Sometimes first reactions are not to be trusted. Perhaps it comes with advancing years, but these days if I think too hard about the first reaction I have, it becomes hazy and the longer I think about it the less likely it is to be accurate. Stay with me, I’m about to get to the point…
My first reaction on sighting the Chris-Craft Corsair 28 alongside the dock at Rose Bay Marina, was that it was a retro design; a throwback to the great days of the mahogany runabout. Whoopee! But the longer I looked at the 28, and its 25ft sister, the less retro it appeared to be. Certainly the hull tapers towards the stern and the topsides are rolled over at the transom. The instruments are nostalgic in design, a fair bit of the metal detailing is chromed and, courtesy of the optional heritage package on the boats shown here, the deck and furniture feature a lot of teak.
But Florida-based designer, Michael Peters, who made his name with offshore racing cats and a folio of designs to his credit (including superyachts), has walked a fine styling line with the Corsair 25 and 28. The initial visual impact comes from the sheer class of the styling and detailing, rather than what I initially thought was nostalgia. First impressions, you see, shouldn’t be trusted.
The Chris-Craft story is a long one. According to the company website, Christopher Columbus Smith built his first boat in 1874 when he was 13 – it’s a good thing he didn’t call it the Smith-Craft. In the 1920s and ‘30s the varnished mahogany runabouts became part of the American success ethos; Chris-Crafts were sought by the rich and famous, from Wall Street moguls to Hollywood stars. When Gatsby was gazing across the bay at the light at the end of Daisy’s dock, the light would have shone on the family Chris-Craft, lovingly covered to protect it from the evening mist.
That other legendary mahogany runabout, from the Italian Riva family, is a relative newcomer, dating from 1946, though the Riva family started in boat building in the 19th century. What has history got to do with anything? These days less and less, although current world events confirm the old adage that you ignore history at your own peril. But I’m wandering off the subject again.
If history is bunk, continuity is reassuring. Chris-Craft has not always built boats as glamorous as the two shown here, but for much of the company’s history it did. The only other Chris-Craft I ever rode in was a mahogany runabout dating from the 1950s. It had sunk at its mooring, was raised, fully restored and fitted with a new shaft-drive MerCruiser. It was a great boat, but comparison with these new Corsairs underlines how far boat design has come. So, if for nothing else, an understanding of history is essential as a measure of progress.
The Corsair 25 and 28 (you can also have a 33 and 36, and a 20-footer known as the Speedster) are deep-vee open runabouts with cuddy cabin accommodation forward. The Launch series – 22, 25 and 28 – are bow riders, the bigger two sharing hulls with the Corsairs.
In the Corsair forepeaks you will find a vee berth, with a Vacu-Flush toilet under the lift-out infill. There is sitting headroom only – this is a sleeping area, not a cabin. These boats may be open runabouts, but importer Mark Chapman makes the point that owners and guests need not be uncomfortable because the Corsairs have most of the facilities of a cruiser.
There are two cockpit layouts; a normal U-shaped settee or the layout shown on these boats, with a wet bar/refrigerator console amidships on the starboard side. “I thought this layout was pretty nice,” says Mark, “more the Australian style of boating”.
There is a fitting in the cockpit floor to take the table, dual voltage battery charger and transom shower. The bimini is long, stretching from the forward edge of the engine bay, and can be set up by one person. It lives beneath the engine hatch, which has a power-lift so when you press the button, the lift goes up and you hoist the bimini into place. These boats offer the sort of boating lifestyle I like – comfort when outdoors. Otherwise I, for one, would stay home.
The heritage option includes a lot of teak; on the sidedecks, foredeck, afterdeck and on some of the furniture. There is a strip of teak beneath a lift-up section of the upholstered stern so if you want to board from the transom, lift up the upholstered bit so you don’t dirty it. The teak is unfinished so you can apply oil, a gloss finish or leave it bare to weather to silver. Then again, I don’t reckon that would be in keeping with the style of a typical Corsair owner.
You can order the 28 with a single engine, but as Mark Chapman says, with a 10ft beam why not have twins? You can have MerCruiser or Volvo petrol, or a Yanmar diesel with MerCruiser sterndrive unit. Our boat had two 5-litre Volvos, each with 280hp, and is good for 56mph. Mark reckons it planes easily when loaded with passengers, at around 2500rpm.
The 25 has trailerable beam (8ft 6in) and room for only one engine. Our boat had a big-block Volvo with 375hp and Duoprop drive, which was good for 55mph.
Both boats kick onto the plane quickly and with this sort of power the nose lifts only briefly when the throttles are pushed open. The Corsairs simply punch through the planing transition as if it doesn’t exist. They turn, handle and ride as a well-developed deep-vee should (steering is power-assisted mechanical; the bigger Corsairs have power-boosted hydraulic). They appear to be dry, though we only had to contend with the smooth water of a winter’s day in Sydney.
The engines are quiet. The 28 is particularly quiet and smooth, with enough exhaust burble to titillate the aural senses, though non-petrol heads won’t notice. With 560hp to do the work, the engines are only lightly-loaded, and they are almost contemptuous of the effort needed to push the 3400kg hull up to cruising speed. Everything said about the 28 applies to the 25. Performance is similar because it has a slightly lower kg/hp figure than the twin-engined 28.
But the best bit about owning a boat like this comes at the end of the day. You are surrounded by style, but on a scale you can appreciate. This is not flashy American style; these Corsairs are universally attractive, from the dark blue hull to the creamy upholstery, timber trim and gleam of the chrome.
I hope the Australian market is ready for these boats. Many Americans (not all) and most Europeans like their style to be subtle; to reflect good taste, not broadcast it. Aussies are traditionally shy of spending on style unless it is the big, look-at-me sort of style, which says I have great taste and I’m bloody rich. In which case, these Corsairs would be too good for them. Pearls before swine, I say.
For more information, contact the Chapman Marine Group, Rose Bay Marina, Rose Bay, Sydney. Phone (02) 9326 2867 or cruise to: www.chapmanmarine.com.au.
Overall length: 7.62m
Dry weight: 2087kg
Fuel capacity: 310 litres
Water: 34 litres
Deadrise: 20 degrees
Price (as tested with 375hp Volvo):
Base model (with 280hp Volvo):
Overall length: 8.53m
Dry weight: 3402kg
Fuel capacity: 568 litres
Water: 133 litres
Deadrise: 20 degrees
Price (as tested, with two 280hp Volvos):
Base model (with single 375hp Volvo):