The Cabin Cruiser Comes of Age

Soundings - - Just Yesterday - — Steve Knauth

The 1950s were a decade of change. Sput­nik 1 launched, ini­ti­at­ing the tech­no­log­i­cal space race that con­tin­ues to­day. Alaska and Hawaii be­came the 49th and 50th states. Jonas Salk de­vel­oped the po­lio vac­cine, and ev­ery­body from Chuck Berry to Elvis Pres­ley taught Amer­i­cans the mean­ing of rock ’n’ roll.

Boat­ing, too, saw changes with the evo­lu­tion of the cabin cruiser, which chal­lenged the big cruis­ing sail­boat as the ves­sel of choice in post­war Amer­ica.

It’s not that cabin cruis­ers were new in the 1950s: Con­sol­i­dated, Elco and other builders vir­tu­ally cre­ated the boat type in the 1920s and 1930s, although sail­boats still ruled for much of the early 20th cen­tury. World War II changed all that. When it was over, there was time again to get out onto the wa­ter, and a pop­u­la­tion ea­ger to do just that. By the 1950s, new ma­te­ri­als (in­clud­ing wood and ad­he­sives de­vel­oped dur­ing the war) and mass pro­duc­tion tech­niques en­abled builders to put cabin cruis­ers in the hands of the aver­age (if mod­estly wealthy) man who wanted to go cruis­ing with his fam­ily.

Size had some­thing to do with the cabin cruiser’s rise in pop­u­lar­ity. You could head out cruis­ing more of­ten in a trideck power­boat than you could in a sail­boat of sim­i­lar size be­cause you had a fly­bridge with seat­ing, an open aft deck for sun­ning, a cock­pit with weath­er­pro­tec­tion cur­tains and a fore­deck with seats for loung­ing.

In­side, too, cabin cruis­ers evolved what it meant to en­joy a life on the wa­ter. De­sign­ers re­placed bunks with queen- size is­land berths. Gal­leys had re­frig­er­a­tors in­stead of ice­boxes. Sa­lons had a couch, chairs, and an en­ter­tain­ment cen­ter with a ra­dio for tun­ing in to mu­sic. Boats got stall show­ers and heads that flushed—a big im­prove­ment over the 1930s, when one de­signer touted a cedar bucket as a head.

The re­sult of these evo­lu­tions was a more ac­ces­si­ble, more com­fort­able kind of power­boat that laid the ground­work for to­day’s cruis­ing boats. Back then, at least one ad­ver­tise­ment said the cabin cruiser was “for en­joy­ing fam­ily to­geth­er­ness on board” and “a mo­to­ry­acht for live­aboard lux­ury voy­ages.” Thank good­ness some things stay the same.

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