IN THEIR WORDS
Some people start boating before they can walk; others take it up in their teen years; and some come to it late in life. But once under the spell the passion is strong, no matter the origins.
Al Kushner took to the water 20 years ago, in his 50s, starting out with a weekender. The cruising life cast its charms, and Kushner, an engineer, not only was smitten with the new harbors and haunts he discovered, but with running the boat, too. “It was a 21-foot T-Craft, a cabin boat with an I/O, built in Titusville [Fla.],” says Kushner, who is 74 and from Cheshire, Conn. “It was small, but it was a really nice boat, with standing headroom, a V-berth and a pretty good galley.”
With it, Kushner enjoyed the simple pleasures of being on the water and, like sailors of old, leaving ashore the troubles of life on land. “Even in a simple way, cruising is exciting; it gives you a sense of adventure,” he says.
When it was time to step up to something bigger, he and his wife, Carmelita, looked at a variety of cabin boats and trawlers that would suit the lifestyle.
“We were looking for a boat with plenty of comfort; we didn’t want to rough it in any way,” he says. Minimum requirements were a large stateroom with an island berth; a working galley with domestic appliances, including a full-size refrigerator; and such amenities as air conditioning. “In order for us both to enjoy the cruising experience, the boat had to be comfortable,” says Kushner.
In 1990 the couple found what they were looking for in a 1984 Chris-Craft 350 Catalina, a double-cabin cruiser with all the comforts of home. And their $67,000 investment has paid dividends for the last 15 years.
“We liked the aft cabin, with its island berth and the private head,” says Kushner. “It has an electric head, a tub and a shower, a vanity and twin [lockers]. It was roomier than a V-berth, and there’s plenty of light from the ports.”
The galley up, in the saloon, was another plus. There was room for the domestic-style refrigerator the couple required, along with a microwave oven and a stove. Kushner confesses that he and his wife like to dine out while cruising, but the galley comes in handy for breakfast. “I make maybe the best cup of morning coffee in the world,” he says.
What made this used boat “the boat” was her condition. “It was pristine,” says Kushner. “The owner was an older man who bought it new, and he’d barely used the boat 100 hours. It had been stored inside in the winter and was kept in a covered dock when it was in the water; the fiberglass had hardly gotten any sun at all. At 35 feet, it was maybe a little bigger than we’d thought about, but the condition it was in was what made the difference.”
Kushner’s grown to appreciate the Chris-Craft’s design. “The express [steering] station is wonderful; it’s a great place to run the boat from,” he says. Good sightlines are augmented by a large dash with plenty of room for Kushner’s electronics: CRT radar, GPS, depth finder. The bridge is also the social center of the boat, and the skipper has plenty of company with seating for six on lounge-style seats. It’s where Kushner tests his secret recipe for the perfect Planter’s Punch.
In fact, Kushner has changed little on the boat, though one alteration was major: He replaced the canvas flybridge cover with a hardtop. “It’s permanent, so we don’t fuss with setting it up,” he says. “And I think it looks good, too.”
He’s also stayed with the old Marinepower gas engines, 350-cubic-inch power plants producing about 235 hp each. Maybe not the most up-to-date or fastest, but the engines deliver a comfortable cruising speed of around 16 knots at 4,000 rpm, say Kushner.
Settled into its groove, the 350 Catalina plies the waters of Long Island Sound and the North Fork of Long Island. It’s a simple life, but one the couple relishes. “We like nothing better than to pick up a mooring and relax for the evening,” says Kushner. “Being in, on or around the boat for a weekend in the summertime, and we feel like we’ve been away for a week. We’ve left life on shore behind, and we’re off in the boat and out on the water.”
The Chris-Craft 350 Catalina has a distinctive profile with an expansive superstructure topped by an express-style command bridge. The solid-fiberglass hull is beamy with a relatively flat bottom, giving the boat plenty of interior volume, important on a family cruiser.
Chris-Craft offered two layouts, each with a master stateroom aft and companion head. One placed the island berth fore-and-aft, the other athwartships. The forward cabin came with either a V-berth or island berth. (There also was an early layout with twin berths in the aft cabin.)
Galley layouts differed, too. One featured a counter coming out from the port side, forming a U-shaped galley; the other was more of an L-shaped galley, with counter space along the aft bulkhead and port side. In both layouts, the galley is “up” and part of the saloon, which has an L-shaped settee, and is well-lit and ventilated by large side windows.
Designers made up for the lack of open deck space with the spacious express bridge, which seats a half-dozen. Its companionway leads directly to the galley in the saloon below, convenient for entertaining. Railings and ample side decks provide safe access all around the boat.
A large engine room housed twin Crusader gas engines delivering 235 hp and a 15- to 17-mph cruising speed. Original fuel capacity of 180 gallons was increased to 250 gallons in the 1980s.
The 350 Catalina was a popular design that enjoyed a long production run, so there are plenty of them on the used-boat market. Prices vary from less than $30,000 for older models needing work to around $65,000 or more for boats from the late 1980s in good condition. Here are a few examples.
A 1976 model in Rhode Island with Marinepower engines, air conditioning and much of the original interior intact (single berths forward and a twin berth aft) for $35,000. A 1976 “fixer-upper” in Florida needing cosmetic work and a new fuel system, though the engines are in running condition, for $22,900. A 1975 model in Wisconsin in “good condition” (white interior, wood cabinetry, blue hull stripe) with twin 225-hp Crusaders, AC and a generator for $47,900.A Maryland boat was selling for $62,000 with 330-hp Crusaders, custom hardtop, AC, and a generator.
Designed by Chris-Craft’s design team, the 350 Catalina is a modern version of the company’s popular cabin boats dating to the days of the post-World War II boating boom. Combining a roomy interior, aft stateroom, plenty of luxury features and an express-style flybridge station, it was one of Chris-Craft’s more popular models during the boat’s production run, from 1974 to 1987.
Chris-Craft was founded in Algonac, Mich., in 1874, and grew to become one of the world’s largest pleasure-boat builders. The company consumed vast amounts of teak and other woods during the wooden era of its history, which continued into the 1960s. Its boats were everywhere, and the Chris-Craft name was as well-known as Coca-Cola or Microsoft is today.
The firm made a late and only mildly successful transition to fiberglass, continuing to produce the runabouts, midsize cabin boats and luxury cabin cruisers that had made it famous. Chris-Craft was owned by Outboard Marine Corp. when that company went bankrupt, became part of the Genmar group, and then was bought by a British firm, which today runs the company out of Sarasota, Fla.
LOA: 35 feet, 1 inch
BEAM: 13 feet, 1 inch
DRAFT: 2 feet, 10 inches
WEIGHT: 17,000 pounds
HULL TYPE: modified-vee
ORIGINAL PROPULSION: twin gas engines
BUILDER: Chris-Craft Boats, Sarasota, Fla. Phone: (941) 351-4900. www.chriscraft.com