Chris Craft Commanders attract a new following as loyalists join forces in the Chris Craft Commander Club.
Virginia boater Rob Cutchins bought his 1968 31-foot Chris Craft Commander sight unseen and had it shipped up from Florida. It needed some work, to say the least. “Maybe a little more than I expected,” he says. He has stripped it down and now is rebuilding it inch by inch - a labor of love and pride. But it will be worth it, he says, when this gem of the Chris Craft fleet hits the water again and the Commander clan gathers to ogle each other’s boats.
Debuted at the 1964 New York Boat Show, the Chris Craft Commander was the first of Chris Craft’s fiberglass designs, the beginning of the end for Chris Craft’s wooden legacy. Designed by Fred MacKerer and Dick Avery, the Commander was a solidly built cruiser with classic lines, reminiscent of its wooden cousins. Eventually, Chris Craft launched Commanders ranging from a spare 27-footer to a 60-foot yacht.
Chris Craft built more than 4,000 Commanders between 1964 and 1977, says Cutchins, who discovered his first one in 1999 and has been hooked ever since. He joined the Chris Craft Antique Boat Club to learn more about them and to hobnob with other owners, but the club seemed more focused on the wooden Chris Crafts. “We needed a club of our own,” says Cutchins, who, along with fellow owner Todd Heinrich of Michigan, launched the Chris Craft Commander Club in 1999. From an initial list of 12, the group has grown to more than 350 members, 40 of them from the Chesapeake.
These days devoted Commander fans can share facts, figures and how-to information about their aging boats through the club’s website (www.commanderclub.com) and its quarterly publication, Styled In Fiberglass. Annual rendezvous bring owners and enthusiasts together to share a weekend of fun, food, educational discussions and boating. This year’s gathering takes place in South Haven, Mich., the weekend of July 26. Next year, look for one here on the Bay. For more information, call Cutchins at 757-393-1045 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.