A lot of people took note last year when Chris-Craft came out with its new Corsair 36. As I pointed out in my review ("All-American Icon," June 2005), this was not the sort of design that is typically conceived by boatbuilders bent on bean counting. For Chris-Craft, a company that essentially created the term "production boat," such a departure from the mainstream was clearly something of a risk-albeit a delightful one. The risk paid off and now Chris-Craft has done it again. The new Corsair 33 will pluck the heartstrings of true enthusiasts and satisfy the senses of those with an eye for design.
As was the case with the 36, it is easier to define the 33 by explaining what pigeonholes she does not occupy. She is not a muscle boat, although her power and performance will turn heads as quickly as her styling-no graphics required. She is not a prissy, over-designed Euro-launch, although she could play the role without a hint of pretentiousness. She is not an express cruiser, although her trimmed cabin offers cozy comfort for two (and a child). She is, like all new Chris-Craft boats, a product of the avant-garde vision of Chris-Craft's chairman Stephen Julius and its president Stephen Heese.
Ever since 2001 when the duo purchased the company, they have remained committed to offering a tasteful alternative to the mainstream. While Harvard prepared Julius and Heese for business, it is clearly their passion for boats and the brand that drives them. And this shows in the 33. A swooping sheerline and rakish appendages are unnecessary. Her lines, although simple, are a perfect balance of form and function. The symmetry of her cockpit design and her tumblehome aft suggest her rich pedigree. With that said, she is not a retro design; however, her details are a unique reflection of what has come before.
Before I sea trialed the 33, I had a chance to spend time with her designer, Michael Peters, an old friend. Peters' rich design portfolio includes everything from 200 mph-plus offshore world champion catamarans to 100-foot-plus megayachts. But his greatest contribution to the sport has been his work with Chris-Craft. With his keen sense of performance and style, he has helped Julius and Heese define a unique image for the 131-year-old company.
"We challenged Michael to design a boat that met the needs of an express cruiser buyer, but didn't look like a football," says Heese. Peters admits that when they first reviewed his effort, they were delighted but somewhat confused. "Their first reaction was natural-there's nothing in the market like it, so there must not be a market for it." Heese explains that ultimately they followed their instincts. "The founding plank of our company was to build beautiful products that we could appreciate and enjoy-it was not about carving our share of a particular market."
When the decision was made to go ahead, however, it was still a matter of dollars and cents. "Stephen Julius and I could easily design a boat that nobody could afford," says Peters. Bob Greenberg, Chris-Craft's VP of operations, made the numbers work without compromising the upscale concept. The proof of the pudding is that the 33 and 36, while relatively affordable, are being purchased by a lot of people who can afford anything they wish. In fact, both boats have found their place as tenders on 200-foot-plus megayachts.
The 33's cockpit is arranged with double-wide helm and companion seating with flip-up bolsters. Chris-Craft's signature perforated aluminum dash and classic instrumentation are standard. A U-shaped seating area with a stowable table aft is offered with a sunpad conversion option that transforms the cockpit into a Euro-style playpen. A wet bar can be fitted with an optional refrigerator/freezer. The engine compartment is accessible for a look-see through a hatch in the seating. For complete access, the after section of the cockpit lifts with a push of a button and the Bimini top cleverly stows away within, neatly out of sight. A center walk-through leads to the integral swim platform, which has a swim ladder and freshwater shower. Steps lead through a windshield gate to the bow. The Cruising Package includes a windlass, a stainless steel anchor and a wash-down system. For those who want the icing on the cake, Chris-Craft's 33 Heritage Edition features teak decking and trim.
A sliding acrylic door leads below to the 33's cabin. Headroom is less than 6 feet, which, while less than ideal, seems a worthwhile compromise given the focus on exterior styling. A seating area with a table converts to a berth, and a 15-inch flat-screen TV and entertainment center is an option. The galley area has a cooktop and a stainless steel sink. A dual-voltage refrigerator and a microwave oven are finished in stainless steel as well. An enclosed head/shower has a stainless steel sink mounted in a stylish blue acrylic countertop. Quality soft goods and Euro-style hardware and fixtures complement the cherry wood cabinetwork. While a shore power system and air-conditioning are standard, those serious about weekending should consider the optional generator.
The 33's flawless gelcoat finish is backed up by a solid laminate composed of hand-laid, multi-directional reinforcements. Stringers are fiberglass-encapsulated wood; voids in the bilges are filled with closed-cell foam. Her hull has a moderate entry with convex sections. Deadrise remains a fairly constant 18.5 degrees from amidships aft. A down-angle chine ledge and multiple strakes control spray forward and define her lifting surface aft. The magic of the 33's form is in the balance of these features.
I have yet to run one of Peters' hulls that did not deliver and the 33 is no exception. Our test boat was equipped with a pair of 375 hp MerCruisers and Bravo Three drives. She responded quickly to the throttles, reaching a maximum speed of 41.7 knots in about 20 seconds. She tracks as though she is on rails and is predictable and pleasurable in high-speed turns. While seas were tame, I would venture from past experience with Peters' designs that the 33 will be dry and comfortable in more challenging conditions.
The 33 is yet another pleasing offering from a new Chris-Craft that has found its soul. No longer interested in waving its flag in every segment of the market, the company has claimed turf in a niche in which few boat builders can compete. "I feel strongly that these new Chris-Craft designs, like their vintage sisters, should be timeless," says Peters. "The sort of boats that our great grandkids might someday discover in an old barn and treasure." I, for one, would love to find that barn and boat.
While her $307,972 base price tempts comparison, as her designer suggests, she has no peers in the marketplace that afford a convenient measure. I can say that her striking looks and high-end touch and feel are suggestive of products that typically require a far greater investment. This quality and her Chris-Craft brand make the Corsair 33 an excellent value.
Contact: Chris-Craft, (941) 351-4900; www.chriscraft.com