Chris Craft Catalina 25Andy Adams

The no nonsense Catalina 25

The Chris Craft Catalina 25 Express is like a breath of fresh air, a return to the good old days, and about the only boat of its kind on the market.

It looks like many other plain, small cabin-cruisers but that's only a superficial observation. It's “getting up close" that really makes the impression with the Chris Craft, and it's a very good impression.

Chris Craft is a very old and familiar boat manufacturer. Grew Boats of Penetang, Ontario has the same distinction in Canada.

In the past there have been small boat builders and large boat builders, but certain relatively new market conditions in the industry have made it more profitable for many small boat companies to expand their lines to include small and medium size live-aboards. These are often fairly good boats but tend to be big versions of small runabouts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the distinction between small boats and big boats should still be drawn.

Grew has had a line of smaller runabouts and sedans and cuddy cabin boats for many years, but nothing that could be called a live-aboard boat. The decision to build a bigger boat could have resulted in a live-aboard runabout with roll-and-tuck upholstery, dozens of coolers and drink holders and all the other pleasant but not very useful geegaws used by other small cabin-cruisers. They wisely chose to avoid that route. Instead, Grew negotiated a contract with Chris Craft to build two cabin cruisers - the Catalina 25 and 28. These are Chris Craft boats built by Grew. The decision to go this route gives Grew two small versions of big boats instead of two big versions of small boats. The difference is quite noticeable and it starts with conservatism.

Chris Craft Catalina 25 - The after deckWhere some builders call their 19-ft-l-in. boat a 20, Chris Craft calls its 25-ft-4-in. model a 25. With the swim platform it's more like 27. Other companies include sleeper seats and every manner of convertible device they can think of to get sleeping accommodation for as many as eight people on a boat this size. Chris Craft says the boat sleeps four and it will, without taking two hours of your vacation to redecorate and rearrange everything.

There is a degree of understatement about all aspects of this boat that is very appealing. Anything they say this boat will do, it'll do. It's the sort of boat a person moves up to, because this is what he knows he needs; not he thinks is flashy.

In the roomy cabin which is arranged around the rather traditional centre isle, we have a forward V-berth that reflects the boat's 9-ft-9-in. beam. It is meant to sleep two, but is so wide that three could be comfortable. Also, it should be mentioned that there is little curvature to the V-berth. It does taper to a point, as it must, but this is drawn in gradually and is so far forward that the effect is that of a huge normal bed in your home. The cabin windscreen is well forward and this leaves plenty of room to sit up in bed without knocking your noggin.

On the starboard side aft of the V-berth is a convertible dinette with two seats for two people each, facing a table that can quickly be lowered to become the other bunk for two people.

Chris Craft Catalina 25 - optional swim platformOpposite the dinette on the port side is the galley which is both bright and cheery. There is ample room to move about here in the wide isle and the test boat had considerable counter space, mainly because the standard two-burner alcohol stove was missing. This is certainly not a production oversight; I suspect it’s because the manufacturer was using this boat as a demonstrator and did not need the stove.

Aft of the galley is the head. Old-time yachtsmen would be outraged at the amount of space devoted to it, but for us regular folks it will be a blessing. One can use this head as you would your bathroom at home. There is a sink, room to shave and sit without discomfort, and there is about 5-ft-10-in. headroom for those who prefer to stand. A shower is optional and a good investment, but the cabin roof could have been raised a few inches to give more than 6 ft of headroom. The companion seat windshield is just aft of that and the bottom 31/2 in. of it is an aluminum open-out vent, so a bubble over the head would not interfere with outward vision. The head is excellent, but even two more inches would improve it, particularly in a 25-footer.

My greatest complaint about the interior is that one of the dinette backrest cushions was not finished as well as I would have expected; some staples were showing, and one of them was only half in and waiting for a hand to cut.

On the positive side, the cabin is as roomy and bright as any 25-footer could be. Chris Craft sensibly did not install bulkheads or partitions to provide more privacy. This would have resulted in the dark, claustrophobic feeling that so many other boats seem to give. The cabin windows all slide and have screens, as does the deck hatch. Even the head has a wide expanse of glass which greatly improved its ratings.

Chris Craft Catalina 25 - V-berth and dinetteFor sunning and swimming at your mooring, the Catalina Express 25 is well-laid-out and constructed. A tour of the plant after the test showed a 25 being built. The cabin roof is almost as heavily glassed as the hull and it has a balsa core, too. The deck and roof can support several people without giving off the ominous creaks and cracks that so many other boats do. Sturdy and well placed hand holds and a stainless steel bow rail make moving about on the wide side decks safe and simple.

The optional swim platform is a very desirable addition and is beautifully made by the wood shop at Grew. My only criticism is that it had no boarding ladder. That’s fine only for jumping off.

The after deck is typical big boat stuff: very different from most boats this size. It’s wide and deep but easy to step into, self draining and almost devoid or ornamentation. In fact, even the seats are optional, which is a bit unusual for this market but again typical of big boat practice. There are folding seats available at $298 each, and this gives seating for one at the helm and one in the companion-seat. The reason for this is that seating tastes vary widely among experienced big-boat owners.

Some will prefer folding seats that make the conversion from standing to sitting quite easily, while others will want one high bucket of their own choosing and a selection of folding deck-chairs.

After watching the boat being built, I'm sure that with minimal reinforcement of the gunwales, a fishing tower could be installed and the cockpit floor could take fishing chairs, down-riggers and other special interest gear. The transom could even be cut down with a door for sport-fishing, since the floor is all non-skid fibreglass and easy to scupper out.

Chris Craft Catalina 25 - GalleyThe helm position itself is efficient, if a bit simple to look at. There's the usual set of instruments: tach, oil pressure, temperature, amps, and a set of clearly marked switches and corresponding fuses all right in the open. There is no hood or fancy dash console; everything is set into a simulated wood-grain plastic molding. It is simple and doesn't seem to suffer much from glare. The wheel is stainless steel with a large-diameter thin-spoke rim, and is mounted in the vertical position. This is very comfortable and allows quite a bit of leverage whether you're sitting or standing. The single-lever throttle and gear control is acceptable but the shift detents aren't positive enough to guarantee that you're in gear. A two-lever setup would be better.

The windshield gives excellent visibility and has two full-width vents for the two forward sections. These flip out to scoop the air coming over the cabin roof and will be very useful in really hot weather since the cockpit itself is almost draft-free. There are two teak-faced storage compartments off the cockpit in the cabin sides, large enough to be useful although they had no rain covers.

Two large hatches run the full length of the floor up the centre half of the cockpit, opening to one of the Catalina's best features: a direct drive, 305-cu-in. Chris Craft inboard (General Motors V8) that puts out 225 horsepower. This is a sweet engine that starts well and runs smoothly with plenty of torque. The direct drive has the engine fairly well forward which gives a rather mild shaft angle.

The only clue that the boat is an inboard - the swim platform covers the transom - is a mild buzz at full throttle from one of the hatch covers. The inboard transfers some vibration to the hull through the stuffing box, but at lower speed the engine was as smooth and quiet as the best stem-drives.

Placement of the engine several feet ahead of a stem-drive location changes the boat's running angle, planing characteristics, and roll resistance. This weight distribution helps keep the bow well down when planing; the careful hull design suits this engine well. The boat doesn't roll as many other stem-drives do, and its tracking was exemplary. The inboard has a steering rudder that's easy to use but not too efficient in tight, low-speed maneuvers such as when docking.

The engine hatches give plenty of service room; you could stand right down there with your mechanic and still have room for a big tool kit. Everything is accessible including fuel and water tanks, switching, and so on.

Not least important is the boat’s performance. Without trim tabs the Chris Craft would hold almost any speed without coming down off the plane right to 2,000 rpm and 11 mph. It topped out at 32 mph doing 4,000 rpm and would cruise effortlessly at 3,000 rpm doing 24 mph.

At that rate I recorded an almost unbelievable 6 miles per gallon of fuel. That's as good as any small runabout could be expected to do; yet the boat had only 1.8 hours showing on the meter. I generally guess something in the neighbourhood of 34 miles per gallon for this type of boat, and perhaps others will get that type of fuel economy with their Catalinas, but this one did 6.0 even.

With the direct-drive inboard and no-nonsense big-boat design, the Chris Craft almost shames competitors. Chris Craft has built a real motor yacht instead of a big toy.

Originally published in Canadian Yachting’s July 1979 issue.

Specifications:
Length - 25ft 4in
Beam - 9ft 9in
Weight - 4,600 lbs
Fuel Tank - 50 gallons
Fresh Water Tank - 8 gallons


Photo Captions:
Photo 1 - The best impression of the Catalina 25 is received by getting up close to it.
Photo 2 - The after deck is wide and deep, easy to step into and self draining.
Photo 3 - An optional swim platform is beautifully built in the Grew’s wood shop.
Photo 4 - Three can sleep comfortably in the forward V-berth; the dinette is convertible.
Photo 5 - The galley has ample room and counter space beside a very large head.

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