history of the american catboat
The great era of american catboats
From the middle of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century catboats were among the most important vessels used for transportation along the New
England coast. The typical areas to find catboats at the time were the Narraganset Bay at Rhode Island, the Cape Cod area with the islands Marthas vineyard and Nantucket, Barnegat Bay and
Chesapeake Bay. The boats had been used by fishermen to fish on cod, swordfish, lobster or clam. And in this pre-automotive era these boats had also been used for all kind of transportation of
goods of any kind, when there were no roads and the few ones existing were in very poor condition. Occasionally they had also been used as pleasure boats and for racing purposes. This was a quite
similar situation at the same time in the european Netherlands with its numerous inshore waterways and bays but it were the flat bottom boats namely the tjotters, boeiers, grundels and the like
which ensured the supply of all kind of goods to the people living in the countryside.
The catboats had been built over several decades at small workshops from skilled boat builders, which often didn´t have a drawing but only a small wodden half model.
With the upcoming of engine drives for boats and vessels the need of sailboats steadily began to decline. And in the racing scene went the development further towards larger sail areas. These boats with large sail areas were increasingly difficult to handle. Finally more and more accidents and capsizes occured. During this period of time the reputation of the seaworthiness of catboats had suffered a lot and the number of catboats went further down. With the beginning of world war 1 and not long after that the great depression began, the use of catboats went almost down to zero.
The second catboat era
It was only long after world war 2, after the economical recovery when society once again began to rediscover leisure activities. At the same time when the development of fiber reinforced plastics made good progress, it was Breck Marshall who built in 1962 the first catboat out of glass fibre reinforced polyester. The successful finishing of the boat with this new material was the beginning of a development towards a real boom in catboats. From 1962 until the 1980s more catboats had been built than ever before. Further manufacturers were following, these types became well known:
Sanderling designed and built by Breck Marshall
Mystic 20 designed and built by Peter Legnos,
Herreshoff America, designed and built by Halsey Herreshoff, of which at least 150 had been built,
Atlantic City Cat 21´and 24´by Marc-O Custom Boats, New Jersey,
Hermann Cat 17´, a Charles Wittholz design built by Ted Hermann , New York
Menger Cat 17´and 19´designed and built by Bill Menger ,
Molly Cat, built by Fernandes Boatworks, California and suited to the deep water region of San Francisco Bay.
And with the success of the GRP boats also the enthusiasm for well built wooden versions started to rise resulting in increasing demands also for wooden
Catboats and Cat-rigged yachts today
The catboat scene in north America is still alive today, boat races and meetings are being organized through the various catboat associations. And the long life span of GRP built boats results in frequent changes of the structure of builders and designers. Boats are still being built to old plans as well from professional boat builders as from do-it-yourself builders.
From professional boatbuilders catboats and cat-rigged yachts are being offered by the following companies from USA and Canada:
the principle of the simple to handle cat-rig had been transferred on to yacht building by several yacht builders. The rig had been modernized by eliminating
the gaff and the traditional boom and instead using now a so called wishbone boom. By doing so the demands of the yacht sailors for closer angles to the wind had been matched. This principle,
although reasonably successful in North America had never been adapted by European yacht builders.
Nonsuch series from 22 - 36 ft., plump stem, a typical cabin design with coaming are reminescents to the classic catboat designs