Chris-Craft harkens back to their mahogany roots with their latest and largest rendition of their bow-riding day runner. The venerable boatbuilder's founders would have been as pleased with the launch's classic good looks as they would have been astonished by its performance.
The Smith brothers, Chris and Henry, who built their first wooden boat in 1874, opened their first mass-production facility in Algonac, Michigan, a decade later. In 1890, they introduced their first steam-powered boats between 25 and 40 feet long, and their first gasoline-powered recreational boats in 1899.
By 1910, what was then called the Smith Ryan Boat & Engine Company focused on building fast, economically priced runabout boats for mass-market distribution. Their boats were a big hit at the New York and Chicago boat shows that year. Between 1914 and 1919, Chris Smith Boats won six consecutive Gold Cup racing awards.
'Chris-Craft' became the standardized brand name in 1924, and was soon recognized as the world's largest builder of mahogany recreational powerboats. At the start of World War II, Chris-Craft began building patrol boats, utility launches and rescue vessels for the United States Navy and Army.
But their biggest decade was the 1950's, when Chris-Craft offered 139 different recreational powerboat models. They manufactured their first fiberglass boat in 1955. In 1960, Shields & Company and National Automotive Fibers bought the company, renaming it Chris-Craft Industries, Incorporated, two years later.
The last mahogany boat - a 57-foot Constellation - was built in 1971. George Dale Murray bought the Chris-Craft boat manufacturing operations in 1980. In 1982, Murray bought the Viking Boat Company and renamed it Chris-Craft Sportdecks. Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) bought Chris-Craft Boats in 1989, and in 1999 Chris-Craft brand celebrated its 125th anniversary.
The 28 Launch was as big a hit at the most recent Miami boat show as its predecessors were in New York and Chicago 90 years ago. Out of the water, you can admire the exaggerated flare of the bow, and the pretty tumblehome around the stern. In fact, it's the lovely symphony of curves that makes this boat uniquely attractive.
Note the circular lounge in the bow; the raked, wrap-around windshield; and the pleasing angle of the reverse transom - not to mention such striking details as a hand-tooled stainless dash with custom instrumentation, brilliantly bright-worked teak caprails, and even a custom-embroidered Chris-Craft burgee on the bow , all hallmarks of elegant watercraft from a bygone age.
But it's in the water that the new Chris-Craft Launch proves its good looks in no way detracts from its performance. Boarding from the stern via the teak-decked integral swim platform, you enter the cockpit along a walkway to starboard of the engine compartment.
The hatch lifts with the push of a button to reveal twin 315 HP MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI's, though current production models are available with a wide variety of single and twin MerCruiser or Volvo Penta gas or diesel engines. The standard is a single 375 HP Volvo Penta Gi 8.1L V8 with electronic fuel injection.
We pulled away from the demo dock at Sealine Marina and headed out to the cruise ship channel where we could open up. Seated at the adjustable double helm seat, the Launch has the feel of a luxury sports car, with its racy aluminum tilt wheel and power steering.
We accelerated swiftly and came up onto plane smoothly. The 20-degree deadrise and relatively wide, 10-foot beam made for a stable ride, and the flared bow kept the boat dry, even while crossing wakes.
We found a comfortable cruising speed at about 33 MPH, with the engines running 3,000 RPM. We were doing 46 MPH at 4,000 RPM, and got a top speed of about 54 MPH at wide-open throttle, just under 5,000 RPM. Engine noise was minimal, thanks to plentiful sound insulation and to the side-exhaust, axial lift muffler system, which is available only on twin engine installations.
The windshield has a walk-through panel to access the circular lounge in the bow, where the seating is comfortable and dry, thanks to the bow flare. There's lots of storage underneath the cushions.
Back in the cockpit, there's an entertainment center with wet bar and storage underneath, and L-shaped settee across the transom and up the port side. A head compartment inside the starboard console hides the portable toilet and sink.
With such amenities, the Chris-Craft would be great for day runs as well as entertaining dockside, but the performance and the swim platform also makes it great for all watersports. A stainless-steel ski tow bar is standard, and there's storage for water skis convenient to the swim platform, where there's a hand-held shower for rinsing off.
The "Heritage" package of options includes a teak cockpit sole, teak covering boards all the way around the gunwales, teak cocktail table with a stainless-steel base, and a really slick stainless engine vent embossed with the Chris-Craft logo. Chris Smith would indeed be impressed.