power-sea_sonic_270_centaur-largePower and elegance has always been a winning combination when it comes to building a boat that people will walk down the dock to take a second look at. This is exactly what British Columbian craftsman, Chris Casparis, has achieved with the 28-foot, Sea Sonic Centaur – a boat that people actually do walk down the dock to see and take pictures of at boat shows and launch ramps around Okanagan Lake.

The Centaur looks like it was built in another era. It's cold-molded, plywood-on-frame construction allows it to have beautiful flowing lines with few sharp angles. Casparis, who learned the art of fine woodworking and boat building in Switzerland before immigrating to BC's southern interior, has ensured that the boat's lines – from its shear -to the innovative sliding hatch for the cuddy – curve and gently bend defying common joinery techniques.

Despite the fact that the Centaur's construction techniques and materials are the most modern available, wooden boat purists will love this craft for the way it is finished.

What strikes you most is its overall appearance, which threatens to become an almost 1950s retro look. The forward sections of the semi-displacement hull are rendered white, while the shear line, aft stations and transom are bright finished mahogany.

The deck is laid-up by framing lightly stained mahogany strips, separated by blond Canadian maple dividers, with mahogany planking stained a richer red. The hull-deck joint is more of a confluence of wood than a hard edge.

Thematically, the use of wood carries on into the cockpit, but doesn't become overbearing. The cockpit is graced with a flip-up bolster seat for two and a circular settee where guests can stretch out to enjoy their day out on the water without feeling like they're missing any of the fun. These are upholstered in white leatherette to provide a comfortable place to sit and they also give the eye some relief from too much wood.

Sun worshippers have not been forgotten either. A large cushioned sun deck (which hides the boat's engine room) has been placed aft of the cockpit on the back deck.

A wet bar on the port side of the cockpit ensures that all the necessities of life are available including a discreetly placed Clarion sound system that provides music throughout the cockpit.

Where some boat manufacturers simply stick on a swim platform that looks more like an afterthought than a planned appendage, the Centaur's transom features a molded platform with a step leading to the aft deck.

For skiers and wake-boarders, there is a towing eye and hide-away boarding ladder incorporated into the transom and swim platform. Neither is so in-your-face macho as to disturb the efforts Casparis has put into shaping the stern of his boat.

Driving the Centaur is a pleasure. The chrome-finished instruments are set into a mahogany dashboard. The dual instruments (this is a twin-engine boat) are all analog in keeping with the retro feel, but Casparis has wisely included a Raytheon digital speed log/depth sounder and it does not look amiss with the other equipment.

Interestingly, the wheel is a composite (graphite), which provides some relief again from the intensity of too much wood.

Deck hardware is all custom. Casparis has designed each disappearing cleat and chock to fit with the look of the boat. They are first cast in bronze, then chromed and mounted with epoxy and through deck fasteners.

Casparis took his influence for this exquisite luxury runabout from the great mahogany craft, like the Riva, which ply the southern European waters of Venice and Lake Geneva.

Going back to the idea that this boat would not look out of place on the Grand Canal, its construction is as up-to-date as can be.

The hull framing consists of fab'ed up longitudinal members – like the engineered beams now used in housing construction – laminated in place on a frame of solid wood ribbing. This gives the frame a strength that solid plank construction cannot offer.

Sheeting on the hull is a double thickness of mahogany ply sandwiching a layer of Kevlar cloth between the inner and outer skins. The skins and Kevlar cloth are laminated with a high strength epoxy and once the shaping and sanding are finished the entire hull is sealed in epoxy. This ensures that, unlike many other wooden boats, the Centaur will never suffer from dry rot or water damage.

Modern design thought saw production manufacturers shift to planing hulls. The reason was simple – less energy expended for more speed. Sounds good, but there were some sacrifices that had to be made, like poorer performance and a rougher ride in heavier sea conditions.

The Centaur's semi-displacement hull gives passengers a smoother experience in big waves because it cuts through them and does not skip from crest to crest.

Still, in calmer waters, where a lot of the fun of boating is in going fast, the Centaur performs admirably by picking up its skirts and getting up on plane in 8.3 seconds and hitting her top end of 68 mph in 14 seconds.

Okay, it is not as fast as an offshore look-alike, but the comfort of the ride goes a long way to offsetting the speed.

To power the test boat, Sea Sonic dropped tandem 496 HO MerCruisers in and coupled them with two Velvet Hydraulic Drive transmissions driving a set of 15-inch bronze props.

The exceptionally quiet engines are on separate throttles and the driver must keep an eye on the tachometer and listen to their pitch to keep them balanced. Like a Ferrari, this is a driver's boat rather than a high-powered Chrysler family sedan; it requires skill and concentration to get the most out of it.

Putting it through its paces, the Centaur's dual rudders glided it gracefully through a set of tight turns at medium speeds and did not skid through them at higher speeds like a planing hull would.

Calling the boat a runabout is a misnomer. It has a fairly heavy hull and does not tow all that easily without a powerful tow vehicle. Still, once it is in the water, it is a joy to look at and drive.

Suffice to say, there are reproduction boats around, recalling the heyday of wooden runabouts, which try to pick up on the market for those who truly love wooden boats, but not since the legendary Vic Carpenter hung up his plane and square has anyone in North America produced anything coming close to this machine.

By Bruce Kemp

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