REVIEW: CHRIS-CRAFT HERITAGE LAUNCH 32

By: JOHN FORD, Photography by: ELLEN DEWAR

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

Often described as the world’s best boats and certainly one of the most iconic, Chris-Craft has released its delectable new Heritage Launch 32 in Australia.

Lee’s squeals of delight were easily heard above the roaring V8s as this sleekest of vessels thrashed frenzied circles against the backdrop of a golden Sydney skyline, where a setting sun blazed amid the buildings. Contrasting the graceful, silver-gilt curves of the Chris-Craft’s hull, Steve’s angular suit glimmered in the blaze of the setting sun as it sank behind the city. It was a moment that spoke volumes of the boat’s sweet blend of pretty poise and urban style.

 

CHRIS-CRAFT BOATS

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As I gazed around the harbour, with its waterside mansions and bush-lined, sandstone shores, it was easy to understand the smugness Sydneysiders sometimes display about their city. And as I noticed the huge smiles on the faces of the boat’s occupants I also forgave the smugness the owners of such a craft might display. This Chris-Craft Launch 32 is one sexy lady.

Trade-a-Boat director-editor Jeff Strang had assembled a star team including head photographer Ellen Dewar, video operator Stephen Dwight and myself for the two-day production. The undisputed star of the show, the new Chris-Craft Launch 32, was ably supported by the brand’s importers Lee Poulson and Steve Hannes. It was immediately apparent that the owners of Premier Marine, in Sydney’s exclusive Eastern Suburbs, get as much enjoyment driving the boats as they do from introducing new owners to such elite craft.

 

OLDEST BOAT MANUFACTURER IN THE WORLD

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Lee Poulson’s assertion that Chris-Craft is the oldest boat manufacturer in the world also stirred my curiosity to explore the company’s history.

Company founder Christopher Columbus Smith built his first duck-hunting boat in 1874 at the age of 13. He went on to develop successful racing boats for himself and many clients – most notably his great uncle Henry Ford. The Chris-Craft brand of timber boats was officially established in 1922.

Chris would have been among the first, if not the actual first person to install a petrol engine in one of his hulls, and he quickly gained an understanding of the differing hydrodynamic requirements of such a powered craft.

Much later in the 1960s the company embraced the new technology of fibreglass with the last mahogany hull produced in 1971. Over the years there have been more than 250,000 Chris-Craft’s built with production peaking in the 1950s, when an incredible 139 models tempted customers across a broad demographic.

By now Chris-Craft had become synonymous with pleasureboating and the masses flocked to a brand which attracted such famous entertainers as Dean Martin and Elvis Presley.

 

AMERICAN BOATS

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When I arrived at the marina the Launch 32 was enjoying some last-minute love and attention. Unmistakably a Chris-Craft, the family resemblance is striking: the elegant lines, the flared bows, the classic reverse tumblehome and the timeless teak timberwork all adding to the retro-chic image.

A casual observer may mistake the Launch 32 for something of European breeding but once onboard there is no denying its American lineage. The transom step features a large inlaid logo, while subtle reminders of the brand, like the etched cleats, inlaid timber work, stitched upholstery, emblazoned glovebox add a touch of designer insignia appeal.

My favourite example of this branding found a home on the wheel. Long ago the then editor of Trade-a-Boat berated me for a photo of a dash that I had submitted with the steering wheel not correctly aligned. When I first sat behind the helm I automatically turned it the right way up only to discover the central boss with logo magically stayed on a horizontal plane. It’s a little thing, I know, but it underlined the attention to detail that makes this boat special.

 

LUXURY BOWRIDER

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Because the driver’s seat is a double and the passenger seat is a single, the walkway to the bow is slightly offset to the port side, creating an asymmetric seating arrangement in the bow with wide, well-padded lounges arrayed in a semicircle.

The rich ivory and cream upholstery is neatly stitched and finished in marine-grade vinyl with a UV inhibitor, the sumptuously contoured back support inviting you to relax in surprisingly understated surrounds.

A teak-covered hatch in the bow accesses a completely hidden Lewmar anchor winch, while the anchor is located unobtrusively into the lines of the bow. Set into finely-formed mouldings with teak accents that run back along the deck, the navigation lights combine with a popup cleat to form a crafted sculpture of sleek simplicity.

In the bow walkway is a small starboardside cabin comprised of a double bed with sitting room.  There’s a light of course, and a skylight and air-conditioning but the head-height is low enough to make the space somewhat confining. It is however a place to sleep and has been included into what is essentially a dayboat just to add a little more versatility.

 

VOLVO PENTA POWER

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Sitting at the wheel evokes visions of Bond. Not surprising given the inspiration comes from 007’s favourite drive. I would have thought there were plenty of American muscle cars to provide a muse, in any case there’s an appropriate arrangement of dials set into a drilled and brushed aluminium panel and the cooler-than-Cartier wood-rimmed wheel. It looks incredible and for the analogue-challenged generation there’s an unobtrusive digital screen over on the right with data from the Volvo Pentas.

There is a double helm seat with flip-up bolster for the driver and a single bucket for the co-pilot, who gets to play with the booming Rockford Fosgate sound system. And that impressive music player is perfect for this boat built to have fun in the sun. In good dayboat tradition, the Launch 32 provides room to move in its beamy cockpit. Here a U-shaped lounge wraps around the rear of the boat leaving space for a full-width sunpad which converts to two rear-facing recliners.

The main section of the cockpit is separated by mouldings for seat backrests, meaning helm seats don’t swivel to join the party. A portside, floor-level fridge cools drinks and the starboard lounge lifts to reveal a giant, drained storage bin that could double as an icebox capable of holding enough food for the crowd. Built into the floor is a ski locker that runs right into the bow, so it has loads of space for watertoys and beach-bound picnic gear.

Lifting the motorised hatch reveals one of the neatest engine bays you will find this side of a concourse show winner. Twin 5.7lt Volvo Penta GXi petrol V8s deliver 320hp apiece through OceanX drives (which are titanium-ceramic coated and protected by sensors for oil condition and water ingress), and take up the bulk of the space, while a folding teak cockpit table is squirreled away in the corner.

Also hidden under the engine hatch is a tidy arrangement for a bimini that folds out over the cockpit to protect rear passengers and those at the helm. The hatch is sealed and covered in thick sound deadening that did an excellent job of eliminating the mechanical noise of the V8s.

The Heritage model also includes a teak swimplatform and a walkway across the sunpad, and with added teak trim along the gunwales the boat retains a traditional feel.

 

HANDLING AND RIDE

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By the time I got to drive the Chris-Craft Launch 32 following the primary photo shoot, the perfect conditions of the day before had deteriorated to a stiff breeze and significant tidal chop.

As might be expected a rush of excitement ensued and when the Volvos lit; the low rumble clearly meant business. The 640 angry horses under the hood literally launch the boat out of the hole and from there it is a silky-smooth transition to a mid-range 28kts cruise, at around 3500rpm.

I’m sure it would be possible to throw the boat into sharp turns at speed in an attempt to seek weaknesses in the handling, but in all honesty it felt like a travesty to hoon around. Instead the feeling is of a refined and well-mannered, yet deceptively quick luxury car, so I drove it like it was exactly that.

Into big, sweeping turns it handles beautifully without wallowing or cavitation, throwing up a minimum of spray, the growling Volvos driving the hull back on line crisply. Eventually, egged on by the blasting Rockford Fosgate sound system, I found myself parking my gentlemanly dignity at the door and blasting out across the bay at top speed revelling in such unadulterated frivolity.

A sheltered stretch of water offered the opportunity to put some numbers to the performance, which can be found in the specs panel. At wide open throttle we squeezed out 43.5kts, or right on the magic 50mph. Even at such a breakneck pace the boat is well balanced, performing faultlessly and with the genuine aplomb of a properly mannered sportsboat.

 

THE TRADE-A-BOAT VERDICT

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The sleeping quarters and bathroom offer some versatility to extended trips and Chris-Craft’s industry-leading design and quality apparent on the Launch 32, will have appeal for years to come. Little features throughout the boat also speak volumes for the pride and attention to detail that goes into the finished product. Like they say, you get what you pay for.

At $380,000 this is not a boat for everyone and that’s really part of its appeal. But for those with the wherewithal to own one, it does everything it should and does it well. 

 

[HIGHS]

› Classic looks and upmarket appeal

› Great handling and ride

› Superb finish

 

[LOWS]

› I will never look as svelte as Steve at the wheel

 

 

CHRIS-CRAFT LAUNCH 32 SPECIFICATIONS 

 

PRICE AS TESTED

$380,000

 

PRICED FROM

$355,000

 

SEA TRIALS

Twin 320hp Volvo Penta 5.7 GXi petrol V8

 

REV      SPEED

1000    5.8kts

1500    8.5kts

2000    10.5kts

2200 (planing) 12.5kts

2500    16kts

3000    21.5kts

3500    28kts

4000    33kts

4500    38kts

5000    42kts

5200 (WOT)    43.5kts

*Sea-trial data supplied by the author.

 

GENERAL

MATERIAL Fibreglass

TYPE Monohull

LENGTH 10.4m

BEAM 3.1m

WEIGHT 4513kg

DEADRISE 20°

 

CAPACITIES

PEOPLE (DAY) 12

REC. HP 600 to 860

REC. MAX HP 860

FUEL 700lt

WATER 132lt

 

ENGINE

MAKE/MODEL 2 x Volvo Penta 5.7 GXi

TYPE Petrol V8

RATED HP 320 (each)

WEIGHT 490kg (each)

DISPLACEMENT 5.7lt (each)

PROPELLER F3 Duoprop

 

SUPPLIED BY

Premier Marine,

Rose Bay Marina,

594 New South Head Road,

Rose Bay, NSW, 2029

Phone: (02) 9328 0999

Email: lee@premiermarine.com.au

Web: www.premiermarine.com.au

 

LAYOUT

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Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #445, October/November 2013.

Find Chris-Craft boats for sale.

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