Production builders have long struggled with the economic forces that help define a successful product. Building the best boat for the market does not always require using the best ingredients-cost is always an issue. There is risk in fresh design, new tooling and specifications that wander beyond the industry standard. That there is also reward, witness the new Chris-Craft Corsair 36.
Given 36 feet to play with, Chris-Craft's latest addition to its Corsair line is not the sort of product that most production boat bean counters would come up with. She is not an overstuffed express design, nor does a weekend aboard require a shoehorn. She is also not an airbrushed graphics-slathered speed sled-her attraction is far more subtle. Let's just say she is a beautiful boat with excellent performance and a pedigree that extends further back into yachting history than most of us can remember.
These values are key to the formula that Chris-Craft's Chairman Stephen Julius and its President Stephen Heese have subscribed to since they purchased the company in 2001. Julius explained his vision in simple terms when I spoke with him after the acquisition: "Our intention is not to compete on the basis of how many cubic feet we can pack into an interior-style and luxury are our primary focus." While both Julius and Heese are button-down businessmen, they clearly have a passion for boats and the brand.
You can see it in the 36. Dockside, she looks out of place in a sea of full-bodied white fiberglass-yet without looking retro or like a re-creation of something that has come before. This is, first, a great-looking boat. In the model I tested, her navy blue hull was accented with a red boot stripe, one of eleven color schemes offered. In my opinion dark colors suit the 36 as they accentuate the pleasing cut of her stem and the gentle rise of her chine. Her reverse transom has a touch of tumblehome and melds cleanly into her teak-covered swim platform. Her sheer has just a hint of reverse and is capped by a deck that is a blend of flawless cream white gelcoat and teak. "We have a no-compromise approach when it comes to our boats," says Heese. "Our customers demand it."
The 36 is the kind of boat that has been lost to focus groups and design committees. The credit for her design goes to an individual, naval architect Michael Peters. Peters has been responsible for almost the entire Chris-Craft line and his experience spans the spectrum of high-performance powerboats-from unlimited offshore power cats to 100-foot-plus motoryachts. Most importantly, in Peters, Julius and Heese found a soul mate with a passion for boats. "The 36 is the sort of boat I never tire of looking at," says Peters. "It is the sort of boat that you might expect to find in the Med, the sort of boat that hasn't been built in the U.S. in 40 years."
The credit for the quality of her outfitting and finish goes to Chris-Craft's craftsmen and its management team. Instead of relying on traditional vendors and suppliers for the hundreds of parts that are used in the construction of the 36, Bob Greenberg, Chris-Craft's VP of operations, sought out innovative products that complemented her design. From her perforated aluminum dashboard and custom gauges to her Italian interior hardware, the focus is on quality and style, not simply cost. "We are always coming up with new ideas-the challenge is figuring out how to make them work," says Greenberg. The blue glass countertop in the 36's head is a good example. "It looks fantastic, but it just didn't drop in there-it took a lot of engineering and cooperation with our vendors to make it right." On deck the 36 is trimmed with custom-cast highly polished stainless steel hardware. The Heritage Package adds the finishing touch with a teak-sheathed cockpit sole, foredeck and swim platform.
The 36's cockpit has a helm seat with a flip-up bolster and companion seating. There is a sink and an insulated drink box with room for an optional refrigerator and icemaker. Aft, a curved lounge area with a removable table could easily accommodate six. A removable section of the lounge allows walk-through access to the swim platform, which is equipped with an integral ladder and a freshwater shower. Press a button and the after section of the cockpit lifts allowing access to the machinery space. A clever molded-in inspection platform with a nonslip finish makes it easy to step down into the machinery space for a preflight check. This compartment within a compartment also serves as a stowage area for the cockpit table and the canvas top which folds away out of sight. Steps, ahead of the companion seating, lead forward through a windshield gate to a sunning area on the bow. A windlass and freshwater washdown are hidden beneath a hatch.
The entryway to her cabin has an acrylic sliding door as well as a separate screen door. The galley area has a molded countertop with a sink and a cook top that can be covered with matching Corian inserts. Stainless steel appliances include a microwave, a coffeemaker and dual-voltage refrigeration. There's a seating area forward with a table that drops to form a berth. The enclosed head has a vanity and a separate shower. The real surprise is the mid-cabin which has a solid wood door, not a curtain. A portion of the space has headroom and a queen berth tucks beneath the cockpit. The 36's interior fit and finish is well above average. Wool carpeting and high-quality soft goods are standard and a maple and cherry wood sole is available. The cabinetry is finished to perfection inside and out.
While Chris-Craft's unique approach to design has been the focus of much of the ink that has been dedicated to its products, the performance of the handful of models during sea trials I have done is worthy of note. Beneath the 36's pleasant profile is a no-nonsense hull design that borrows from Peters' work in the high-speed, bluewater market. She has a moderate entry with convex sections. From amidships aft, her deadrise remains a fairly constant 20 degrees. She has a down-angle chine ledge; multiple strakes on her bottom are designed to control spray forward and define the lifting surface aft.
I tested the 36 with Stephen Heese and Bob Greenberg in Sarasota Bay. Our test boat was powered with a pair of 420 hp Volvo gas engines with Duoprop drives. Acceleration was excellent-I counted no more than 25 seconds from a standing start to a maximum speed of 40.5 knots. At 3500 rpm she cruises at 27.1 knots. Her Italian-made, varnished mahogany wheel is sports-car-like in design, which is appropriate as her handling is without fault. A wide variety of engine packages include both Volvo and Yanmar diesels; indeed, diesel power is a good choice for those interested in more ambitious cruising.
The 36 is not the sort of boat I have the opportunity to test every day and I confess that I am passionate about her. Those who will invest approximately $300,000 to own her will no doubt feel the same way. However, she is a practical boat as well. While Chris-Craft considers the boats in the Corsair line "runabouts," with her cockpit amenities, interior accommodations and robust performance she is much more. While "express cruiser" does not quite suit her, she competes in that market with style and class.
Chris-Craft's visionaries have their own last word: "We set out to create a beautiful object that delivers wow," says Heese. Obviously, Heese and his team have done just that. Contact: Chris-Craft, (941) 351-4900; www.chriscraft.com.