KC Stock, the owner of Cruisers Yachts, decided around 2009 that it was time for a styling change. He and Tony Martens, director of product development and engineering, wanted the next generation of Cruisers to be sleeker, with sportier lines. However, they knew there were limits.
“It seems as though some European builders can get away with compromises, but domestic builders can’t,” Martens says. “If we told our customer he had to open his sunroof to stand up and look forward to drive, we couldn’t get away with that. Our boats need to function, but we also want them to look good.”
Many U.S. builders of family cruisers and runabouts are embracing that same attitude. Cruisers, Chris-Craft, Cobalt and others all have models with a Euro or Italian look, but with a little more focus on practicality. It’s as if the manufacturers told designers: “We want it to look Italian, but take it down a couple of notches.”
Considering that Stephen Julius, who purchased Chris-Craft from Genmar in 2001, owned Riva Yachts before selling the Italian brand to the Ferretti Group in 2000, it’s no surprise that Chris-Craft boats wound up looking the way they do. A modern Chris-Craft would seem at home alongside a Riva in a Venice canal, but Rivas ooze opulence like a supermodel in a Versace gown, with an aura of impracticality at a high price. Chris-Crafts are more like an equally good-looking American woman sipping a domestic beer, rather than an imported champagne.
“It’s our attempt to try to strike a balance,” says Steve Heese, Chris-Craft president, who bought the company with Julius. “With a tooling investment, that’s the bet you’re making. We try to develop global products much like BMW does.”
After Heese and Julius bought Chris-Craft, one of the first people they called was designer Michael Peters in Sarasota, Fla., where the builder is also based. Peters has been designing boats for European companies for decades, including Azimut, the Ferretti Group and Jeanneau. “Our office has always been much more about European than American style,” Peters says. “My natural tendency is going to be very European.”
Peters aside, the one thing many builders seem to have in common is the country of origin for their designers: Italy. Nuvolari-Lenard is based there and has designed for Marquis Yachts in the United States, as well as for multiple clients in Europe. Many designers for France-based Groupe Beneteau are Italian. Polish builder Galeon Yachts, which MarineMax distributes in the United States, enjoys alliances with Roberto Curto, an Italian designer.
“Italy is one of those places where design reverberates from,” Heese says. “Even if you’re using an American designer, if the design is coming from those places, the American designers are going to pick up the vibe.”
For the Cantius series, Martens and engineers from Cruisers worked with Patrizio Facherise, president of FD Yacht & Product Design Studio, based in Bradenton, Fla. Facherise worked with Peters before opening his own office. “I was born in Italy, lived in Belgium, and I’m an American citizen,” Facherise says. “It is the nature of our studio here to try to please the American market, but with some European blood. It’s European style with American ergonomics.”
Facherise also worked with Cobalt on its new A36, which the company calls a crossover bowrider. Cobalt president Paxson St. Clair is 6 feet, 3 inches tall, so he mandated that the Euro-inspired coupe be designed with at least 6 feet of headroom — a feature that can be difficult to find on European boats.
“We felt we needed a fresh look, not in a revolutionary way but an evolution,” St. Clair says. “The Italian look is too far on the extreme of form over function. Everybody loves that European look, but function is a more important piece to the puzzle in the States.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue.