The Mainstay Maine Way
Time flies, it’s true, but it still remains hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since I first stepped foot aboard one of the very first Maine Cat 30s, the singular and unique creation of designer, boatbuilder and entrepreneur Dick Vermuelen. It’s probably even more incredible that I still remember it well.
The layout was open and simple, yet comfortable and inviting. The 360-degree visibility from the central bridgedeck and cockpit was nothing short of revelatory. The Corecell composite construction, which keeps weight low and performance high, was flawlessly executed.
Naturally, she sailed like a witch. Then and — amazingly — now, there was and is nothing on the marketplace quite like it, a compact catamaran that seems so much larger than her size and specifications in so many ways. I recall thinking: Man, here’s a boat I could spend a lot of time on, particularly in the Bahamas, the Caribbean or the Sea of Cortez. I still feel precisely the same way. It’s a mainstay.
Happily, with over 125 boats now built, Vermuelen and his team of a dozen highly skilled Maine craftsmen are still knocking them out, something they’ve been doing continually in the midcoast town of Bremen since 1993. Considering the ebb and flow in the fortunes of American production boatbuilders — many of which, sadly, have gone by the wayside — over those sometimes-turbulent years, it’s an impressive statement. And in those intervening years, the Maine Cat crew has also made some significant additions to the family.
In 2005, Vermuelen followed up that very successful 30-footer with the Maine Cat 41. Yes, the new boat was bigger and more substantial than its smaller sibling, but it shared the same signature characteristic: a centralized helm with a hardtop overhead, but surrounded by “soft” sides — specifically, roll-down, zippered acrylic windows that can almost instantly transform the bridgedeck from an open patio to an enclosed patio, or what Vermuelen calls the “great room.”
“Even in cold weather,” he notes, “the windows admit lots of sun, turning [the space] into a solarium.” Interestingly, the deck plan of the new Gunboat 55, viewed by many as a fairly radical cat, employs essentially the same concept, one that Vermuelen came up with in the early 1990s. Once again, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Even more so than the MC 30, the 41-footer was a runaway critical success, earning Cruising World‘s Boat of the Year prize as Best Multihull Over 40 Feet. “There was so much right with the boat,” said BOTY judge Steve Callahan, noting the “really high-class modern construction and first-class equipment. It really handles well.” Fellow panelist Alvah Simon agreed. “It was well made, comfortable and easy to sail,” he said. “There were very good workstations, all logically separated. Everything was labeled, and it all worked well.”
Having covered a pair of the sailboat bases, Maine Cat’s next boat was a departure: a fuel-efficient, 47-foot power catamaran called the P-47, driven by twin 220-horsepower engines. And in 2014, Vermuelen returned to his roots by designing a brand-new sailing cat, the MC 38, an evolution of his previous offerings, with operable forward windows, fixed side ones, a more protected pilothouse, high-aspect daggerboards and retracting rudders.
Through all the changes and advancements, Maine Cat’s personal business style remains refreshingly the same. The company does not have a dealer network, preferring to assist clients on a one-to-one basis. Vermuelen is proud of the fact that, over the course of the firm’s history, they’ve paid less than $20,000 in warranty claims, a testament to the quality of the construction and engineering. And new owners are encouraged to come to Bremen and become personally involved in the building of their Maine Cat; the boats come with numerous options, allowing sailors to inject a large degree of customization into their cats. Vermuelen is quick to note that many of the changes and advancements they’ve made over the years have come from suggestions from experienced owners, the sailors who actually sail the vessels Maine Cat builds.
Traditional boatbuilding has long been a way of life in Maine. As it turns out, there’s plenty of room for contemporary cats too.
— Herb McCormick