Catalina 355: Thoughtful Design, Precise Execution
Two themes—consideration and principles—epitomize the Catalina 355, CW’s 2011 Domestic Boat of the Year. Boat Review from our September 2011 issue.
Consider that when you step down the companionway of the Catalina 355 in the dark, the first thing your hand finds is a secure post. And that if your hand follows that post down, the next item it comes to is the switch that illuminates the saloon (view the full gallery here).
Consider that the next time you go looking in a locker for a gallon jug of water or a fuel filter or whipping twine aboard the new 355, you won’t first have to move a single cushion or hatchboard out of the way.
Consider that this 35-footer comes with a robust optional rubstrake to protect the topsides against real-life incidents and that the toerail has been designed to be removed and rebedded several years or even owners from now without compromising the watertight integrity of the hull/deck joint. Consider, too, that this 35-footer offers a sprit for a gennaker alongside one of the most well-thought-out anchoring systems we judges for the 2011 Boat of the Year contest inspected in this year’s entire fleet of new boats, including many billed as all-oceans voyagers.
Gerry Douglas is Catalina’s lead designer, and he’s considered all these things, as well as plenty of others. As you look closely through the new 355, or through other recent Catalinas, you begin to realize that Douglas isn’t merely a good engineer; he’s also developed a production team that works with consistent consideration for the people who’ll sail and inhabit his boats, even two, three, or four owners down the line. It’s not too much to say that good design is a moral as well as a commercial choice, and Catalina is unique among high-volume boatbuilders in the degree to which its chief executives balance the tensions of market forces, cost decisions, customer feedback, and product design.
In his design brief, Douglas describes the 355 as a coastal-cruising boat for owners with ambitions and aspirations. “I thought that was a perfect description of this boat,” said BOTY judge and longtime voyager Beth Leonard, “because it functions extremely well as a weekender, but it also does a lot of things better than much larger, full-out cruising boats.”
We sailed the 355 in about 10 knots on Chesapeake Bay last fall, making just over 5 knots into the wind and tacking through 100 degrees. Cracking off 30 degrees kicked the speed up to 5.6 knots. In terms of pure sailing, the Catalina 355 wasn’t the top performer in this year’s category of boats between 35 and 40 feet; on that criterion alone, Hanse and Dufour shone brighter. The 355 we sailed had what former BOTY judge Bill Lee called “the big three” performance-sappers from the options list: a roller-furling main, a fixed three-blade propeller, and a 4-foot-6-inch shoal-draft keel. For owners who don’t sail most often on Chesapeake Bay, along Florida’s west coast, or in other notoriously shallow cruising grounds, a deep-draft keel of 6 feet 8 inches is available. As for the furling main, it should be noted that Douglas figured out a long time ago that most of his customers were choosing that option, so he added sail area back into the rig to compensate for the lost roach and draft that one inevitably trades for the convenience in setting that sail.
On the topics of convenience and general ergonomics, the deck layout, cockpit layout, and sailhandling controls drew kudos from all the BOTY judges. Once again, Douglas has considered his customers: Recognizing that many people move up the line from smaller Catalinas into larger ones, he’s taken care to arrange all the running rigging in a similar system of cordage colors and sheet-stopper organization. The owner moving from this boat to a 455 several years hence will immediately understand the strings.