Take a long lingering look at Chris-Craft’s Corsair 25 ‘Heritage Edition’ (take a look for yourself in our video: Chris-Craft Corsair 25 Short Take Video) and chances are you will experience a very natural compulsion to touch it. As I hover nearby at the Southampton Show, the truth of that is repeatedly illustrated. Person after person stops and looks. They hesitate for a moment and then one by one, they sidle over and lay their hands on the boat as if drawn by some invisible force.
I suppose it’s only natural that in a world full of bright, featureless fibreglass, the tactile fibre of wood might continue to command a special allure, but here, in the form of the Corsair 25, it’s not merely some faddish sales technique. It’s the modern expression of a boat-building heritage that dates back almost 140 years.
While the official foundation of Chris-Craft dates back to around 1930, the origins of the company can be traced back as far as 1874, when a precocious 13-year-old by the rather fantastic name of Christopher Columbus Smith built his first boat in Michigan. By the turn of the century, Smith’s small wooden vessels had achieved a powerful reputation and, having won the Gold Cup six years in a row, he began designing boats for comfort as well as speed.
It was an approach that made Chris Smith one of the most prolific manufacturers of mahogany powerboats in the world, so in 1930, he adopted what until that point had been only a nickname and the ‘Chris-Craft’ legacy was born.
Today, the modern fleet in general, and the Corsair 25 ‘Heritage Edition’ in particular, remain very respectful of those traditions. Just a cursory glance at the 25 reveals a classic planing hull, plunging aft topsides and a large, symmetrical cockpit. The twin bucket seats at the helm are classically shaped and trimmed and the splendid sports wheel could easily have been salvaged directly from the cockpit of a vintage E-Type Jaguar. In addition to the retro flavour imparted by the layout, the hull lines and the colourways, it is equally impossible to overlook the liberal use of rather lavish, old-world building materials, like mahogany, brass and teak.
Combine this with a quality of workmanship rarely seen on small leisure craft and the unavoidable impression is that the Corsair 25 has one foot planted rather charmingly in the past.
The happy cockpit compromise
The two largest boats in the Corsair line (the 32 and the 36) might have been stealing the limelight in recent times, but in view of the fact that Chris-Craft’s history is best defined by small sports boats like the Cadet 22, the Corsair 25 is exactly what most of us have in mind when we think about the brand – and although this model is in fact quite generous in terms of its length (closer to 27 feet than 25), it still needs to make the most of its limited size.
It does that with a large, symmetrical wraparound cockpit filled entirely with seating, plus a large sun pad above the engine hatch and a teak swim platform with a telescopic ski pole, shower and retractable ladder. However, the fact that so much of the Corsair 25's cockpit is swallowed up by the seating means there is no room for much else - no galley, stove or prep area. Just an optional stainless steel fridge set beneath the port lounger and an optional teak cockpit table as the centrepiece of the socialising space.
More to the point, the impressive scale of the cockpit means that the forward cuddy cabin is left with a very difficult job to do. With a short length, plus relatively acute forward hull angles and a very flat foredeck, the aggression of the hull and the purity of the lines are both well intact, but the cabin stands no chance at all of aspiring to genuine excellence. Instead, it is forced to do what it can with the space it has and if we’re being realistic, the result is nothing more than a place to take an emergency nap or to store your gear for a day out. However, that’s by no means a criticism. Most people will want to use the 25 as a sporting runabout and for that, the traditional ‘cockpit-centric’ configuration is exactly the right compromise.
You shouldn’t be fooled by appearances. The Corsair 25 might possess the genteel demeanour of a retired Commodore with a neatly quaffed moustache and a pair of pressed corduroy trousers but (true to the heritage of the marque) it also happens to be radically quick. Equipped with MerCruiser’s big block 380hp 8.2-litre V8, this well proven hull will move at around 50 knots and enjoy the kind of bottom-end grunt that will lift even the weightiest skier without concern.
Now, as ever, that classic combination of power and panache is a very compelling recipe for boating utopia, but it certainly doesn’t come cheap. Rigged in this form (with cockpit table, fridge, cockpit cover, windlass, docking lights, mooring cover and ‘Midnight Blue’ hull) the Heritage Edition has a show price of £119,000 and a regular retail price of around £137,000. However, the builders are entirely unapologetic about that. On the contrary, they describe a Chris-Craft as “a premium product, priced accordingly” and when you step on board and examine the finer details, you have to concede it feels like money well spent.
Personally, I don’t tend to enjoy retro designs because by their very nature, they lack the boldness of concept and the freedom of thought to take us anywhere new. However, I’m perfectly aware that I’m in the minority in that respect and I must confess that I take a begrudging delight in the loveliness of the Corsair 25. Its symmetrical layout, simplicity of line, quality of materials and patently obvious refusal to make budgetary compromises make it extremely attractive. The fact that it can also offer you the best part of 50-knots, plus space for 10 people, a range in excess of 200 miles, a comprehensive standard features list and a broad palette of customising options makes it a boat that is able to wear its lofty price tag with considerable confidence. For more details contact Bates Wharf Marine Sales.
Chris-Craft Corsair 25 specifications
Fuel capacity: 310 litres
Engine: MerCruiser 8.2
Show price: £119,000
Retail price: £137,287