If you were to wander inland and ask the man on the street to name a builder of boats, it's almost certain he would scratch his head, think for a moment and respond, "Chris-Craft". It has been more than a century since Chris Smith built his first boat and later founded the company whose name seems synonymous with recreational watercraft. While recent years have been hard on the mark, Chris-Craft's new owners, Stephen Julius and Stephen Heese, intend to set things straight.
The new 43 Roamer is a reflection of Chris-Craft's past and its future, and is cause enough for even jaded dock duffers like me to pause and take a second look.
While in recent years, Chris-Craft's designs followed the pack, the 43 is an abrupt starboard turn. She is easy on the eye, with a gentle sheer sweep, a tasteful tumblehome and a conservatively raked stem. Her foredeck trunk is not a swollen lump; its height is balanced and accented by a long window line. Even without the attractive exterior wood accents of the optional Heritage Package (about $20,000), the 43 stands out in a sea of puffy fiberglass.
"Our intention is not to compete on the basis of how many cubic feet we can pack into an interior", Julius said. "Style and luxury are our primary focus. While some might be tempted to cast the 43 as a retro design, Julius insists the boat is nothing of the sort". I agree. It's almost as if the company has emerged from a 30-year bout with amnesia. My bet is the 43 would have been the by-product of evolution instead of inspiration, had Chris-Craft not turned the drawing board over to focus groups in the 1980s.
Those who compete in the express market often count berths and cup holders, but the 43 has features that are pleasing long after the boat show. Side decks are twice as wide as has become common, and they lead forward to a seating area at the bow. This traditional perch is wonderful while under way, as the water seems to pass by effortlessly. The anchor is mounted externally, out of the way, and is controlled by a discreet, low-profile windlass. The forepeak chain/rope locker is accessible from the deck and has a freshwater washdown tap.
The 43 can be boarded from the side deck or the transom platform. A stainless-steel transom gate etched with the Chris-Craft logo allows access to the cockpit, which has a lounge area with an adjustable table.
Her raised bridge area has a curved lounge and a wet bar with a refrigerator. An adjacent pedestal seat faces the helm. Sight lines are excellent, and the analog multi-instrument gauges are easy to eyeball. There is room on the dash for two 10-inch displays, and space nearby for a VHF radio and autopilot. Our Yanmar-powered test boat had single-lever Morse controls.
Hull number one was fitted with the optional ($15,000) fiberglass arch/hardtop. An air-conditioning vent at the helm is standard.
Interior appointments are well above average. The satin-finished, book-matched cherry joinery has a handcrafted feel often absent on production boats. The hatches and entryway are framed in cherry. Interior doors and the table in the main cabin are finished in the same and have the Chris-Craft logo inlaid in maple. The sole is maple and cherry, cabinet doors and drawers are built of solid wood, and hanging lockers are lined with cedar.
The main cabin has a curved settee opposite a U-shape galley with a cooktop, microwave/convection oven and dual-voltage refrigeration. A dishwasher can be added, however, I would not sacrifice the stowage. Countertops are finished in Corian, and there is fitted stowage for the Chris-Craft tableware that is supplied with the Chris-Craft linens. Natural lighting is excellent thanks to the windows in the trunk.
Forward, the master stateroom has a queen island berth and a head with a separate cylindrical shower enclosure. A mid-stateroom abaft the main cabin has a private head and two single berths that can be joined with an optional filler section. While this stateroom is a bit small, it would be ideal for kids or weekend guests.
Chris-Craft history buffs know the company's Roamer division first built boats in steel, then in aluminum. Today, the preferred medium is fiberglass, and the 43 is built in conventional tooling at Chris-Craft's Sarasota, Florida, facility. The hull bottom and topsides are a solid woven roving and mat laminate. A fiberglass longitudinal stringer system and fiberglass-encapsulated marine plywood bulkheads provide support. A vinylester skin coat reduces the chance of blistering, and hull colors, including the boot stripe, are one with the gelcoat finish.
A variety of gas and diesel packages is offered. While the Yanmar, Cummins and Volvo diesel options are all solid choices, I would avoid gas power on a boat this size. Initial savings would quickly be consumed at the gas pump.
My only gripe with the 43 I tested was poor engineroom access. A single, relatively small hatch in the cockpit made it tough to poke about the engines and systems. Starting with hull number two, Chris-Craft plans to introduce a new machinery arrangement that improves access to the generator and batteries. A day-access hatch will be provided, and the entire cockpit sole will lift with the push of a button.
With a fine entry forward and a 20-degree transom deadrise, the 43 is well suited for coastal cruising or island hopping in the Bahamas. During our sea trial, I recorded a top speed of 26.2 knots at 3350 rpm. Chris-Craft's data indicate a top speed of 30.5 knots at 3500 rpm. I suspect that with owner's gear aboard and a clean bottom, she will balance out midpoint at Yanmar's 3300 rpm rating.
The 43 is a pleasure to handle, both at speed and while loitering. She executes tight turns with dispatch and twists easily dockside. While a bow thruster is offered as an option, it should not be necessary for diesel-equipped 43s.
Considering her upscale interior and finish, the 43 seems appropriately priced. Hull number one is typical in terms of outfitting (with an arch/hardtop, 440 hp Yanmars, an 8kW generator, air conditioning, electronics and the exterior wood package) and totals about $580,000.
While not the man on the street, I have something in common with many experienced boaters. My family's first ride was a Chris-Craft: a 1955, 35-foot Commander. In my view, the 43 Roamer proves Chris-Craft's new owners have rediscovered a powerful asset-pedigree.
Contact: Chris-Craft, (941) 351-4900; www.chriscraft.com.