The ultimate yachting machine

After a disastrous foray into TV broadcasting, Chris-Craft is back to doing what it does best: Building boats. Business 2.0 reviews the flagship Roamer 40.

By John Tayman, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Don't you hate it when this happens: You mosey down to your local watercraft showroom to take charge of a cream-colored 20-foot runabout, and the salesman talks you into a 44-foot motor yacht instead.

A $600,000, 740-horsepower, LCD TV-equipped motor yacht. In blue. And it's not as if the salesman -- his name was Brent -- was especially aggressive. The damn boat sold itself. Nestled against the dock, freshly washed and dieseled, its cabin a titillation of teak and tooled leather.

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Chris-Craft's boat bloat once numbered 159 distinct models. Now refocused, the company has pared its lineup down to 11.
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The Roamer's marine propulsion system, made by Volvo, allows two high-tech sets of six-bladed propellers to grab hold of unmolested water, superpowering the craft forward.

Moreover, the afternoon sun was warm, the waves gentle, and the affordable alternative -- that nifty $100K runabout -- had just been sold to a winemaker from Robert Mondavi. What's a guy to do? Hand me the keys. I'll take the big one.

Which is basically how, one recent weekend, I ended up steering a Chris-Craft Roamer 40 across San Francisco Bay. The original plan had been to toot around in the company's Woody Speedster, a lovely throwback that resembles the boat Henry Fonda pilots in On Golden Pond.

Instead, I found myself in a cabin cruiser like that favored by Tony Soprano when the time comes to whack a dude and toss the evidence overboard.

Not that I'd recommend using a Chris-Craft for illicit purposes -- it's far too classy for that.

Founded 133 years ago by an earnest boat builder named Christopher Columbus Smith, Chris-Craft quickly became the go-to company for the seagoing rich and famous. (JFK owned a Chris-Craft, as did Elvis, Sinatra, and various Vanderbilts.)

Lauded initially for its lovingly crafted mahogany-hulled boats, the company eventually added metal-hulled cruisers -- known as Roamers -- to its lineup, and then kept adding more variations, and more, until the boat bloat numbered 159 distinct models.

Suffice it to say that the company lost focus. After a series of ill-advised expansions, buyouts, and mergers, Chris-Craft somehow ended up owning a fleet of broadcast television stations and was ultimately wrecked by an affiliation with the disastrous UPN network. Then, in 2001, a pair of investors snapped up the remains and rededicated Chris-Craft to boat building. The company's current model lineup numbers a tidy 11. The Roamer 40 is its flagship.

And, indeed, it's a swell boat. Below-decks the salon area boasts two heads, each with its own shower; a stateroom with a full-size bed; a guest bedroom with twin beds; a galley with microwave, convection oven, range, and freezer; flat-screen televisions; a wet bar; and a Bose sound system, all laid out as tidily as an architect's Manhattan loft. (You could live quite comfortably on the Roamer.)

Chris-Craft might have been content simply to make the boat plush, but someone somewhere within the company decided to also make it perform. They dropped a pair of turbocharged inline-six diesel engines into the rear, married them to a revolutionary joystick-controlled propulsion system, and conjured a nimble yacht that can clip along at a rooster-tail-spewing 36 mph. (True, you burn 50 gallons of fuel each hour at such speeds, but no one said the thing was perfect.)

Because the propulsion units are steerable and mounted directly beneath the engines, the Roamer gets onto plane -- that is, gets itself as far out of the water as possible -- in only six seconds or so, thus allowing it to skim above the chop rather than slamming into it.

Even in high seas, the ride is glide-like. Zooming out of the bay and into the Pacific, I discovered that the boat can pass from placid water to roiling ocean with nary a bounce, and when you whip the wheel hard, the Roamer will obediently rise up, pivot, and peel off in the opposite direction. GPS, sonar, autopilot, and other systems keep even a boating newbie out of trouble, and thus all that remains is to speed about in the sun and enjoy the views.

Toward the end of such a day, on a whim, I maneuvered the Roamer alongside the Golden Gate Yacht Club -- Larry Ellison's haunt -- and blasted hello with the horn.

The place was packed, Chris-Craft's target demo deep into its daily sea breezes. As it happens, the number of ultrarich ($5 mil in assets, excluding home) in the United States jumped 23 percent last year, and within this upper class a $600K yacht is considered a bargain. So much so that the company is having difficulty keeping up with demand.

Indeed, just when I had become besotted with the Roamer and begun plotting scenarios in which I might possibly keep hold of her, Brent suddenly reappeared to remind me that this particular pleasure craft had also been sold. The owner would be picking it up shortly and intended to use it at his waterfront mansion on Lake Tahoe.

Brent wanted the keys returned. He also wanted me off the yacht.

Don't you hate it when that happens?

John Tayman, a contributing writer for Business 2.0, is the author of "The Colony" (www.johntayman.com). Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.