If there was a palpable theme to the 2014 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, it was bigger, bolder center-console boats. Everglades introduced its largest-ever 435cc, Boston Whaler debuted the 420 Outrage—its biggest model yet—and Chris-Craft premiered the Catalina 34 (a boat first announced last summer; read our sneak-peek, Chris-Craft Catalina 34: A Newer, Bigger Catalina is on the Way).

Chris-Craft Catalina 34 center console running

The Chris-Craft Catalina 34 is the builder's largest center-console offering to date.

Large, fast, offshore center-console fishing boats represent a fast-growing segment in the American boating market. While Everglades and Boston Whaler both have solid reputations in this arena, Chris-Craft isn’t a name you often see bandied about when discussing this type of boat. And maybe that’s because this is a special kind of center-console. It’s a 40-40-20 blend of classic good looks and luxury, with a bit of angling mixed in. That’s makes the Chris-Craft 34 Catalina decidedly different—and in a good way.

The Chris-Craft Catalina 34 joins the builder’s ever-growing lineup of center-consoles, which, in addition to the new 34, includes 23, 26, and 29-foot models. Make no bones about it; all of these boats ooze luxury–from their rich teak trim to their glossy topsides. But despite the rich feel of this boat, it’s apparent that the 34 was designed to chip away at a small piece of that above-mentioned offshore fishing boat market. Sure, folks who buy this boat likely prefer Syrah to Schlitz, but that doesn’t mean they won’t want to dip a line in for a tuna every now and then. Pricing starts in the mid-300s, but it’s very easy to option this boat out at over $400,000.

Surprise! Nope, it's not a rigging station, it's a food prep area replete with electric grill, ceramic cooktop, microwave, refrigerator, and freezer.

Surprise! Nope, it's not a rigging station, it's a food prep area replete with electric grill, ceramic cooktop, microwave, refrigerator, and freezer.

The Catalina 34's lines are graceful, just as you'd expect from a builder with a 150-plus year history of designing and producing beautiful boats. Sporting a substantial and bold look, the 34's aggressive stance is enhanced by a sheer line that runs flat and then rises smoothly to the bow, which has copious flare for keeping things dry. Her entry is also aggressive, but its curvy profile doesn't detract from the rest of the boat's elegance. Twenty-one degrees of transom deadrise should enhance offshore performance when things get snotty.

The first tipoff to this boat’s offshore angling sensibilities is found back at the stern, where Chris-Craft has strapped a trio of 300-horsepower Mercury Verado outboards. Paired with a 300-gallon fuel tank—which Chris-Craft tells me nets a 400-plus mile cruising range—you’ve got a platform that capable of making it to the canyons and back, with fuel to spare. With a top-end speed of around 62 mph with this engine configuration, getting out there won't take long, either.

Other fishing clues you may notice are the line of inset transom rod holders, or maybe the opening tuna door set into the starboard topsides. Sure, the tuna door can also be used to gracefully usher guests aboard just as much as to boat a yellowfin, but let's stay on track. LED cockpit lights, fish lockers, and expansive fish-finding displays at the helm are other hints at this boat’s underlying angling DNA.

But when I opened up what I thought would be a fully stocked rigging station and instead found a galley with an electric grill, a ceramic cooktop, microwave oven, refrigerator, freezer, and sink, I was jolted back to the reality that this boat’s mission isn’t just about fishing. In fact, the end goal seems to be providing a plush platform for a wide variety of activities, ranging from day cruising to creek-crawling, and island-hopping to offshore exploration.

To cater to the entertaining and fun end of those activities, the Catalina 34 has lots of room and seating on deck, much of which is convertible in nature, meaning you can put much of it away when you don’t need it or spring it into action when you do. Take the seating setup in the aft cockpit, for example. A long, thickly cushioned bench sits aft across the transom, but seats on both sides of it pop up from under the gunwale to create a U-shaped lounge.

A folding teak table can be set in the middle of this seating setup to create a dinette. Speaking of dining, this area just happens to be situated right behind that aforementioned galley area, which should make creating afternoon picnics or preparing evening happy hour snacks a breeze. An awning pulls aft out of the center-console hardtop pipework to shade this area—a nice touch. Also well done are the numerous stainless-steel hand holds situated just about anywhere you’d need one.

Presto, chango. The bow area in the Chris Craft Catalina 34 has a number of different personalities.

Presto, chango. The bow area in the Chris-Craft Catalina 34 has a number of different personalities.

The bow seating area also is highly convertible. The forward end of the center-console unit forms a wide, forward-facing sun lounge, and an upholstered, U-shaped seating area is set into the bow. Pop in a table, which is cleverly stowed under lounge, and you’ve got a dinette. Use the table as an insert, drop in an insert cushion, and you’ve got a huge sun pad. It’s a clever setup, though not as clever as the one on the Cobia 344 CC, which has an electric table that can stow flush to the deck, move part-way in between to create a lounge, or raise all the way up to form a table—all at the push of a button. It would be nice to see something like that up here, given the cost and pedigree of this boat.

An elegant cabin is part of the Chris-Craft Catalina 34's luxury elements.

An elegant cabin is part of the Chris-Craft Catalina 34's luxury elements.

Under the console via a door in its port side is a small cabin setup with a forward berth for weekend overnighters or mid-day naps underway, a washbasin, and a head. You’ll find no vast expanses of shiny white gelcoat down here—instead there’s rich wood cabinetry and trim, thick teak steps, and tons of natural light thanks to four portlights, one of which opens to provide ventilation (forward). The whole setup is air-conditioned, as you’d expect. It’s one of the nicer under-console cabins I’ve seen, and it’s plenty big and comfy enough to allow a couple to do weekend overnight cruises very nicely.
Draft (hull)2'2"
Deadrise21 degrees
Displacement10,000 lbs
Fuel capacity300 gal.
Water capacity40 gal.

A vast hardtop covers the helm and center console and the pipework supports are mounted to the gunwales to create more side deck space. Behind the helm are three sturdy, fixed captain’s chairs that have flip-down bolsters for when you would rather have a leaning post. There’s plenty of room for the plethora of multi-function displays, engine instruments and controls, and joystick located in the dash, and it is hinged to provide access to the wiring and backs of the electronics, all of which is installed with an eye toward detail.

Part of me wasn’t a big fan of the lack of gasketing to protect the area behind this hinged panel, but then I thought of all the electronics that reside in smaller boats that are much less protected than this one. All in all, the whole area is extremely well done.

In the end, this boat doesn’t have the fishing genes that an Everglades or a Whaler does, but it also doesn’t try to pretend to. And that’s what makes it unique—it’s a beautiful blend of many different things: luxury, comfort, and performance, with a side of angling abilities thrown in.

Other Choices: While not as bent toward luxury and comfort as the Chris-Craft Catalina 34, the Cobia 344 CC and Wellcraft Scarab 35 Offshore Sport are both capable center-consoles worth looking at in this size range. If you're looking for center-console boat in the mega-class, the Boston Whaler Outrage 420 and Everglades 435cc are about as bodacious as they come.

View Chris-Craft Catalina 34 listings.

For more information, visit Chris-Craft.

Written by: Gary Reich
Gary Reich is a Chesapeake Bay-based freelance writer and photojournalist with over 25 years of experience in the marine industry. He is the former editor of PropTalk Magazine and was the managing editor of the Waterway Guide. His writing and photography have been published in PassageMaker Magazine, Soundings, Fly Fishing in Salt Waters, Yachting Magazine, and Lakeland Boating, among others.