Used Boat Review: Chris-Craft 26 Constellation
Boating is all things to all people. For Peter and Deb Schradieck, it’s about waking up in the morning and enjoying a cup of coffee on deck, while the sun dances on the water. It’s the feeling of freedom as they power up and leave Boston Harbor with a sea breeze and sunshine.
“At the end of the day it’s about relaxing on the deck for a drink with our good friends from the slip next door,” says Debbie Schradieck. “It is the sun setting over the city of Boston, when the last light of the day reflects off the skyscrapers and silhouettes the Zakim Bridge and the masts of the USS Constitution. Sipping wine while steaks sizzle on the little grill, we can’t help but think, ‘You can’t beat this!’ ”
They take it all in from their 2002 Chris-Craft 26 Constellation, a single-engine family cruiser that fits the couple’s boating lifestyle to a tee. They bought the previously owned boat in 2003 for $53,000. “When we tell people we spend weekends on our boat in Boston Harbor, they immediately conjure up the image of a big yacht,” says Schradieck, 50, a real estate agent and artist. (Peter, 57, a former high-end auto salesman, drives an oil truck to leave more weekend boating time.) “In reality we are living the good life on a 26-footer. That’s the real beauty of this boat.”
The Westborough, Mass., couple were looking for a boat to replace their trailerable 19-foot overnighter when they came upon the Chris-Craft in upstate New York. It had low hours and was in “like-new condition,” says Schradieck. The V-berth was roomy, the galley complete, and there was an aft cabin with a double berth. Best of all, says Schradieck, it had a head compartment. “Years of trailer boating made this an extremely high priority,” she says.
The boat was trucked to Boston in midsummer 2003. “We launched it and set out for our maiden voyage down the Mystic River to Boston,” says Schradieck. “After the 19-footer, we felt like we had just bought the Queen Mary.”
The 26 Constellation is powered by a 320-hp Volvo Penta 5.7-liter gas sterndrive with a Duoprop. The boat has good fuel economy, averaging 2 to 3 miles per gallon for a typical day of cruising, including a few “good blasts,” according to the couple. Top speed is 40 mph at about 4,800 rpm, and the boat cruises at 29 mph at 3,200 rpm. “It takes a chop well because of the 20-degree deadrise,” says Schradieck. “It does OK in a beam sea when under way, with its 8-foot, 6-inch beam.
“Chris-Craft was a name we respected; the hull is a Ray Hunt design,” she says. “We loved the styling of the boat, which was very retro. We wanted it.”
The Constellation has become a big part of the Schradieck’s lives. “We envisioned spending weekends on board with the option of staying at our own marina to enjoy the nightlife in the city, or doing short overnight cruises from Boston,” says Schradieck. That vision has worked out even better than expected.
“The boat provides an ongoing six-month vacation,” she says. “Wireless technology allows me to easily stay in touch with my business. City boating puts us [within] walking distance of Faneuil Hall, Boston’s North End and the many fine restaurants and parks in historic Charlestown.”
When adventure calls, two adults can live on board for a week very comfortably, says Schradieck. They rely on shore power and cook on a gas grill, eating most often at the cockpit table. The cabin is light and bright and has plenty of headroom. Favorite cruising destinations include Gloucester, Provincetown, and Salem Sound.
The boat’s electronics include a VHF radio with an upgraded antenna and a hand-held for backup, a pair of GPS units (one hand-held and one mounted on the console), and an EPIRB. If seas get too rough, they’re happy cruising Boston Harbor and the Charles River.
The couple admits they’ve thought of moving up in size, but it hasn’t happened. “In the end, we look around and realize that we are doing the same things as people in bigger boats,” says Schradieck. “But at a fraction of the cost.”
The Chris-Craft 26 Constellation was designed for cruising and, with its Hunt-designed hull, has earned a reputation as a comfortable boat under way. The fiberglass hull is a deep-vee, with 20 degrees of transom deadrise. The bow is tall, and the even sheer carries the freeboard well aft to the transom. The sloping trunk cabin, swept-back windscreen and long, low side windows give the boat that retro look.
Power comes from a single sterndrive to 320 hp. That gives the boat a cruising speed of 29 to 30 mph and a range of around 200 miles, based on 90 percent of its 97-gallon fuel capacity. The helmsman sits at a pedestal seat to starboard, in front of a bilevel console (with burl background) that allows for a full set of engine gauges and add-on electronics. The companion seat is replaced by a C-shaped lounge. The companionway is on centerline, and a sliding door leads to the cabin below.
The boat sleeps four in an open V-berth and quarter berth. The V-berth converts to a dinette with the adjustable table/insert. The galley, to port, is equipped with a standard one-burner electric stove, sink, microwave and under-counter refrigerator. The head compartment, to starboard at the foot of the companionway, has a sink, shower and VacuFlush marine head.
Full camper canvas makes the cockpit/helm weather-tight, serving as an additional living and dining area. The cockpit (with snap-in carpeting) seats eight with room for a table, and there’s a transom shower for convenience. The walkthrough windshield provides easy access to the foredeck.
The 26 Constellation is easily found on the used-boat market in most regions of the country. (We even located one in England.) Prices start in the low $40,000 range and reach around $60,000. In Massachusetts, a 2001 Constellation was selling for $42,900. The two-owner boat has had light use and is yard-maintained. Power comes from the standard Volvo Penta 5.7 sterndrive, and electronics include a color GPS/plotter and color fishfinder. In Texas, a one-owner “must-see” 2001 model was selling for $47,900. It’s been shed-stored and well-maintained, and the Volvo Penta 5.7 has low hours. In Connecticut, a 2002 Constellation with a dark blue hull and matching canvas was offered for $59,995. Extras include a generator, AC and reverse-cycle heat, flat-screen television and an upgraded stereo system. In Maine, a 2003 model “in excellent condition” was listed at $61,000. Cruising comforts include a generator, AC/heat, hot water, trim tabs and electric windlass.
The Chris-Craft name goes back to 1884, when Chris Smith got married, settled down and began building small craft and racing boats in Algonac, Mich. By the 1950s and ’60s the company was one of the largest builders in the world, and nearly half the boats in the United States came out of its factories. Popular models included the Catalina, a 50-foot cabin boat that slept 10, and the family-priced Cavalier overnighter.
Chris-Craft’s line of Constellation cabin cruisers, or “Connies,” was one of its most popular, and the 26 Constellation carries on that nameplate. Intended as a family overnighter, it’s a recent design that’s no longer in production, and most — if not all — of the boats were built between 2001 and ’03.
After financial struggles in the 1980s and ’90s, Chris-Craft, now based in Florida under new ownership, has made a comeback with a line of distinctive, high-end runabouts and family cruisers from 20 to 40 feet. Chris-Craft offerings today include the open Launch, Lancer and Catalina models from 20 to 28 feet, Corsair cuddy models from 25 to 36 feet, and the 40 Roamer family cruiser.
LOA: 26 feet
BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches
DRAFT: 3 feet
WEIGHT: 5,600 pounds
HULL TYPE: deep-vee
POWER: single sterndrive to 320 hp
TANKAGE: 97 gallons fuel,
20 gallons water
BUILDER: Chris-Craft, Sarasota, Fla. Phone: (941) 351-4900. www.chriscraft.com