Wants & Desires | Chris Craft Barrel Back

The Chris Craft boats of the early 1940s could be the best looking pieces of American design ever. Well, that’s my feeling anyway. Imagine spending a sunny summer day on a lake in the upper Midwest cruising around in a beautiful wooden 1941 Chris Craft Barrel Back. What could possibly be more fun?

The lines and shape of the wood and chrome on the pre-WWII Barrel Backs are so incredibly good looking, I could imagine it would be tough to nominate something more quintessentially Americana. Note specifically the half moon styled stern on those bad boys, it is something truly magical.

With the Internet being the wonderful niche-loving thing that it is, I recently discovered (with the help of Bruce in Minnesotathanks Bruce) the center of the wood-motorboat universe: Woody Boater. The site only serves to stoke my interest in these old school beauties and causes many hours of boat classified browsing with little chance of owning a wood boat anytime soon.

Growing up my parents frequently took us kids boating on Lake Erie, and just smelling the marine motors brings back fond memories of my youth. To own a Chris Craft would be realization of a dream, much more so than owning a classic car. This 17′ 1942 Barrel Back would be perfect, I’ll probably have to live in it though too…

More Wants & Desires here.

Comments on “Wants & Desires | Chris Craft Barrel Back

    Bodah Christiansen on April 23, 2012 2:29 AM:

    One can dream. And a beautiful dream it is. Upon seeing your post I immediately flashed on pictures of John F. Kennedy on his much loved Chris Craft. Impeccable style.

    Tyler on April 23, 2012 3:37 AM:


    I’d like to thank you for distracting me from studying for my final exams. This is a problem since my success on these will hopefully help propel me to a position where I can one day, hopefully( a big hope) own one of these. Wow, the title of this post really should be ‘Your Morning Wood’.

    MATT on April 23, 2012 8:35 AM:

    I had a 1941 Chris Craft runabout (17ft). It was a beauty and we had it on LI. One the happiest days of my life was selling that boat. We took the cash and bought the farm upstate-Landlubber all the way.

    Gary Drinkwater on April 23, 2012 9:10 AM:

    As a youth, I spent my summer’s on Lake Winnepesaukee where there seemed be beauties like these moored or parked (as they would refer to their docking preference) everywhere you looked. I would putt around the many coves of Moultonborough Bay in my 14′ Starcraft with a 20HP Johnson and I would discover a new beauty to dream of owning one day. When Dad was feeling flush we would take a boat ride out of Weirs Beach in what they called a Winnepesaukee Racer and the ride was the most incredible and exhilarating experience of my youth. There is lots of stuff here http://www.winnipesaukee.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1499 to ponder over. Thanks for the memories!

    Chris on April 23, 2012 9:21 AM:

    Gary, great to read of another Lake Winnepesaukee dweller.

    My grandmother had a tiny cottage on Paugus Bay and we’d always go up for a couple weeks each summer, so I know exactly where you are coming from,
    spent many, many days and nights on the boardwalk at Weirs Beach. It was always a sight to see a nice Chris Craft.

    D4ewlocke on April 23, 2012 10:46 AM:

    Take a trip to Muskoka: http://www.discovermuskoka.ca/

    Wooden boats are like Camry’s and Accords…. they’re everywhere.

    Gary Drinkwater on April 23, 2012 1:00 PM:

    Recently we clean out Mom’s home after she passed and I found a token, the ones you could stamp yourself, from the Weirs Arcades that I had stamped 1964. I was 11. We probably took a ride after that and got some pretty good air off the chop of the often turbulent lake waters. Thank god for the seat belts you had to wear.

    henrik on April 23, 2012 1:54 PM:

    Right up there with my obsession with ICON 4X4’s and AirStreams, I would love to have a Chris Craft or a Lyman. Durning my short stint in great land of Ohio, I went out dozens of times in both vessels to Put-in-Bay. I remember one particular trip out around the end of November- we were the only ones out; huge rollers and whitecaps crashing & spraying over the front with lightning and thunder above… Ahhh such great memories.

    Ray Hull on April 23, 2012 4:02 PM:

    Ah yes, the scents of the bilge and boathouse and the bark of that straight 6’s straight pipe: Recollections of youth. “And don’t you bring it above an idle, because I’ll hear you” was my father’s admonition to me at age 14 when he would let me take it out at night to the local-kid burger and coke joint across the bay on the eastern Mecca for these babies, Lake George.

    I try to attend the wooden boat show there every fall. It was there that I found our family’s 1955 Continental, still barking right along thank you. Just as these barrel-backs had a distinctive snub nose, the Continentals (and earlier Holidays) had bulbous-nose prows that set them apart from the rest of the Chris lineup.

    Here are some shots. The Continental is top right two pics:http://photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=770512

    And I love that Canadian dual-cowl, semi-barrel back MAB at the bottom left.

    JFPisa on April 23, 2012 9:21 PM:

    To all posts all I have to say is, amen.

    For whatever reason I always loved the chrome stripping on the bow.

    Beautiful, really beautiful.

    Tim Hardy on April 24, 2012 12:28 PM:

    What a beauty – it makes even landlubbers want to take to the water!

    Bruce B on April 24, 2012 3:46 PM:

    Great post. A couple of years ago I took the plunge and bought a woody, a 1947 Gar Wood Ensign. It’s similar to a Chris Craft Sportsman (the quintessential all around woody of the same era) but just a bit more rare and special. The look, the sound, the smells and the ride are like nothing else. What people don’t realize is how affordable these beauties are. You can buy a completely restored boat for $20 to $25k. They’re also much easier to maintain than he perception: So simple mechanically, modern adhesives in the bottoms keep them leak free for a decade or two, and and if you keep them out of the sun they just need a few coats of new varnish every four or five years. You just need to buy them right. A good place to start is an excellent blog: woodyboater.com

    Jonas on April 24, 2012 11:08 PM:

    2 things:
    (1) Stancraft Torpedo:

    (2) 1966 Riva Aquamarine. Italian wood boat with 2 Chrysler 440 engines.

    Matt on April 25, 2012 9:49 AM:

    WOW, Thanks so much for the exposure to the niche. We are small yet very passionate. The boat pictured above was my 1941 Chris Craft Custom 19 ft. We spent three years restoring her. The photos were taken in Reedville VA off our dock. We loved that boat. This is the only way to go truly boating. You feel it all. The boat, the water, the air.. It’s all one. It’s boating in style. Rather than a style of boating.

    Andrew Scharf on April 25, 2012 6:49 PM:

    Chris Craft is undoubtedly one of the great American classics in terms of design as well as function. It is nice to see it back in all its 1960s splendor.

    Andrew Scharf on April 25, 2012 6:51 PM:

    In the history of boat building two motor boats stand out in my mind as classic design classics. One is Chris Craft and the the other is Riva. Both have their charms and distinction.

    Ted Harrington on April 26, 2012 12:22 AM:

    I have fond childhood memories of being on the boat with our Dad and seeing
    Guy Lombardo, who lived a few canals over cruising around the bay in his Chris Craft.
    I called my Dad after reading this last night and asked him to recount some of his memories.
    He told me he once spotted Guy Lombardo and Satchmo at the Marine Supply
    Shop in town., Lombardo often worked at the Old Jones Beach theatre and Would
    commute their by boat. Beats the fuck out of Metro North.

    Rick on April 26, 2012 9:17 AM:

    Yes the barrel backs are sweet and expensive but there are an awful lot more varnished mahogany runabouts out there ALMOST as nice but for a fraction of the cost and with a little care they are no more expensive to maintain than a plastic boat.

    1950 17′ Chris-Craft Sportsman (Maybe a barrel back some day.)

    Rick on April 26, 2012 9:19 AM:

    Re Ted’s post: I used to work at the Jones Beach Theater as a kid and watched Lombardo arrive in Tempo for each performance. It was nice, the boat has been restored and is still around.

    Jim Volgarino on April 26, 2012 9:38 AM:

    Seems appropriate for those wanting to know more about this classic boating era to visit http://www.richpennauctions.com which is staging the sale of easily the largest private collection of vintage boating…The Mikkelson Collection…on May 18-20, 2012 in Willmar, MN. Talk about exceptionally cool. You need to see what’s being sold.

    Rick on April 26, 2012 10:07 AM:

    One last post. 1st is this the same Michael that used to write Nocino? 2nd by naming WoodyBoater the center of the universe you can now score a ride at any Antique Boat Show in America and a few foreign countries just by telling them who you are. If this is who I think it is try the St. Michaels Show this summer.

    Rick Gambino

    Ted Harrington on April 26, 2012 12:03 PM:

    2 things *there and @Rick craziest thing we ever attended at the Old Theater was Joe Namath in Damn Yankees. Crazy. I think they tore it down soon after and it’s been an amazing
    venue to see shows since the early 80’s. But I digress

    Bob on April 26, 2012 12:25 PM:

    check out these videos from Lake Hopatcong, NJ

    Rick on April 26, 2012 6:11 PM:

    @ Bob. I was just there yesterday at Katz’s Marina. Awesome place with many amazing boats. Seth gave us a tour of the place and showed us Thayer IV, Mariah and a ton of other to die for boats.

    Mark on April 27, 2012 9:20 AM:

    I agree. Beautiful design work. Great inspiration.

    Bruce B on April 27, 2012 10:43 AM:

    There are so many beautiful woodies available at such a reasonable price. You don’t have to go for a barrel back or a Riva to get a stunning craft. A great place to start is a Chris Craft Sportsman or Century Resorter. A source like the Antique Boat Center http://www.antiqueboat.com/ (highly reputable brokers) or tradingdock.org are a great place to start. But there are other great, reputable dealers all over the country. Your best buy is a boat that’s completely restored and restored correctly. Find someone who really knows boats to help you. Seth at Katz’s Marina even offers a warranty. Start reading woodyboater.com and go from there.

    Fjorder on May 1, 2012 4:28 PM:

    Loved these and the GarWoods, Hacker-Crafts, and the other small American-made wooden boats. Rivas are just icons; every year @ the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale boat shows Riva brings a few wooden beauties and docks ’em alongside their other million-dollar babies, and they draw as much attention as the new models.

    One thing that no one mentioned about the Chris-Craft was that the boats had Chris-Craft manufactured engines—MerCruiser, etc, did not exist, so the companies often made their own powerplants; pretty cool to see the Chris-Craft logo in stamped metal on the engines.

    Besides lakes in New England and Lake Tahoe, I’ve seen several gorgeous restored wooden vessels (like the aforementioned models) on Lake Michigan, up between Harbor Springs & Traverse City… I’d love to keep one of these on the Gowanus or in Red Hook but the saltwater (and whatever the Gowanus “is”) would just eat it up…

    Rick on May 1, 2012 6:05 PM:

    Some of the Chris-Craft engines were army surplus generator engines. Mine is stamped Chris-Craft but it is in fact a 60HP Hercules generator engine. The flywheel even has a place for a hand crank to fit in. Runs on premium gas but hard as heck to stall out when fogging it at the end of the season.

    PeterNYC on May 2, 2012 1:57 PM:

    “A Place in the Sun” with Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters; There were a couple great scenes involving a Chris-Craft Runabout. The movie is worth not seeing not for this though, but rather the two best faces ever to star in one movie.

    I had the pleasure of helping to restore a Chris-Craft Sedan like the one in this link.

    Thanks for the post.

    See “A Place in the Sun.”

    JSQ on May 2, 2012 7:33 PM:


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