Real in Steel

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In the late 1950s, wood was still the way to go for bigger boatbuilders such as Pacemaker, Owens and Trojan. At the same time, smaller companies were experimenting with plywood, aluminum and fiberglass. Chris-Craft, the biggest builder of them all (159 models produced at 11 different plants), decided to join the little guys. It first used fiberglass for the fins on the 18- and 21-foot Cobra runabouts introduced in 1955.

In 1957, however, Chris-Craft went for steel. The Pompano Beach, Florida-based builder bought the Roamer Boat Co., which built steel boats in Holland, Michigan. That operation became Chris-Craft’s Roamer Steel Boats Division. The Chris-Craft Roamer boat line had modified-V hulls built of electronic resistance welded steel plates with corrosion-resistant alloy attached to steel frames. The 1959 fleet of a dozen models ran from a 28-foot express to an amenities-laden 52-foot cabin cruiser. Roamers had a low silhouette with a moderate, unbroken sheer, and a low center of gravity for a smooth ride in rough water.

The 35-foot Regal shown above was redesigned in 1959 with a wider beam for a larger interior. That layout had an owner’s stateroom with a double berth and adjacent head compartment; a salon lounge and a dinette that converted to berths; and a galley with an ice box, stove top and sink. Cabin trim was blonde, satin-finished mahogany. Power for the 20-plus-knot boat came from twin diesels, with up to 550 combined horsepower.

The queen of the ’59 Roamer fleet was the 52-footer, which slept 10 people (including crew), had two head compartments with optional showers, and had a galley with an icebox, stove and dinette.

But the future of boatbuilding was to be formed in fiberglass. Continued advances in boat construction, including the introduction of lightweight foams and new resins, cut into the steel boat market. Chris-Craft closed the Roamer Steel Boats Division in 1979. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue.

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