresh- and saltwater outlets to starboard. Both pods sport aft-facing seats so the crew can mind the trolling pattern in comfort. You’ll also find plenty of rod storage around the cockpit, with three rod holders in each gunwale and space for three more under each gunwale. Eight more rods can be stored in the cabin below.
You can fit a fighting chair as long as it doesn’t have a footrest. Our boat had the obligatory (for sailfishing) rocket launcher in lieu of the chair, and it worked beautifully. Padded coamings that hit you mid-thigh, combined with plenty of toe room at deck level, allow you to fight or wire a fish while keeping your center of gravity well inboard for increased security.
Design and Construction
Admittedly, it’s hard to get your blood pressure spiking over an exhaust system. But perhaps the most innovative feature on the Defiance is the EcoSound exhaust system by Von Widmann Designs. It exhausts through one set of ports (above the waterline) at slow speed and another (below the waterline) at cruising speed. Proved to be one of the quietest exhausts on the market today, it also improves engine performance dramatically by virtue of reducing engine exhaust back pressure to almost zero.
During the Defiance project, Whaler discovered that it needed to devise all new ways to build big boats as opposed to small ones. The 34 Defiance uses all vinylester resins, knitted biaxial fiberglass and Armorcoat gelcoats. But the greatest construction difference involves the way Whaler now bonds the liner to the hull between each stringer with a new adhesive putty called Plexus. This bonding prevents the weight of the engines and liner from compressing the famous Boston Whaler foam, which keeps this 34 just as unsinkable as its smaller siblings.
Another example of thinking outside the box rolls the engine compartment hatch aft on rollers instead of tilting it up on rams, providing headroom throughout the compartment instead of just on the aft end. Every wire gets clearly labeled, every hose double-clamped, anti-chafe grommets line each wire run through a bulkhead and every piece of equipment you could ever want to reach remains totally accessible.
I liked the ergonomics of the centerline helm as well as how much space Whaler provides for flush-mounting electronics. A very comfortable, height-adjustable helm seat also has a built-in shock absorber. But I believe that most experienced fishing-boat operators prefer single-lever controls rather than gears and throttles grouped together on either side of the wheel.
Mirror-image settees to port and starboard on the bridge deck seat two or three passengers per side, and each has a seat back at the aft end as well as copious storage inside.
The unusual maple interior belowdecks seeks a middle ground between the almost-white color of commonly used ash wood and darker teak. A dinette converts into a small double berth, and the huge athwartship queen berth accommodated my 6-foot, 4-inch frame both fore and aft and crossways.
The most common comment I’ve heard about the Boston Whaler 34 Defiance is “Wow! It’s expensive.” Well, at least, unlike the government, you can readily see where the money goes, and I believe it’s money well spent.