Christopher Smith and his brother Hank knew how to construct wooden boats that could turn heads and please their owners, and they built upon that knowledge for several decades. By 1959, Christopher’s grandson Harsen Smith was at the helm of Chris-Craft, which then was operating nine factories that were producing a total of 8,000 wooden boats annually.
However, the recreational boating market was developing a preference for fiberglass boats, and Chris-Craft’s specialty was wooden vessels. In 1960, Harsen Smith sold Chris-Craft out of the family to National Automotive Fibers Inc. for $40 million, beginning an era in which the company dodged its way through various owners, bankruptcies, and new beginnings.
Today, Chris-Craft is under the ownership of Stellican Ltd., a private equity firm based in London that specializes in investing in distressed companies. Stellican purchased the assets of Chris-Craft in 2001 and moved the headquarters to Sarasota, Fla. The company was in bankruptcy and the boatyard had been closed for nine months. Since then, Stellican and the company’s management team have worked to reposition Chris-Craft as a luxury brand.
Chris-Craft now has a fleet of nine models ranging from 20 to 43 feet. Over the next three years, Chris-Craft plans to unveil four more models, expanding its offerings even further. Earlier this year, it introduced the fiberglass Corsair 33, a compact cruiser with a deep-V hull that has a classic flared bow, cockpit seating for eight, and overnight accommodations for four. The boat blends modern technology and conveniences—a 15-inch flat-screen TV and a CD/DVD player with built-in tuner—with traditional wooden styling, including cherrywood cabinetry and teak decks.
Chris-Craft is now at work on a Speedster Woody Edition, to be unveiled in 2006 and limited to 99 boats. The Woody will resemble the company’s 20-foot Corsair Speedster introduced in 2004, except the decks and dash will receive wood treatments.