January 19, 2012

The Catalina 27

SOMEONE ASKED ME the other day what I think of the Catalina 27. "I've heard it's lightly built and not very seaworthy," he said.

Well, I had to admit I rarely think about the Catalina 27, but when I do, I recollect that there are good reasons why it's one of the most popular small sailboats in the United States.

She was designed and built by Southern Californian Frank Butler, and well over 6,000 have been built.  She's a fin-keeler with a raked, detached rudder well aft, and a masthead sloop rig.  But she was never designed for sea work, and never pretended to be. Early boats lacked backing plates on deck hardware, stanchions, and rails, so that the gelcoat flexed and cracked quickly. Through-hull fittings were simple gate valves screwed onto pipe nipples glassed into the hull. Spreader sockets were made of cast aluminum, which fractured when overstressed. And so on.

On the other hand, this boat has more headroom and interior space than almost any other 27-footer on the market. In fact, she has about the maximum amount of interior room you could possibly cram into a 27-footer — and the trick that made it all work was the cunning design of her curved topsides.  She doesn't look boxy or ugly.

Newcomers to sailing didn't have to pay BMW prices for their Volkswagen boats. They rightly perceived them to be good value for money and well suited to the job this boat was expected to do: family racing and weekend cruising, with the odd short coastal passage thrown in.

Catalina 27s come with inboard engines or outboard engines, and if your sailing area allows you to use one, an outboard engine has many advantages, starting with price and easy maintenance.

Despite the fact that she was designed for inshore work, several Catalina 27s have made circumnavigations.  "We don't recommend using the boat this way, " Practical Sailor magazine once commented, "but it goes to show that good preparation and seamanship may be more important than your boat when it comes to successful offshore voyaging."

Patrick Childress, of Newport, Rhode Island, was one of those circumnavigators and he told me he installed chainplates on the outer hull for the aft lower shrouds. "I used to watch the side decks flexing, and it was scary," he said. He first tried installing backing plates twice as large and thick as the originals, but that only threatened to pull out a larger chunk of the side deck.

Nevertheless, Childress sailed around the world in three years, experienced no major problems with the boat, and returned safely to the United States. That has to say something for Frank Butler and his Catalina 27.

Today's Thought
The sea is only safe and harmless as long as the ship is safe and seaworthy and ably handled.
— Felix Riesenberg

When the living room sofa is a hive of activity, you can be sure there's a little honey around.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

SailFarLiveFree said...

Good stuff John. If you're looking for practical, affordable, reliable fun on the water you can do MUCH worse than the C27. Another bonus to C27 ownership is the vast and knowledgeable support community. Frankly, more needs to be written about the ageing older boats that many of us spend much time aboard.