Chris-Craft 36 Roamer

In the beginning, Chris-Craft changed the face of domestic boatbuilding. Today, its 36 Roamer bucks convention with fine lines, sporty handling and dashing good looks.

The Chris-Craft brand seems as old as boating. Chris Smith's inspired vision of producing a variety of boats efficiently was revolutionary in its time and set a course that American production boatbuilders would follow for decades. Today, Chris-Craft is challenging convention in a different way, with new, distinctive designs that re-establish a link to the builder's pedigree. The new 36 Roamer is a prime example.

It was difficult not to notice the 36 in the busy marina near Chris-Craft's facility in Sarasota, Florida. Her dark-blue hull, varnished mahogany and polished stainless-steel trim made the surrounding sea of white fiberglass seem rather bland. Distinguishing the marque from its competitors has been Stephen Julius and Stephen Heese's goal since they acquired the company in 2001.

"Our intention is not to compete on the basis of how many cubic feet we can pack into an interior", Julius told Yachting following the launch of the 43 Roamer (On Board, September 2002). "Style and luxury are our primary focus."

The company has remained true to that vision. The 36 shares the primary styling cues that characterize the builder's other new products. While it might be tempting to pigeonhole the 36 as a "retro design, she is not-she is inspired.

Though the 36 is pleasing to the eye, she is best enjoyed with wheel in hand. She is responsive and predictable, with a sports car-like feel accented by a stainless-steel dash and signature automotive-style instrumentation. She rises to a plane without excessive trimming, and her centerline helm offers an excellent line of sight at all throttle settings. A section of her helm seat can be folded up, creating a bolster/leaning post or a higher perch.

Sarasota Bay offered only a light chop, however, it is my sense that the 36 will deliver a comfortable, dry ride in less favorable conditions. This is based on my observations during our sea trial, as well as my familiarity with the work of her designer, Michael Peters. Peters is perhaps best known for his offshore-racing powerboat designs. The 36's fine forward sections and moderate after sections are not revolutionary, but they are blended with experience. I have come to expect a superior ride from Peters' creations.

Chris-Craft offers several diesel and gasoline engine packages for the 36. Each seems appropriate, but I feel diesel power is worth the investment for a boat of this size and type. Our test boat was equipped with a pair of 370 hp Yanmar diesels. From a dead stop, she reached a maximum speed of 29.8 knots in 15 seconds. This is excellent performance for a boat in this class. Chris-Craft suggests a cruising speed of about 24 knots at 2800 rpm; I concur. The sound levels I recorded at the helm and in the cabin were excellent for an open-cockpit, diesel-powered design.

The driveline is configured in a V arrangement. The after end of the cockpit lifts with the push of a button, exposing the machinery space. Access to the engines is excellent, and the systems appeared neat and tidy. Reverse-cycle air-conditioning and a 7.6kW Westerbeke generator with sound shield are standard.

After our sea trial, I spent time with Bob Greenberg, Chris-Craft's vice president of manufacturing. Greenberg has been in the business of building boats for more than 30 years and knows what it takes to compete successfully in today's market.

"Our goal is to deliver premium-quality, reliable, turnkey boats to our dealers", he said. "This allows them to devote more time to serving their customers."

Like all new Chris-Craft builds, the 36 is constructed with a blend of woven and stitched reinforcements. Stringers are fiberglass over wood. Balsa core stiffens the decks. A vinylester skin coat seals the bottom, and the topsides are laminated with a layer of SprayCore, which helps reduce reinforcement print-through. The effort has paid off. While dark colors are unforgiving, the 36's gelcoat topsides are virtually flawless.

While style may lead Chris-Craft's eye on design, the comfort and practical features yachtsmen expect have not escaped the company's attention. In my opinion, the 36 sacrifices virtually nothing for her good looks.

Her cockpit can be configured with a split sun lounge and seating area aft, or a larger seating area without a sun lounge. A wet bar, positioned behind the helm, has a sink and can be fitted with optional refrigeration and an icemaker. Adjacent to the helm is stowage for a cooler.

The helm seat is large enough for the captain and mate, and there is a "second mate lounge" to port. Side decks are a comfortable width and lead forward to a recessed, teak-deck sunning-and-line-handling area. Chris-Craft's Heritage Package completes the look with a teak cockpit sole-a $14,161 option. A fiberglass arch, bimini top and full Strataglass enclosure are standard.

Below, the cabin has a curved lounge, a cherry-and-maple table inlaid with Chris-Craft's insignia, and a 15-inch flat-screen TV. A sink, microwave and two-burner cooktop are hidden in the cleverly designed cabinetwork. An optional maple-and-cherry sole is the finishing touch.

Forward, an island berth can be segregated from the main cabin with a curtain. A berth for kids or guests is abaft the entryway, tucked beneath the cockpit. The head, conveniently adjacent to the entryway, has a cylindrical shower enclosure. It's a fairly conventional layout, but the difference is in the presentation.

"We have designed our process and trained our craftsmen to produce a more sophisticated product", Greenberg said.

As I inspected the 36, I was reminded of how different Chris-Craft's modern-day builds are from the boats Chris Smith delivered years ago. My family's first-a 1955 35-footer-came to mind. At the time, her luxury was state-of-the-art, but her simple trim, outfitting and finish would be Spartan by today's standards. With the 36, Chris-Craft has pushed the state of the art and, in turn, set itself apart.

The 36's beautifully sculpted exterior lines and satin-finished cherry interior are unique in this market. She is a comfortable yacht for those not comfortable in the mainstream. Chris-Craft has once again raised the bar.

Contact: Chris-Craft, (941) 351-4900; www.chriscraft.com. For more information, contact: (866) 922-4877