BOAT TEST: CHRIS-CRAFT CORSAIR 28
Iconic American boatbuilder Chris-Craft delivers hitherto new levels of driving pleasure with its cool Corsair 28 getaway, says DAVID LOCKWOOD
We drove it like we stole it. Throttles for the twin fuel-injected 300hp Volvo Penta V8 petrol engines were virtually kissing the dash, the sporty timber wheel was gripped tight in our hot little hands, as wind buffeted the shades that formed part of our disguise. This was a fast getaway in one of the most desirable dayboats in downtown Sydney.
But as if that wasn't enough, having outrun the authorities, we hit the rocker for the Corsa switchable exhaust. This redirects the V8s' duet from underwater to straight out the hull sides - the nautical equivalent of a burnout and twin-engine salute. Now you can hear our new 2011-model Chris-Craft Corsair 28 coming or, rather, going!
Of course, Chris-Crafts have always commanded attention. The iconic American company made varnished mahogany raceboats in the 1920s that soon after became the preferred playthings of the rich and famous. Then they cast a wider net by building these same timber boats on an assembly line. Chris-Craft chased the middle class with a slogan that promised "a piece of the good life". In 1935, a 15ft5in Utility could be bought for $US406.
But the heyday was yet to come. In the 1950s, when more-powerful petrol engines arrived, Chris-Craft hit new heights. John F. Kennedy, Katharine Hepburn, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley are but a few of the Hollywood greats who jumped aboard. At one point, the boatbuilder offered 159 different models and more than 100,000 classic Chris-Craft's were built in that go-fast age.
As testimony to their outstanding quality, there are still some 15,000 timber Chris-Crafts kicking about today. The Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club (see www.chris-craft.org/index.php) has thousands of members and a worldwide register for its collectible craft. Such is the owners' passion that the boats have been commemorated by way of gold jewellery and featured in movies such as The Dirty Dozen, On Golden Pond, and The Sopranos.
But the pivotal moment was when Chris-Craft turned its hand to making fibreglass boats. Thankfully, the production efficiencies didn't destroy the marque's zeitgeist. The classic lines, teak trim and brightwork were retained. Only performance was ramped up as petrol engines evolved further with fuel-injection systems giving greater horsepower and better power-to-weight. And maintenance was lessened.
Meantime, Chris-Craft changed hands a number of times. In 2000, then owners Outboard Marine Corporation fell into bankruptcy and Genmar bought the badge. A year later, the American marine multinational (itself now defunct) unloaded Chris-Craft to investment group Stellican, where it remains today. Ironically, it's in the hands of these UK owners that Chris-Craft has regained traction. There are now 16 models on offer from 20 to 36ft. CEO and president of Chris-Craft, Stephen Heese, who lived in Newport with his Australian wife for many years, is ramping up the range with a new IPS-powered 45-footer on the drawing board.
Fast forward to our would-be heist. Idling into Manly Wharf, the latest 2011-model Chris-Craft Corsair 28 is all about the American dream - about freedom, prosperity and success. And such is the nautical style, eye candy and comely lines, you can't escape being noticed. Evidently, the perforated-aluminium dash is modelled on a 1960's Aston Martin, the eye-catching brightwork -stainless steel navigation lights, grabrails, drinkholders and windscreen frame - is all custom made, while warm teak trim traces the comely hull lines right back to the trademarked tumblehome, where a new extra-deep swim platform beckons.
Also new for 2011 are a bigger companionway and skylight in the cabin; a nine-foot-long teak (instead of just moulded) sunbed base on the foredeck; a dedicated mounting space on the dash for a nav screen; LED lighting and optional docking and swim lights; and redesigned U-shaped cockpit seating with more elbow room. As ever, there's wonderful attention to detail, perhaps best illustrated by the monogrammed material backs (a la Louis Vuitton) on the seat cushions, the fold-down teak step to assist your passage through the opening windscreen, and the Chris-Craft emblems that in case you forget your whereabouts.
On this upgraded Heritage model, there's a neat blue hull and more teak trim than standard. It extends from the foredeck, where you can work on your tan having attached the sunpad cushion, to a second transverse sundeck and cushion across the transom. If you want shade above the commodious cockpit in between, no worries, call on the concealed canopy that springs forward in cabriolet fashion.
The concealed windlass and self-stow stainless steel anchor make parking for lunch a push-button affair. The cockpit can seat at least six around a supplied teak table, otherwise stowed in a dedicated recess in the electric-lift engine bay. Dayboating amenities include an optional drawer fridge (fitted) and electric barbecue with inverter (not fitted). Otherwise, make it king prawns and salad and keep the champagne on ice. Needless to say, drinkholders abound.
If not the drive then the fun factor is epitomised by the ski-hook for pulling the teens on tubes. An air-compressor is a factory option, but the ski locker comes gratis. The oversized swimplatform is low to the water to make launch and retrieval a snap, but there's also a clever pullout grab handle to assist and cold-water deckshower at the ready.
After which the cabin calls. There's room to pull on the togs in private, a vee-berth for two adults, and small hanging locker for your Sunday club best. You could, for example, dine at Darling Harbour, Marina Mirage or Docklands, indulge and crash the night aboard. The 132lt (pressurised) freshwater capacity will stretch a weekend, while the upmarket Tecma freshwater toilet is the same model found on million-dollar motoryachts.
But for all this, the drive is the real, er, blast. The co-pilot is treated to a wonderful high-backed bucket seat fronting the aforesaid stylish elliptical grabrail, before a glovebox with Kenwood stereo wired to an amp and subwoofer. A Kenwood remote commander is also located alongside a similarly accommodating helm seat.
After arcing about Manly Cove, we were racing across the Heads and tracing the sandstone cliffs to the south. The smell of salt air, the rush of wind past your face, the feeling of a well-trimmed boat. And then the switchable exhaust and subsequent V8 note. It's a heady combination and, such is the engineering and ride, that you could cruise to nearby ports for a weekend at least. According to the official figures, cruising range at 2500rpm and 17.7kts is 213 nautical miles.
Such is the enjoyment that several Chris-Craft owners in Sydney - there are some 40 of the boats there - we're told to use their boats as commuter craft. Dock at Darling Harbour and walk to work. Sure beats peak-hour traffic and the plodding Manly Ferry, whose passengers wave excitedly as we overtake them in the fast lane. There are twin 190hp diesel-engine options, but we think the V8 petrol power is truer to form.
(FACTS & FIGURES)
CHRIS-CRAFT CORSAIR 28
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Wheel in hand, the Chris-Craft 28 Corsair travels in fine fettle, without needing to call on the trim tabs. The sharp forefoot does a fine job of splitting the waves and wash, while the 20° of deadrise at the transom ensures you land with a whoosh rather than an undignified thud. And power steering lets you drive all day. With flip-up seat bolsters, you can also perch up high for an over-the-windscreen view when, say, docking in close quarters.
Top speed was about 51mph or 44kts, according to the American boatbuilder. Not that I was looking at the speedo. At about three-quarter throttle, the drive is so intoxicating that you lose all sense of time. But not place. This is Chris-Craft, after all. Even the directors of Mission Impossible III saw fit to star a Corsair 25 in the action movie.
PRICE AS TESTED
The fully optioned Chris Craft Corsair 28 was selling for $249,000 w/ twin 300hp Volvo Penta petrol inboards, safety gear and registration
Upgraded twin motors, Heritage Package (includes teak trim, decks and swimplatform), upgraded Kenwood stereo, Muir windlass with chain counter and stainless steel anchor, Tecma head and holding tank, forward and rear deck sunpads, battery charger, teak cockpit table, drawer fridge, selectable exhaust, blue hull, safety package, and more
Approx $199,000 w/ single 300hp Volvo Penta 5.7L GXi motor and trailer
MATERIAL: GRP w/ fully-moulded cockpit liner
TYPE: Deep-vee monohull
LENGTH OVERALL: 9m inc. swimplatform
WEIGHT: Approx 3402kg (dry w/ base motor)
BERTHS: Vee-berth for two
HOLDING TANK: 38lt
REC. MAX HP: 640
REC. MIN HP: 375
MAKE/MODEL: Twin Volvo Penta 5.7L Gi EVC
TYPE: V8 multipoint injected petrol engine
RATED HP: 300 at 5000rpm (max)
GEARBOXES (Make/Ratio): Aquamatic SX sterndrive / 1.78:1
Rose Bay Marina,
594 New South Head Road,
Rose Bay, NSW, 2029
Phone: (02) 9328 0999; 0417 253 545.
Too often in this 'safe' world, boating is a drag. Not so on the Chris-Craft. The great American runabouts - a Stars and Stripes flag comes with the boat - put the pleasure in boating. You can't help but admire the lines, luxuriate in the plush buttercream vinyl lounges, enjoy the ride and the wonderful drive. Engineering, fit and finish, and attention to detail are hallmarks of the brand. The designer details are just as impressive. It's a case of getting what you pay for.
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