VIDEO: Chris-Craft Heritage Launch 32

By: John Ford, Photography by: Ellen Dewar

Often described as the world’s best boats, and certainly one of the most iconic brands, Chris-Craft has released its sleek, sexy new Heritage Launch. Our starry-eyed boat tester was so impressed he was last seen heading downtown for an appropriate new suit…

Squeals of delight were easily heard above the roaring V8s as this sleekest of vessels thrashed frenzied circles against the backdrop of a golden skyline. Contrasting the graceful, silver-gilt curves of the Chris-Craft's hull, the skipper's angular suit glimmered in the blaze of the setting sun as it sank behind the city. It was a moment that spoke volumes of the boat's sweet blend of pretty poise and urban style. I then noticed the huge smiles on the faces of the boat's occupants: this Launch 32 is one smooth, sexy lady.

Chris-Craft founder Christopher Columbus Smith built his first duck-hunting boat in 1874 at the age of 13. He went on to develop successful racing boats for himself and many clients – most notably his great uncle Henry Ford. The Chris-Craft brand of timber boats was officially established in 1922.

Smith would have been among the first, possibly the first person, to install a petrol engine in one of his hulls, and he quickly gained an understanding of the differing hydrodynamic requirements.

In the 1960s the company embraced the new technology of fibreglass, with the last mahogany hull produced in 1971. Over the years there have been more than 250,000 Chris-Crafts built, with production peaking in the 1950s when an incredible 139 models tempted customers across a broad demographic.

By now, Chris-Craft had become synonymous with pleasure boating and the masses flocked to a glamorous brand that attracted such famous entertainers as Dean Martin and Elvis Presley.

American woman

When I arrived at the marina the Launch 32 was enjoying some last-minute love and attention. Unmistakeably a Chris-Craft, the family resemblance is striking: the elegant lines, the flared bows, the classic reverse tumblehome and the timeless teak timberwork all adding to the retro-chic image. A casual observer may mistake the Launch 32 for something of European breeding, but once on board there's no denying its American lineage. The transom step features a large inlaid logo, while subtle reminders of the brand, like the etched cleats, inlaid timber work, stitched upholstery and emblazoned glovebox add a touch of designer insignia appeal.

My favourite example of this branding is on the wheel. A previous editor of Trade-A-Boat berated me for a photo of a dash that I had submitted with the steering wheel not correctly aligned. When I first sat behind the helm I automatically turned it the right way up, only to discover the central boss with logo magically stayed on a horizontal plane. It's a little thing, I know, but it underlined the attention to detail that makes this boat special.

Sleek simplicity

Because the driver's seat is a double and the passenger seat is a single, the walkway to the bow is slightly offset to the port side, creating an asymmetric seating arrangement in the bow. The rich ivory and cream upholstery is neatly stitched and finished in marine-grade vinyl with a UV inhibitor, the sumptuously contoured back support inviting you to relax in surprisingly understated surrounds.

A teak-covered hatch in the bow accesses a completely hidden Lewmar anchor winch, while the anchor is located unobtrusively in the lines of the bow. Set into finely-formed mouldings with teak accents that run back along the deck, the navigation lights combine with a pop-up cleat to form a crafted sculpture of sleek simplicity.

In the bow walkway is a small starboard-side cabin comprised of a double bed with sitting room. There's a light, of course, and a skylight and air-conditioning but the head-height is low enough to make the space somewhat confining. It is, however, a place to sleep and has been included in what is essentially a day boat just to add a little more versatility.

Room to relax

Sitting at the wheel evokes visions of Bond — not surprising given the inspiration comes from 007's favourite drive. There's an appropriate arrangement of dials set into a drilled and brushed aluminium panel and the cooler-than-Cartier wood-rimmed wheel. It looks incredible, and for the analogue-challenged generation there's an unobtrusive digital screen with data from the Volvo Pentas.

There's a double helm seat with flip-up bolster for the driver and a single bucket for the co-pilot, who gets to play with the booming Rockford Fosgate sound system. The Launch 32 provides room to move in its beamy cockpit, where a U-shaped lounge wraps around the rear of the boat leaving space for a full-width sunpad that converts into two rear-facing recliners. The main section of the cockpit is separated by mouldings for seat backrests, meaning helm seats don't swivel to join the party. A portside, floor-level fridge keeps the champers cold and the starboard lounge lifts to reveal a giant, drained storage bin that could double as an icebox capable of holding enough food for a crowd. Built into the floor is a ski locker that runs right into the bow, with loads of space for watertoys and beach-bound picnic gear.

Lifting the motorised hatch reveals one of the neatest engine bays you will find this side of a concourse show winner. Twin 5.7L Volvo Penta GXi petrol V8s deliver 320hp apiece through OceanX drives (which are titanium-ceramic coated and protected by sensors for oil condition and water ingress), and take up the bulk of the space, while a folding teak cockpit table is squirreled away in the corner.

Also hidden under the engine hatch is a tidy arrangement for a bimini that folds out over the cockpit to protect rear and helm passengers. The hatch is sealed and covered in thick sound-deadening that did an excellent job of eliminating the mechanical noise of the V8s.

The Heritage model also includes a teak swim platform and a walkway across the sunpad, and with added teak trim along the gunwales the boat retains a traditional feel.

Silky smooth

By the time I got to drive the Launch 32, the perfect conditions had deteriorated to a stiff breeze and significant tidal chop. As might be expected, a rush of excitement ensued and when the Volvos lit, the low rumble clearly meaning business. The 640 angry horses under the hood literally launch the boat out of the hole and from there it's a silky-smooth transition to a mid-range 28-knot cruise at around 3500rpm.

I'm sure it would be possible to throw the boat into sharp turns at speed in an attempt to seek weaknesses in the handling, but in all honesty it felt like a travesty to hoon around. Instead, the feeling is of a refined and well-mannered, yet deceptively quick luxury car, so I drove it like it was exactly that.

The boat handles beautifully into big, sweeping turns without wallowing or cavitation, throwing up a minimum of spray, and the growling Volvos crisply drive the hull back on line. Eventually, egged on by the blasting sound system, I found myself parking my gentlemanly dignity at the door and blasting out across the bay at top speed, revelling in such unadulterated frivolity. At wide open throttle we squeezed out 43.5kts, or right on the magic 50mph. Even at such a breakneck pace the boat is well balanced, performing faultlessly and with the genuine aplomb of a properly mannered sports boat.

The verdict

Chris-Craft's industry-leading design and quality will have appeal for years to come. Little features throughout the boat speak volumes for the pride and attention to detail that goes into the finished product. Like they say, you get what you pay for, and with this beautiful boat you get a lot.

For more information contact Sports Marine on (03) 379 9208 or (09) 274 9918 or visit

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