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

          Once the first catboats had been built in the USA around the 1850´s it didn´t take long until the idea of this at that time new type of boat had reached Europe. The Una-boat, an open catboat of 9,15m length and its designer Bob Fish played a certain role with that story. A genuine boat of the Una-boat had been shipped from the USA to England and there it became quite popular for at least a period of time as a race boat. In difference to the country of the catboats origin, the USA, the catboats that had been built since the end of the 19th century in Europe were not anymore being used as fishing or transportation boats. The explanation is quite easy: 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 low lands of dutch Friesland. And on the other hand the catboats came to Europe exactly at the times of the industrial revolution with the quickly upcoming use of engine drives for all kind of mechanical devices and so for boats. The classic american catboat such as the cape cod catboat had not simply been copypasted in Europe. Essentially it was the cat-rig that had inspired the european boat designers the most. In those times the dominating rigs were the sloop and the cutter-rig. Especially in narrow waters these rigs needed an elaborately handling. Without the support of winches or clam cleats the sheets had to be tightened and fixed on cleats manually after each tack then. Another fact was that foresails at that time mainly had been used to enlarge the total sail area of the boats and also gave a quite impressive image of the boats. The complex know-how of aerodynamic that we do have today, for example to use the foresail in order to achieve an improved airstream along the mainsail, was not known 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 boat designs of the early designers and boat builders who dealt with catboats with a cabin. 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.  

The use of catboats in Germany and their main differences to 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 a low-cost version of a pleasure boat design. From the existing american catboat designs hardly but one  characteristic element had been transferred to the european designs. This was done only many decades later - in the 1970s with the catboat "Seezunge"-. In the old days it was not as much 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 centre boards. And also the width was not according to the american extreme ratio of length: width of 2:1. These much more trim designed boats need to carry a sufficient weight of ballast in order to provide the necessary stability.  

The characteristical "barndoor" rudders had not been used on german built catboats. The barndoor rudders have an unusual large surface area, as its name indicates their shape reminded 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 barndoor 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 barndoor 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 drop shape design. And in the Netherlands the people were using for their shallow inshore waters like in dutch Friesland 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 until today by the members of the dutch catbootclub. 
The catboats of the german designers had developed partly from the at the same time appearing "Jollenkreuzer"- centreboard sailboats with similar hull as some open saildinghys but with a cabin and with sloop-rig. As an add-on they also had been offered with cat-rigs. Typical examples of these are the designs of the 5,47m long Cat-Jollenkreuzers from Heinz Docter and also the cat-rigged Sharpie-Jollenkreuzer of Fritz Fischer. But then also the catkreuzer were born, which had been designed as full keel catboats. These boats did not have the centreboard cases, which would have been even more inconvenient on trim designed cabins. A further difference to the american originals was the positioning of the mast: It had been put not in the very front of the bow but a little further back, just a little, where the bow is wide enough to allow a sufficient angle of shrouds and forestay to support the mast. The very front of the bow was also much less loaded which had a positive effect in wavy waters. These type of small cat-rigged touring yachts were manufactured at numerous small boatbuilding shops. Unfortunately there are only a few remaining fotos of the catboats being built at that time, these are of particular value. Sources of information are also the old sales advertisings and the boats register-lists of the various sailing clubs. As far as known, only three of the original old catkreuzers are existing today. Drawings and original boats are remaining 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 design examples of cat-rigged jollenkreuzers could be found. Ship building engineer Heinz Docter designed the 5,47m long Jollenkreuzer with round bulkhead and also with 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 sail. The mast was then much lighter in weight, a significant advantage when taking the mast down with the tabernacle.

In 1927 a 6m Jollenkreuzer had been 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 way forward up 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 had been designed as centreboarders. The smaller one Kurz und Gut (=Short and well made) has an overall length of 4,20m and is designed by Harry Wustrau.  It has a daggerboard but when hitting the ground it allows the board to flip backwards. The board had been positioned that the centreboard case was partly in the cockpit and partly in the cabin. At a depth of 0,66m with board up and 1.25m board down it would have been necessary for the complete uprise of the board to open the hatch. And for locking the cabin either the board was to be removed or it was to be left down. The cabin height of this tiny boat was only 1.10m and only smaller type sailors could sit in an upright position. Room for storage was under the cockpit benches and cabin benches and in the small room in the front. 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 4,45m and a width of 2,20m this design is significantly larger than Wustraus design. Interestingly is the position of the centreboard way in front of the boat. The centreboard case begins short behind the mast. By designing it this way the cabin room at its widest area 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.

The famous yachtbuilder Abeking & Rasmussen presented in 1914 the  Henry Rasmussen design of the kleine Catkreuzer (= little catcruiser). At an overall length of only 4,50m Henry Rasmussen had incorporated an astonishing amount of boat. This catboat was designed as a long keel boat and offers a roomy cabin with berths of sufficient length. Typical for A & R designs: all metal parts and fittings were made by A&R, from the chain plates for the shrouds, the jiffy reefing for the boom to the all brass vent fitting to mention only a few of them.

According to A&Rs list of the building numbers in total 8 units 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". The next built was building number 696 in 1916 for Mr. Angerich from Lichtenfelde. The name of that boat was also being reported with "Angerich". In 1921 followed a small series of 3 units 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 small series of 3 units were built with the building numbers 1499-1501. Two of these at last built boats were ordered from a customer in Denmark and the other one for one in England. Two of these boats, namely the building numbers 1499 (Novatus of Theo Nieuwenhuizen) and 1501 (Krümel of Rasmus Braun) have made it until today. They regularly participate at various boat meetings. A nice article about these two oldtimers had been published in the magazine "Yacht Classic" edition 1/2017. With their sail area of 17m² they keep up with modern catboats quite good.


Friedrich Popp designed the catboat on the left. With an overall length of 5 m it has a width of only 1.80m, Gerda is a very trim designed catkreuzer. It is a pure long keeler and had a sail area of 18.5 m² and a rudder mounted at a square stern. Beside the cat-rig this design also had been offered with a sloop rig as an alternative. 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 sea:
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 with 6 weeks, and it was made from oak in lapstrake built. There is no further information available if this design had been built. 

A well-known boat designer at the time in Germany was ship-building engineer from Berlin-Charlottenburg Artur Tiller.  He designed a large number of all kind of boats and ships. Among his numerous designs are also several  designs for catboats. Three of those he designed with a cabin as catkreuzer´s and are shown here: 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 at the time uniquely designed keel with a fin- shape. It allowed an easier turning of the boat when tacking and also reduced the area of resistance. The ballast which was needed 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 equipped with Marconi-rig. Obviously Tiller considered the Marconi of advantage because their easier handling versus 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 had been manufactured at the boatyard "Engelbrecht" at the Berlin suburb Köpenick. It was made complete in mahogani and at a length over all of 5m it was 2.11m wide and 0.68m depth. It was rigged with a gaff sail of 20m².
A few years later he designed another 5m catboat, the Svane. In difference to the Teufelchen the Svane was more trim and rigged with a marconi sail of 18m².

It had been 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 from Switzerland. He designed the "6m-Catkreuzer". At an overall length of 6m it was 2.13m wide and a depth of 0.69m. The 6m-Catkreuzer also had been equipped with a marconi rig and a sail area of 25m². 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 6.00m and a width of 2.60m its displacement is about 2tons. Although at Heidtmann catboats had been designed and built from the 1880`s unfortunately no designs seems to be preserved. Luckily a genuine unit of a Heidtmann catboat had been preserved, of which in 1930 some 5 units had been manufactured. This boat is catboat Catalina  which had previously been presented on this page and can be seen in the gallery of this website. This boat had been designed as a centerboard catboat and appears to have the most similarities to american catboats.