We’re amazed by the success of the Chris-Craft Commander Club – even more so after speaking with Dick Morland, the club’s Chief Commander and one of its founding members. The passion radiating from club members is astonishing, and it runs much deeper than the boats themselves. We thought we’d let Morland tell the story …
How long has the Chris-Craft Commander Club been around?
DM: This year is our 15th anniversary. We officially began calling it a club late in 1999, although it started earlier that year.
The CCCC started as an online forum, then transformed into a club. How did it begin?
DM: This group started with just a few 38-foot Commander owners who found each other online through various registries. An email list was formed and word of the group quickly spread online. Before long, 31-foot Commander owners asked to join, which opened the door to the group accepting all Commanders ranging from 19 to 60 feet. The registry grew so quickly that it became a club late in 1999.
In early 2000, one of the original founders decided to start communicating by E-Groups, which was essentially an email list exchange. That made it easier to communicate and add group members. E-Groups was later purchased by Yahoo Groups, and we stayed with Yahoo Groups until early 2013, when we underwent a major change and become part of a social networking group called “Ning.”
We put together a web site with simple forums, libraries, photos and videos. The number of members has now grown to more than 1,400. Previously the club had an online presence with Yahoo Groups, the club web page and a member database. Now, it’s combined into one site, www.commanderclub.com.
What sets you apart from other Chris-Craft groups?
DM: Most online forums are driven by one or two dedicated people, and if those people are unable to run the forum, it will die off. The Chris-Craft Commander Club has many passionate people involved, so it isn’t dependent on one or two. We don’t rely on any external money, either. Several of the other clubs are only internet forums, but the CCCC is a full-blown club with an elected executive committee. We offer our “Styled in Fiberglass” newsletter twice a year, and we have either a National Rendezvous or Regional Rendezvous every year.
Commanders were the first series of fiberglass boats built by Chris-Craft. How did that come about?
DM: In the early 1960s, Chris-Craft was the big dog in boat building, using all three mediums: steel, wood and aluminum. In 1963, as the competition began using fiberglass, Chris-Craft’s Bill MacKerer (Senior Vice President of Manufacturing and Engineering) teamed with Chief Stylist Fred Hudson and produced a revolutionary boat –the 38-foot Commander. The styling was revolutionary, plus because they didn’t fully understand how strong fiberglass really was, they grossly over-built the Commanders to preserve their well-deserved reputation for quality. Over the years, the boats began to be built somewhat lighter as designers realized how strong fiberglass really was.
Are there other reasons enthusiasts favor the Commander over other Chris-Craft models?
DM: Of all the Chris-Crafts manufactured in that era, the Commander series was the top of the line. Given a choice, people preferred a fiberglass boat – they were popular and easy to maintain. The Commander was the most expensive model, but also fairly affordable. Back then it was also a bit more affordable for the middle class. I was 27 when I purchased a new 27-foot Chris-Craft; today the average 27-year-old probably isn’t making enough money to purchase a new boat of that quality. Used, well-maintained Commanders are one way to get a great boat for a reasonable price.
We were surprised to learn that club membership is free. The majority of clubs charge at least a small fee; why don’t you?
DM: All of our members are passionate about the hobby and are more than happy to contribute their knowledge and share stories. There’s no need to charge a fee, so we don’t. I think of the club as one big family – we’re all friends here.
Without a membership fee, how is the club maintained?
DM: Everything is volunteer-based. Thousands of hours have been contributed to our information databases. On the forums we have a place where someone can come to the group with problems or to gather information – someone always knows the answer, and the best replies are archived into what we call our SuperDisc, which is a compilation of the best forum answers to technical issues relative to all things Commander. It’s essentially a collection full of information from about 1,000 people over the last 15 years. There are currently more than 14,000 posts in the SuperDisc, which is sold for $40 in either DVD or Flash Drive format. The money goes towards supporting the club. We also sell shirts, hoodies, mugs, calendars and other logo items on CafePress, and we have a different DVD or a Flash Drive that works as a library resource. It’s a collection of printed resources such as repair manuals, wiring diagrams and detailed information on every Commander manufactured from 1964-72.
This year’s annual National Rendezvous is in Huron, Ohio. How many boats and people are you expecting?
DM: We’re expecting around 100 boats and 250 people. It’s a great place to meet new people and make friends. At my age I would normally have fewer and fewer friends as they pass away, but because of this group I have many more friends than I did 10 years ago. A few years ago, I was very sick and had some close calls. It was hard on my wife too, and she received phone calls from club members from all over the world, just checking in to make sure I was OK. This is, by far, the best place to meet like-minded people and make lasting friendships.
Could you describe what takes place during the four-day event?
DM:Thursday begins with an early-bird registration from 3-4 p.m., and then happy hour begins at 5 p.m. Registration continues Friday, along with boat action photos on the water, and ends with a barbeque and entertainment. Saturday starts with coffee and donuts, and further registration for any Saturday arrivals, followed by a breakfast buffet. Later we have awards and presentations, a technical seminar, plus time to visit and look at the boats. Cocktail hour begins at 5 p.m. followed by a dinner buffet, then live music to end another great day. On Sunday, the final day, we’ll have more coffee and donuts, and the final viewing of the boat fleet takes place before everyone heads home.
We’re looking forward to celebrating 50 years of our beautiful Commanders and the club’s 15th anniversary.
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*Hagerty is a proud supporter of the CCCC and the National Rendezvous.