Testing the Chris-Craft Fleet

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12 Boats in 10 Hours?!

The Chris-Craft fleet

When Chris-Craft asked us which of its new models we wanted to test, our response came as a surprise: All of ’em. The result was a day we’ll never forget.

Dan Harding driving a Chris-Craft

Don’t let the serious look fool you—running these vessels was a boat lover’s dream.

Captains Log

“We wanted to invite you down to our dealer meeting in Sarasota and see if you wanted to test a couple boats,” offered Chris-Craft’s marketing director, Allison Scharnow, over the phone a few weeks ago. 

“Yeah, you know what? I am interested,” I replied, while reaching for a pen and notepad. “Which boats will be available to test?” 

“Well, we have the Calypso and Corsair lines, the new 42 and a bunch of others. I think in total we’ll have about 12 boats.” 

“Really? … Can I test all of them?” 

[Long pause] “Umm … well, I guess you could if you really wanted to. You can test as many as you can from 9 a.m. to 5:00.”

I really wanted to. And so did our digital editor, John Turner, when I ran the idea by him. “Those boats are beautiful,” he acknowledged. “They’re made for video.”

So it would come to pass that on a sweltering July morning in Sarasota, Florida, John and I stood on the dock behind the Hyatt hotel with 12 Chris-Crafts stretched out before us. Sweating profusely before 9 a.m., it began to sink in: We had a long, hot day ahead. And it was going to be fun as hell. 

Light salt spray landed on the lenses of my sunglasses. Beneath my feet, the quick and nimble Chris-Craft Calypso 30 danced atop the water. To port off my stern quarter, a pair of dealers wore smiles similar to mine as they turned a Chris-Craft 22 Capri into a series of wide, smooth S-turns. I shook my head in amazement at how much fun everyone was having. Looking forward, I spotted the newest member of the Chris-Craft fleet, the Commander 42. Leaning into the throttles, I could feel the Calypso gaining on her. 

After I had my fun chasing other boats around the bay like a bully on the playground, I eventually found the focus needed to record fuel burn, two-way speed averages, and acceleration rates for the Calypso, plus run through whatever wakes I could find. The hardest part of this test (and every other) came when I’d finished collecting the necessary data. Like any excitable kid will tell you, it’s no fun putting a toy back in the toy chest for the other kids to play with. 

We ran through boat after boat, with equal levels of excitement, one after another. Our normal testing process has us on a single boat for hours, sometimes days. But if we wanted to accomplish our goal of testing all 12 in the allotted time, we had to streamline the process, focus on the basics, and forgo run-of-the-mill tasks like stopping for suntan lotion, a bottle of water, or even the odd bathroom break. We had a schedule to keep. 

Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we were sunburned, thoroughly dehydrated, and having the time of our lives, when Mother Nature threw us a curveball, one that we should have seen coming: a good ol’ fashioned South Florida squall. Chris-Craft staffers sprinted to throw canvas tops over the fleet. Watching the storm on the radar while it poured, we couldn’t help but feel as if we were watching our chances of testing the full fleet wash away.

“I guess seven tests isn’t terrible,” I suggested to John, while lounging at the helm of a 30-foot center console, in an effort to convince myself. 

“It’s not 12,” was his unhelpful but honest retort. “We came to test all of them!” 

Watching blotches of red on the radar, we thought we saw a break between two systems. We rushed out and met vice president of materials Steve Callahan and pleaded our case for taking another boat out. “How long do you need, max?” he asked. “If we’re just running the numbers, 20 minutes,” I replied.

“You have 15,” he said matter-of-factly, as he signaled a dockhand to lose the canvas top of a Catalina 34. 

Test number eight might have set a record that we weren’t intentionally trying for: the fastest boat test in history. We pushed the Catalina to 45 knots, spun her around and sprinted at full speed back to the barn. We tied up the boat seconds before the next squall came through. Callahan looked at us, then glanced at his watch. He wouldn’t show it, but I think he was impressed. 

The storms would eventually pass, and the choppy, churned-up bay became a placid waterway as flat a sheet of glass. We conducted the rest of our tests—completing all 12 boats—on that perfect piece of tranquility, thanks to the accommodating staff at Chris-Craft, who gave us a time extension because of the rain delay. 

After recording the test numbers on boat 12, I stepped away from the helm and insisted that John, who’d been dutifully shooting photos and videos all day, take a spin at the wheel. Bringing the boat up to speed, his smile grew with each knot that we gained. “Yeah, I want one of these!” he exclaimed. 

“I think that’s the point of these dealer meetings,” I replied. 

That evening, after a shower and some much-needed pizza and beer, I flipped open my laptop to type up my notes. It was then that I startled to realize—and not just because of the beer—that the day had turned into something of a blur. 

While I had difficulty keeping the model names straight, there was one thing I was certain of: Before our whirlwind day of testing, when I thought of Chris-Craft, I thought of boating Americana at its best. I thought of the mahogany runabouts of the 1920s, I thought of the military patrol boats built during World War II, and the larger pleasure boats, classics all. Today, despite becoming a player on the global scale, Chris-Craft still uses teak decks and sweeping lines from a bygone era to pay homage to its heritage. But what about the future of Chris-Craft? 

We had come to Sarasota to run through the company’s new product line, and after putting 12 Chris-Crafts through their paces, from a 25 Capri day boat to the new Commander 42, we can report that not only did the lineup perform exceptionally, but the boats were really quite simple. They didn’t have every system in the world; they weren’t filled to the brim with electronics, gyro stabilizers, TVs, or giant staterooms. They’re fast, fun platforms that get you and your family and friends out on the water with little fuss. Is there anything more American than that? 

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Specifications

  • Builder: Chris-Craft
  • Model: All of them

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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