"Catkreuzer" -  = "catcruisers" the early german built catboats from the time period 1880-1930

          Once the first catboats had been built in the US around the 1850´s it didn´t take long before new type of boat had reached Europe. The Una-boat, an open catboat of 16 ft. in length and its designer Bob Fish played a certain role with that story. Una had been shipped from the US to England, and there it became quite popular as a race boat. In contrast to the country of the catboat´s origin, the US, the catboats that had been built since the end of the 19th century in Europe were no longer being used for fishing or transportation. The explanation is quite simple: On one hand the local fishermen had been using their regional boat types for many decades, like the northern double enders in the Baltic sea and the numerous flat-bottom type boats such as the tjotters, boeiers etc. in the lowlands of Dutch Friesland. On the other hand the catboats came to Europe exactly at the time of the industrial revolution, with the quickly upcoming use of engines for all kind of mechanical devices, and so for boats. The classic American catboat such as the Cape Cod catboat had not simply been copied and pasted in Europe. Essentially it was the cat-rig that had inspired the European boat designers the most. In those times the the sloop and cutter were the dominating rigs. Especially in narrow waters, these rigs needed elaborate handling. Without the support of winches or jam cleats the sheets had to be tightened and manually fixed on cleats after each tack. Another fact was that foresails at that time had mainly been used to enlarge the total sail area of the boats, which was quite impressive. The complex know-how of aerodynamic flow that we do have today, for example to use the foresail in order to achieve an improved airstream along the mainsail, was not available in those days. And the foresails had not been designed and neigther used in that way. The early catboats showed advantages versus the sloop-rigged boats, not only in handling. They enabled even closer angles to the wind when tacking. This advantage had been very welcomed for narrow inshore waters. After a thorough research in old editions of the german magazines "Die Yacht", "Ahoi" and "Wassersport" I have collected, summarized and commented on the reports of boats of the early designers and boatbuilders who dealt with catboats with cabins. The drawings were taken from the old articles from the magazine "Die Yacht", which are published in the "Yachtsportarchiv" and are also listed in the protected area of this website.  

German Catboats vs. American catboats

From the very beginning the German-designed and built catboats had been used as pleasure boats und never as fishing boats or for the purpose of transportation. There were the open catboats, which were used as race boats, and the ones with a small cabin, which were built as a shorter and easier to handle version to the already existing "Jollenkreuzer", as touring boats. They also were intended to add to existing designs as a low-cost version of a pleasure boat design. From the existing American catboat designs few characteristic elements would be transferred to the European designs. This was done only many decades later - in the 1970s with the catboat "Seezunge". In the old days it wasn´t the trial to bring a copy of this boat to Europe. The early catboats in Germany were rather unique designs with a cat-rig, which the designers named "Catkreuzer" which means catcruiser. The majority of these designs were keel boats with no centreboards. The beam was also not according to the American extreme ratio of length : width 2:1. These much more trimly designed boats needed to carry a sufficient weight of ballast in order to provide the necessary stability.  

The barn door rudders have an unusual large surface area, and as its name indicates, their shape and size remind to the door of a barn. They had been a result of the needed suitability of the boats for shallow waters. The American type catboats with their solid and robust built barn door rudders could, once the centreboard is up, easily be pulled up on to a beach or could be anchored in tidal zones with the boat resting on shore at low tide. These barn door rudders needed to have a minimum of surface area in order to work efficiently. And the surface area that was needed could not be achieved by vertical extension of the rudders but by stretching the rudder in the horizontal direction further to the back. These long rudders tended to dip out of the water in wavy conditions, resulting in a more difficult steering behavior. So these needs of rudders with low depth was not that much apparent in Germany and particularly around the Berlin lakes and other inshore waters. Therefore German catboats had been designed with rudders of more depth and which show more like a teardrop shaped design. In the Netherlands with their shaööow inshore waters, such as the Dutch Friesland, they used their well established flat-bottom boats with leeboards for many decades. Anyhow also in the Netherlands exist a few boatyards, which also had built some keelboats with cat-rigs. Some of them are still kept and maintained today by the members of the Dutch catboat club. 
The catboats of the German designers had developed partly from the type of "Jollenkreuzer", which also became popular during that time. They were centreboard sailboats with a similar hull to some open sailboats, but with a cabin and sloop-rig. They also had been offered with cat-rigs. Typical examples of these are the designs of the 5,47m long cat-rigged Jollenkreuzer from Heinz Docter and the cat-rigged Sharpie-Jollenkreuzer of Fritz Fischer. But then the catkreuzers were born, designed as full keel catboats. These boats did not have centreboard cases, which would have been even more inconvenient on slim or trim designed cabins. A further difference to the American originals was the positioning of the mast. It had not been put in the very front of the bow, but just a little further back, where the bow is wide enough to allow a sufficient angle of the shrouds and forestay to support the mast. The bow was less loaded, which had a positive effect in rougher waters. These types of small cat-rigged touring yachts were manufactured at numerous small boatbuilding shops. Unfortunately there are few remaining photos of catboats built at that time, which are of particular value. Other sources of information come from old sales advertising and the boat register-lists of the various sailing clubs. As far as we know today, only three of the original catkreuzers exist. Drawings and original boats remain from: Abeking & Rasmussen (two of their "little Catkreuzer"), from Heidtmann (original Catboot Catalina), Artur Tiller (drawings of his catboats designs: "Teufelchen", "Svane" and "6m-Catkreuzer"), Friedrich Popp (Catkreuzer Gerda),  Adolf Harms  (Cat-Schwertkreuzer) and Harry Wustrau (Kurz und gut = short and good).

The Old designs

Cat-rigged "Jollenkreuzer"

Two examples of cat-rigged jollenkreuzer could be found. Ship-building engineer Heinz Docter designed the 18 ft. Jollenkreuzer with round bulkhead and a hard chine. On this type, Docter received many inquiries. This boat had been manufactured under his management at the boatyard in Warnemünde "Wereha" (= Werft-, Reederei- und Handelsbetriebe). In 1923, the design had been worked over and then rigged with a shorter mast and gaff. The mast was then much lighter in weight, a significant advantage when taking the mast down with a tabernacle.

In 1927 a 20 ft. Jollenkreuzer was presented by Fritz Fischer. It is not known if this type had ever been built. Docters and Fishers designs had both been equipped with cabins reaching forward to the mast. Another characteristic of these designs are the positioning of the centreboards, very much forward to avoid the inconvenient centreboard cases in the main area of the cabin. 

The  Catkreuzers (= catcruisers)

The two smaller designs were centreboarders. The smaller one Kurz und Gut (=Short and Good) had an overall length of 13.8 ft. and was designed by Harry Wustrau. It had a daggerboard, but when hitting the bottom it allowed the board to flip backwards. The board had been positioned so that the centreboard case was partly in the cockpit and partly in the cabin. With a depth of 2.2 ft. with board up and 4.1 ft. down. When completely up it was necessary for the hatch to be open. To lock the cabin, either the board was removed or it was left down. The cabin height of this tiny boat was only 3.6 ft. and only smaller sailors could sit in an upright position. Room for storage was under the cockpit and cabin benches, and in a small area in the bow. It is not known, if this design had ever been built.

The second of the small designs is the Cat-Schwertkreuzer  of Adolf Harms in 1919. At an overall length of 15 ft. and a width of 7.2 ft. this design is significantly larger than the Wustrau design. Interesting was the position of the centreboard - very forward in the bow. The centreboard case begins just behind the mast. By designing it this way, the main part of the cabin was not affected by a centreboard case. An innovative solution was designed by Harms for the halyards. They were guided through the deck and tightened on cleats mounted at the centerboard case.

This boat had been built at the Berkholz & Gärsch boatshop in Friedrichshagen at the lake Müggelsee.

In 1914 the famous yacht builder Abeking & Rasmussen presented the  Henry Rasmussen design of the Kleiner Catkreuzer (= small catcruiser). At an overall length of only 14.8 ft. Rasmussen had incorporated an astonishing amount in the boat. This catboat was designed as a long keel boat that offered a roomy cabin with berths of sufficient length. Typical for A & R designs: all metal parts and fittings were especially made by A&R, from the chainplates for the shrouds, the jiffy reefing for the boom to the all brass vent fitting - to mention but a few.

According to A&R´s list of the building numbers eight boats of this type had been built in the period between 1914 and 1922. The boat with building number 401 had been built for a Mr. Hans Frese in Bremen and the boat was named "Sonderling". In A&Rs list of the building numbers, the design was then still mentioned as "Tourenkreuzer" instead of the later term "Catkreuzer". The next built was building number 696 in 1916 for Mr. Angerich from Lichtenfelde. In 1921 there followed a series of three boats of this type, with the building numbers 1258-1260. Unfortunately, no further information is available on the buyers or boat names.

One year later in 1922 another series of three were built with the building numbers 1499-1501. Two of these were ordered from a customer in Denmark and the other for one in England. Two of these boats survive today; the building numbers 1499 (Novatus of Theo Nieuwenhuizen) and 1501 (Krümel of Rasmus Braun). They regularly participate at various boat meetings. A nice article about these two old-timers had been published in the magazine "Yacht Classic" edition 1/2017. With their sail area of 183 ft² they still keep up with modern catboats quite well.


Friedrich Popp designed the catboat on the left. With an overall length of 16.4 ft. and a beam of only 5.9 ft. , Gerda is a very trim catkreuzer. She´s a pure long keeler with a sail area of 199 ft² and a rudder mounted on a square stern. Beside the cat-rig this design also had been offered with a sloop rig. Popp cooperated with a couple of boatyards, who he licensed to build the types. The boatyards were located mainly in the eastern part of the Baltic:
Ostsee Yachtbau G.m.b.H. Werft in former town Groß-Möllen (today polish: Mielno), Haffwerft G.m.b.H in former town Groß-Ziegenort (today polish: Trzbiez) at the Stettiner Haff and the Boots-und Yachtwerft Dipl.-Ing. Friedrich Bedezies in former Stettin (today polish: Szczecin). The building time of this boat was calculated at six weeks, and it was made from oak with lapstrake hull.

A well-known boat designer at the time in Germany was ship-building engineer from Berlin-Charlottenburg, Artur Tiller.  He designed a large variety and number of boats and ships. Among his designs are several for catboats. Three of those he designed with a cabin as a catkreuzer. They are the type Teufelchen (1924), Svane (1929) and the 6m-Catkreuzer (1930). All designs show the characteristic fingerprint of Tiller´s designs. They all have the uniquely designed (at the time) keel with a fin shape. It allowed for easier turning when tacking and also reduced the area of resistance. The needed ballast was attached as an "iron-shoe" to the keel. Only one of the designs, the catkreuzer "Teufelchen" (= little devil) had been equipped with a gaff sail. All of the later designs he had equipped with a Marconi-rig. Obviously, Tiller considered the Marconi of advantage because of their easier handling over the gaff versions.

The catboat Teufelchen (= little devil) had been presented extensively in 1924 by an article in the magazine "Die Yacht". It had been made for Mr. Walter Hemming, a famous painter of marine scenes and was manufactured at Engelbrecht boatyard in Berlin´s Köpenick suburb. Made of mahogany and at 16.4 ft. with a 6.9 ft. beam  and 2.2 ft draft, it was rigged with a gaff sail of 215 ft².
A few years later he designed another 16.4 ft catboat, the Svane. In contrast to the Teufelchen the Svane was trimmer and rigged with a Marconi sail of 215 ft².

It was reported, that from this boat, a smaller series had been manufactured at boatyard Müller in Kladow, Berlin-Spandau. 

 The order for a slightly larger version Tiller received, came from Switzerland. He designed the "6m-Catkreuzer". At an overall length of 19.7 ft with a 7 ft. beam and a depth of 2.3 ft., the 6m-Catkreuzer also was equipped with a Marconi rig and a sail area of 269 ft². It was built at Yachtwerft Grimm in the Swiss town of Gottlieben. 

The last boat of this summary is a preserved catboat of the renowned boat building company of Hamburg Heidtmann with building number 5379. At an overall length of 19.7 ft. and a beam of 8.5 ft it displaced about 4,410 lbs.  Although catboats had been designed and built at Heidtmann from the 1880s, no designs seem to have been preserved. Luckily a Heidtmann catboat had been preserved out of the five built in 1930. This boat is the catboat Catalina  and was designed as a centerboard catboat with many similarities to American catboats.