By: Mike Werling
October 6, 2017
Nine-hundred horsepower. That’s the first feature to catch my eye as I approach the Chris-Craft Catalina 34 from the dock. It’s backed into its slip, so the triple Yamaha F300 outboards stand out, rumbling power plants that for the moment are silent, but ready. Strapped to the swim step of the Catalina 34, introduced a couple of years ago and the recent recipient of a new hardtop design with an extendable Sure Shade that works at the push of a button, those outboards might cause some folks who haven’t seen a Chris-Craft in a while to perform a double take to make sure they’re looking at a Chris-Craft, but they probably won’t second guess the performance.
We had a good crowd aboard the 34 during our test run at a dealer meeting in Florida, at least eight people, so our top speed (56 mph) wasn’t as good as during Yamaha testing with half as many people aboard (61.6 mph), but the rest of the numbers were very close. At 46 mph, right about 4500 rpm, the triple engines were burning a combined 45.3 gph, yielding just more than 1 mpg. While the F300s could push the Catalina 34 at that pace all day, slowing down a bit yields better efficiency. At 4000 rpm, fuel burn was 35.9 gph at 41.2 mph, and at 3500 rpm, fuel burn was 27.6 gph at 35.9 mph, for 1.3 mpg. That provides a nice range of about 375 miles — plenty for a busy weekend of island hopping or chasing fish.
Our time to plane on test day was just more than four seconds, but Yamaha testing yielded a time of 3.6 seconds, and a time to 30 mph of 6.56 seconds. The power from the 4.2L V-6 outboards came on quickly and smoothly, and despite the 1,740 pounds of outboards at the stern, bowrise was minimal and didn’t last long considering time to plane was roughly four seconds. Once we were at speed, the boat handled nimbly and solidly. With 21 degrees of deadrise, the Catalina 34 heels over like a sportboat in tight turns, but maintains a solid feel. The deep V at the bow sliced through waves easily, and the flared bow kept our large group dry.
The Catalina 34 is part of a trend for both Chris-Craft and the boatbuilding industry as a whole: bigger center consoles. It’s the flagship of the center console Catalina line for Chris-Craft, and in addition to its visible standout features — the outboards, the hardtop, the SureShade extension — its versatility is its calling card, fore and aft.
The cockpit can be opened up for fishing action, or it can be more of a social zone, thanks to seats that stow and fold under the gunwales. The transom bench seat fits three people easily and can fold out of the way. The seat to port fits two people and the one to starboard is a solo. With all of the seats engaged, three sides of the three-section folding teak table are occupied. With the seats and table stowed, the cockpit is a fishing zone or a staging area for scuba diving or snorkeling, thanks to a starboard dive door and a ladder that’s hidden under a hatch in the deck sole.
The bow of the Catalina 34, not to be outdone by the cockpit, possesses its own versatility. A two-person sun lounge occupies the forward portion of the center console — its back sloped gently and its forward section flat, like a chaise lounge — and a U-shaped bench seat forward of the sun lounge can seat five or six people. A table that stows under the sun lounge cushion serves double duty — as a dining surface or, with the help of a filler cushion, as an extension of the sun lounge, to combine it and the forward seat into one big lounge.
In the center of it all, not surprisingly, is the console, which houses the helm topside and the berth/head belowdecks. The helm, with triple captain’s chairs, is going to make some people think they’re on a bigger boat. It’s situated behind the windshield, which doesn’t integrate with the hardtop, so it provides a wind break for folks seated at the helm but doesn’t close off the space, which the driver will appreciate on hot summer days. Two upgraded Garmin 7616xsv multifunction screens dominate the dash of the helm (12-inchers are standard), and with all their functionality and integration, including being able to talk to the engines, they’re really all an owner needs to run the boat. Flanking the centerline wheel to starboard are the engine throttles, the Optimus 360 joystick and the trim tab controls, and to port are displays for the outboards and the joystick, and switches for lights, pumps and more. Our boat had a wood steering wheel with spokes that looked high end; a stainless wheel with a turning knob is available.
Housed within the center console and accessed via a portside door is the cabin. It’s a space that makes this dayboat/fishing platform a real weekender for a couple, though the only shower is at the transom (where discretion might be called for). Sunken a couple of steps below the deck, the cabin space features a sink with storage underneath, a Tecma macerating toilet (with dockside pumpout) that can be concealed under a wooden fold-down seat, and a two-person berth. A window is cut into the starboard side of the console wall, and the lower-back cushion on the sun lounge can be removed to reveal a window that lets light into the cabin.
Aft of the helm, occupying the rear two-thirds of the console that serves as the base for the captain’s chairs, is a galley of sorts. In Chris-Craft’s literature it’s referred to as a summer kitchen, and it is hidden under a fiberglass top that lifts on hydraulic hinges. It includes an electric grill, a two-burner stovetop and a sink on top, and drawers, a refrigerator/freezer and an ice-maker underneath. The hardtop extends just far enough to cover the unit.
For buyers with more interest in fishing than cooking, the stovetop can be replaced by a 30-gallon livewell, which makes a nice complement to the twin 50-gallon fishboxes that are built into the cockpit sole. Four rod holders are set into the transom, and the outboards are mounted at the rear of the swim step, so there is room to maneuver if the situation calls for it. Under the gunwale next to the helm is a space to store two rods. Chris-Craft offers an option for radial outriggers on the hardtop and includes flat platforms molded into the curved top to accommodate the hardware. Plus, coaming pads line the entire inside of the boat. Anglers can hook ’em, fight ’em land ’em, store ’em, prep ’em (on the lid of the kitchen console), grill ’em and eat ’em without ever leaving the cockpit.
Fans of color coordination will be happy to discover that Chris-Craft offers 11 hull paint colors — 10 of them metallic — and will paint the outboards to match. In addition, buyers can have the underside of the hardtop painted to match the hull. That’s a bit of customization that not all builders offer.
If docking causes one to feel trepidation, the Catalina 34 has a couple of optional features that should assuage slip-side fear. Mercury and Yamaha both have joystick options for their twin- and triple-engine configurations, and Chris-Craft will install a bow thruster at the buyer’s request. Either of those alone can help immensely during docking. Combined, they’re a sure winner. I watched the Yamahas operate as we neared the dock, and it’s impressive how they jive and shimmy independently of one another based on how the driver is manipulating the joystick, deciding on their own — with the help of a computer brain — how much thrust to apply and in which direction. It’s interesting how gentle three engines with 900 horses of raw power can be, especially when they were tearing up the water on Sarasota Bay just minutes earlier.