For the Love of the Craft: Preview “Chris Craft, An American Classic

 

Since its beginnings in 1874 in Algonac, Michigan, Chris-Craft has built boats of timeless beauty that evoke a certain passion in those who see them. The varnished mahogany runabouts of yesteryear and their modern sisterships share the same design ethos: gorgeous lines, high quality, and undeniable style. As probably the most recognizable boating brand in the world, the mere mention of the name Chris-Craft conjures images of classic wooden boats, American flags waving in the wind, and memories being made on the water.

Immortalized on the big screen in such movies as On Golden Pond and Mission Impossible, the legacy and romance of Chris-Craft shines anew in the recently published Chris-Craft: An American Classic (Rizzoli), a glossy new volume by Nick Voulgaris III that features more than 175 photographs of the glamorous boating life, from never-before-published historical images to gorgeous contemporary images of collector and new boats, as well as ephemera from Chris-Craft’s own archives.Voulgaris makes for a natural captain to steer us through Chris-Craft history and lore. An entrepreneur, writer, and avid sailor who is passionate about yacht restoration, he has owned and restored dozens of boats, including two vintage Chris-Crafts. The book, Voulgaris explains, is the culmination of a lifelong love affair with Chris-Craft, which began as a boy growing up on his family’s sailboats and the Chris-Craft boats of family friends. “I was mesmerized by the gleaming varnished mahogany decks, which had thin white striping applied between each plank,” he recalls in the book’s introduction. “I remember being able to see my reflection in the shiny windshields and polished chrome air vents that were designed to look like small inverted dinghies.” It’s these details—and the meticulous attention to craftsmanship that is the hallmark of the brand—that we are treated to throughout the book, from the chapters on Chris-Craft’s early history and its reign as “America’s boatbuilder,” to its sinking-ship days under the hold of a large conglomerate, Outboard Marine Company, then to its rescue and resurrection in the 2000s by heritage enthusiasts (and savvy businessmen) Stephen Julius and Steve Heese. From the wooden days of yore to the lush leather details of today, Chris-Craft illustrates the inner workings and outward fantasies that are inextricable in the story of these treasured boats.Chris-Craft is one of those rare brands that’s so American, even the flag itself seems burnished on its image, whenever conjured. And the same could be said of Ralph Lauren, the global American fashion and lifestyle brand started by Mr. Lauren himself a half-century ago. It’s no surprise, then, that Lauren contributes the foreword to the book, which, in its final sentences, captures the essence of our ongoing intrigue with these singular, vintage-feeling vessels:

“For 50 years I have been celebrating the heritage of America and the way we live. Many of my advertising campaigns have been situated along the rugged coasts of this land from New England and California to the cold, wide lakes of the Adirondacks. They were always about the stories of families enjoying life, pursuing different pleasures. One I recall in particular shared the beauty of a woman and her young son at the wheel of a vintage mahogany vessel. She steered the boat with amazing confidence, turning it through the waves, creating a wake of whitecaps behind her. It was a very romantic moment, but the boat was as much the heroine as the woman was. Its sleek, dark wood and polished brass with an American flag blowing off the back was breathtaking and authentic. The boat was, of course, a Chris-Craft.” u