Commander of the fleet

Posted on Written by Chris Landry
Chris-Craft’s new Commander 42 leaves the dock for a demo run at the Hyatt in Sarasota, Fla., at the company’s dealer meeting in mid-July.

Chris-Craft’s new Commander 42 leaves the dock for a demo run at the Hyatt in Sarasota, Fla., at the company’s dealer meeting in mid-July.

Stephen Julius darted around the 42-foot Down East-style express cruiser during a demo ride, answering questions, pointing out key features and showing off the yacht’s meticulous fit and finish.

“I believe this is the most beautiful lobster yacht design I know of,” says the Chris-Craft CEO of the company’s new Commander 42. “I think she’s a beauty.”

Julius fielded questions from clients and dealers from the time we left the dock until our return an hour later.

The Commander 42 is a completely different style of boat for Chris-Craft, which has been building luxury open sport boats in recent years, says Julius. Chris-Craft enters the express sedan/coupe market with the Commander 42.

The Commander has been a major model in the Chris-Craft fleet off and on for decades. The first generation of fiberglass Commanders was built from 1964 to 1972 — boats ranging from 19 to 60 feet, says Lee Dahlen, chief commander of the Chris-Craft Commander Club (commanderclub.com). “Within that generation of boats, there was a Commander 42, which was a motoryacht with two staterooms — one forward, one aft — and a large saloon between,” he says. The first fiberglass Commander — a 38 — was introduced at the New York Boat Show in 1964, says Dahlen.

Chris-Craft also introduced the Calypso 30, the second dual console from the builder. It was the first public showing for this boat and the Commander 42.

Chris-Craft also introduced the Calypso 30, the second dual console from the builder. It was the first public showing for this boat and the Commander 42.

Chris-Craft’s latest Commander has the interior amenities and accommodations of a modern express cruising boat, but with a classic lobster-yacht exterior design, says Julius.

“The lobster yacht style dovetails with our DNA,” Julius says. “There are a lot of forgettable boats out there. We’re in the business of creating beautiful boats — memorable boats.”

More than 150 representatives from Chris-Craft dealerships in the United States and around the world gathered in Sarasota, Fla., in mid-July to test the boatbuilder’s entire fleet, including the Commander and the new Calypso 30 dual console.

“This is our biggest event of the year,” Chris-Craft marketing director Allison Scharnow tells me as I wait my turn to test the Calypso. “It’s the only time we have all the models in the water at the same time. Dealers and customers get to touch, feel and drive them and talk to the engineers. It’s important for our customers and dealers to see them here, at a special event for them, not just at a boat show. They get very personal attention in a relaxed atmosphere.”

About 150 registered customers also attended the event, a good number of them from outside the States, says Scharnow. Dealers and clients had the chance to test 11 boats from 21 to 42 feet. The Sarasota builder had the vessels docked at the Hyatt Regency’s marina, with a large tent covering the T-dock so participants could escape the Florida sun. (It was 93 degrees.)

The Commander is a joint venture between Chris-Craft and the Italian yacht builder Austin Parker. Austin Parker designed the hull, and Chris-Craft designed the interiors.

Chris-Craft also plans 36- and 52-foot versions of the Commander, a joint venture with the Italian yacht builder Austin Parker.

Chris-Craft also plans 36- and 52-foot versions of the Commander, a joint venture with the Italian yacht builder Austin Parker.

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Powered with twin 435-hp Volvo Penta IPS600s, the Commander 42 topped out at 36 knots during our test run. The enclosed deckhouse’s aft end opens to the cockpit via two centerline sliding glass doors. There’s a large “sunbed” on the bow, a cockpit galley, sleeping below for five people, a head and separate shower, teak cockpit soles and mahogany exterior trim.

Dual L-shaped settees in the deckhouse with a dinette table that fits between should be a social hot spot on the yacht, says Julius. The builder put the helm on the port side to maximize cabin space, says Chris-Craft vice president of engineering Chris Collier.

The Commander was by far the most popular boat at the event, with non-stop demo rides. But the new Calypso 30 — the second dual console from the builder — drew a steady flow of passengers, too. With its twin Yamaha F300s, I had the boat doing 54 mph at full throttle. She’s 30 feet, but handles like a 19-foot runabout, with great acceleration and nimble handling. It’s a blast to drive and gets decent mileage for a boat with 600 horses — 1.4 to 1.7 miles to the gallon from 30 to 40 mph.

I liked the starboard-side enclosed head under the helm console. The entire forward-facing seat lifts up, giving you a wide-open passage inside. The starboard boarding door is clever and functional, as well. It swings inboard and then can be lifted and placed on top of the gunwale, revealing a recessed swim ladder.

The versatility and comfort of the cockpit seating impressed me. You can fill the entire space with seating by pulling out the port and starboard settees, which are recessed and hidden along the gunwales, or clear the decks when you need to move about freely.

I talked to two dealers — one from the local area and the other from Sweden. Goran Ganstrand is CEO of the dealer Vatt in Nacka Strand, which is near Stockholm. Vatt has been a Chris-Craft dealer for nine years, carrying models from 21 to 32 feet.

“This is a new market for us,” Ganstrand says of the Commander 42. “There is a lot of day boating in Europe, but this gives you the opportunity to do both day boating and weekend — or longer — cruising.”

Casey Smith, of the Viage Group’s St. Petersburg office, praised Chris-Craft for giving dealers and clients lots of personal attention and great access to the boats. “I don’t know of another company that goes to this extent,” he says. “This is the first public showing of this boat, and customers can run these boats all day.”

The Commander 42 and Calypso will be displayed at the Newport International Boat Show, the United States Powerboat Show in Annapolis and the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue.

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