Greg Copp paid the long-standing and distinguished American boatbuilders Chris-Craft a visit to check out their latest offering, the Corsair 34 …
Chris-Craft are one of a group of boatbuilders that have little need to reinvent themselves.Some yards feel a need to change their style or tack in order to stay out in front, but the Chris-Craft concept succeeds through continuity. Being one of the oldest US boatbuilders with a history stretching back to the 19th century, this company’s boats have long been the favourites of the rich and famous.
Based on the earlier Corsair 33, which I was lucky enough to test some 12 years ago, the Corsair 34 is a perfect example of what drives this brand. Though there have been some styling changes between these models, the hull is much the same. I would go so far as to say that the new Corsair has taken the retro concept a step further than its predecessor, while incorporating some clever practical features. Our particular test boat was sprayed a stunning pale blue, one of many hull colours you can order this boat in. It also had the Heritage teak option, which includes teak on the foredeck, cockpit, bathing platform and the coaming sections running down each side (synthetic teak is not an option). This is made all the more stunning with white caulking to match the light cream upholstery.
The hull length is 32ft, but the extra-long bathing platform gives this boat the 34ft referred to in its name. Access will often be via the bathing platform, which with the central sun pad section removed gives you a teak walkway into the cockpit. With the aft central seat cushion removed, you do not have to step on any of the diamond stitched upholstery either. It has a cleverly designed teak cockpit table that folds out in a flash from being located beneath the aft cockpit seating. Engine access is also fast and faultless, as the whole sun pad/aft seat assembly simply lifts up, revealing yards of space around the engines. Being petrol engines, they take up little room, so poking around the first-rate mechanical ergonomics of Volvo’s compact V8s is a pleasure.
The attention to detail everywhere is superb, not least the abundance of stunning retro stainless features, including drop-down cleats, engine bay air vents, name plates and Chris-Craft name stitching on the seat backs. The dash is fashioned in the same manner, using a design I am told is taken from an early Aston Martin, with a wooden/stainless steering wheel in the same period style. The modern Garmin plotter, engine display, bow thruster joystick and EVC engine controls do give the game away, but going retro has its limits. The helm set-up works pretty well as I discovered, providing you fold up the flip-up seat bolster and sit on it with your feet wedged on the footboard, otherwise you do not get the perfect bow view that this position provides. You can sit with the bolster down if you want a leisurely cruise, but that is not really what this boat is about. In keeping with its classic design, its short windscreen has no wipers, so if you are going to drive it fast into any seaway, to which this boat is aptly suited, you will need to sit with the bolster raised.
Forward-deck access is courtesy of a folding central windscreen gate, served by a neat fold-out teak-capped step. One thing you do need to be aware of is the central line of three skylights that feed the cabin its abundance of light. It will no doubt get mainly used as a dayboat, but below decks is bigger than you think. The heads compartment is separate, fitted with a sink and of course a flushing electric toilet. Opposite sits a small galley with a sink and a pull-out fridge, while a second fridge can also be found up in the cockpit. If you intend to overnight, the small table drops down to make an infill within the dinette, creating a large double bed, which enables you to enjoy the TV that is inset into the forward bulkhead.
Driving the Corsair
It took a while to get the boat sitting at its ideal engine trim setting, as the trim had not been effectively calibrated, resulting in the trim gauge under-reading. Once I came to terms with the fact that the boat had to be driven with the sterndrives sitting between -5 and +1 at planing speeds, the pickup and superbly balanced steering made themselves felt. Though petrol engines do not give the low-down grunt of a pair of diesels, the torque produced by two 5.3L petrol V8s is still impressive. This is a driver’s boat, which would be lacking without a relentless petrol power delivery. Displacing only 5.5 tonnes with 700bhp, the Chris-Craft was past 40 knots in 20 seconds. With the moderate exhaust tone produced by petrol engines, you have to keep an eye on the GPS to check on your speed. Thirty knots feels like 20, and you tend to quickly gravitate to that 40-knot barrier without realising it. The beauty of these engines is that throughout their spectrum they are perfectly smooth and rev cleanly right up to their maximum of 5500rpm ‒ and unlike a diesel boat, you do not really feel you are pushing it. Any engine gets greedy at the top end of its rev range, but petrol engines develop a noticeable thirst in this region, which subsequently had us creeping back at the end of the day on ‘fumes’.
The ride is reassuringly smooth and stable, not least as a result of its deep-vee hull and relatively wide beam. The sharp entry profile of the hull coupled to its flared bow soon had me forgetting that I was cutting through the wake of the photo boat on wide open throttle. The Corsair has the benefit of a transom deadrise angle of 22 degrees, which sharpens considerably in the forward sections. The result of all this is a dry and stable ride, which in the chop off Calshot proved its worth. On this note, I will say that the Corsair has a ‘wet spot’ at semi-displacement speed, meaning you either have to be creeping along at 8 knots or planing past 20 knots not to get wet with the weather on the forward sections. It is a case of the faster you go, the drier it is, otherwise the spray rails and the chines are running too low to fully deflect the upward drive of seawater.
Another factor helping the Corsair’s handling and seakeeping was its level fore and aft trim. Trim tabs were not an issue here and I simply did not use them. In the hardest of turns I took the precaution of trimming the legs down, simply for that extra reassurance of getting a bit more grip, but to be honest, I am not sure it made any difference. I make this point because one thing I recall from testing a Corsair 33 12 years ago is that in tight full-power turns, the boat has a tendency to slide the stern slightly. However, once familiar with this it can be used to good effect, as it never slips too far and is easy to control, enabling even quicker turns. The Corsair 34, having the same hull as its predecessor, has the same characteristic, and it is equally enjoyable to use as long as you are aware of it. There is one difference and that is that the 34 conveniently has an engine display starboard of the helm seat, allowing the helmsman to easily see his trim setting in big bold numerals before diving into a full-power turn. This is a handy feature if you have been cracking on at 40 knots with the sterndrives trimmed out and then intend to cut a sharp one.
This is a timeless boat built in a style that has onlookers hungering to own one. Though some will not unreasonably consider it less than ideal for use in UK waters, there is no shortage of people prepared to wait seven months for one to be built on the other side of the Atlantic. It can be had in diesel form, but few order it with D4s as it is generally accepted that this is a sacrilege, and the latest generation of purpose-built marine petrol engines from Volvo and Mercury are tailor-made for this boat. Though style, handling and performance are the key characteristics of the Corsair, it also manages to combine some impressive practical features, and just enough below decks not to be branded a dayboat. The realistic minimum in terms of engine choice is the twin 350hp 5.3L Volvo option as tested. However, I would advocate the 380hp version of these engines, or the 430hp 6.2L V8 Volvo, which is hardly any heavier. The hull can certainly take it with room to spare, and let’s face it, compromise and modesty are not what this boat is about.
What we thought
Perfectly poised steering
Solid build quality
No windscreen wipers – not even as an extra
Wet ride at low speeds
Fuel figures (for current test boat with twin 350hp Volvo V8s with duo-prop sterndrives)
RPM Speed (knots) LPH Fuel consumption (NMPG)
1500 11.5 21.8 2.4
2000 13.7 31.8 2.0
2500 17.1 45.4 1.7
3000 22.2 59.0 1.7
3500 25.2 72.6 1.6
4000 27.8 99.8 1.3
4500 33.5 125.2 1.2
5000 38.7 159.8 1.1
5500 (WOT) 42.2 194.1 1.0
LOA:10.4m (34ft 01in)
Beam: 3.1m (10ft 02in)
Draught: 0.91m (2ft 11in)
Transom deadrise angle: 22 degrees
- Twin petrol Mercury V8s at 300hp, 350hp, 380hp and 430hp
- Twin petrol Volvo V8s at 300hp, 350hp, 380hp and 430hp
- Twin diesel Volvo D4s at 300hp
Fuel capacity: 700 litres (154 gallons)
Water capacity: 132 litres (29 gallons)
RCD category: B for 12
Test engines: Twin 350hp Volvo V8 5.3L DP EVC FWCs
42.2 knots (2-way average), moderate sea conditions, 3 crew, 200 litres of fuel
0–30 knots: 10 seconds
0–40 knots: 20 seconds
From: £353,900 (inc. VAT) – fitted with twin 300hp MerCruiser V8 6.2L B3 DTSs
As tested: £412,000 (inc. VAT)
Hamble River Boatyard
Southampton SO31 7EB