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Five Questions for Gerry Douglas

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, we’re taking the time to catch up with contributors and friends in the marine industry. For this installment, we’re chatting with Gerry Douglas, the longtime designer at Catalina Yachts.

April 28, 2020
Gerry Douglas
Gerry Douglas, a partner, vice president, chief engineer and yacht designer for Catalina Yachts Courtesty of Gerry Douglas

As the coronavirus continues to change and reshape the world as we know it, Cruising World is reaching out to contributors, our partners in the marine industry, and other sailors to get their take on where they are and how they’re doing. We’re asking five questions to each of them, and in this installment, we’re checking in on Gerry Douglas, a partner, vice president, chief engineer and yacht designer for Catalina Yachts:

1. The Catalina 545 was an immediate commercial and critical success, winning our 2020 Boat of the Year contest almost immediately after launching. How challenging was it to design a true bluewater cruiser, and what were your objectives going into the project?

The 545 was a result of Catalina dealers telling us there was a market for a larger boat than the 445, which at the at time was the largest Catalina we were building. Their only options were European boats, but they were looking for a boat that would appeal to their current Catalina customers and others looking for a boat with a more traditionally constructed interior and the features that have made the Catalina 5 Series successful.

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The design, engineering and construction of the 545 was about a 2 ½ year project. We studied the competition and listened to boat owners and our dealers to compile a “wish list” of features. It’s my job to prioritize the list and translate the desired features into a design.

Understanding that a 54-foot boat will be a bluewater cruiser and the customers will be experienced sailors, I made safety the highest-priority feature and know this will be appreciated by knowledgeable sailors and allow us to incorporate a few features not often found on production boats such as fore-and-aft watertight bulkheads and a structural, watertight box around the rudder post. These safety features, well executed systems design, and an interior that is warmer and more enduring aesthetically made the 545 stand out from the competition and resonated with customers and Catalina dealers.

On a personal note, I wanted the 545 to represent the best large Catalina we could build. I have been doing this for 44 years. The first boat I designed for the company was the Catalina 36 in 1982, of which we built 2,305 over a 24-year run, a tough act to follow. Approximately 40 models later I had the opportunity to design and lead our team on the 545 project. I’m not done yet, but if I were, it’s a boat I would be pleased to call my best effort and career highlight.

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2. Where did everything stand in the Florida factory—what models were being produced, what was on the production line and in what stages—when the coronavirus shut things down?

We were technically closed for a day and a half. The sheriff showed up at the door and said he had orders from his lieutenant to shut us down and gave us one hour to clear the parking lot.

I pointed out that this seemed to contradict the Governor’s order 20-92 and asked for written documentation of his orders from the lieutenant. I received a phone call from the sheriff the next day saying they had reconsidered their order and we could resume production provided we observe “social-distancing” rules. I give them credit for making the call.

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We take the temperature of every employee at the start of the workday as a precaution. We have had no confirmed cases in any of the employees to date, and are very grateful they are practicing all recommended precautions and following the hand-washing protocols.

In terms of production, our biggest problem and concern is the supply chain. We rely on some key vendors, and some have reduced or suspended operation. This will have an impact on our ability to complete boats.

Catalina 545
Catalina 545 Billy Black

3. Florida has been in the news a lot lately with regards to being a state looking to ease social-distancing restrictions and get back to work. Where do things on that front stand with Catalina at the moment?

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We are in operation, and that’s good. Everybody is being careful so we feel good about our company status.

Regarding other aspects of “opening things up” in Florida, we don’t have an official position. These decisions seem to be as much political as medical.

4. Looking ahead, do you foresee any changes in the marine industry, or in sailing and cruising as a whole, in light of what has transpired in the last few months?

I hope this doesn’t have a long-term impact on the industry. I think the sailing industry as a whole has not yet fully recovered from the recession and may never be what it once was in terms of volume. All regattas have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed in this area, so racing activity is stopped.

There still seem to be folks using their boats and daysailing. Our marinas, thankfully, remain open. Cruising is on hold. I know of several cruisers that were prepping to go on extended voyages, but are on hold due to shut downs of yacht clubs and other facilities.

5. We’ll end with a personal question: do you have anything specific that you’re looking forward to, with regard to sailing or travel, when things get back to normal?

I am active with the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, and serve on the board and committees at the club. It’s also our main social-gathering place to see friends, and it’s closed. I miss the interaction with friends and doing work I enjoy on committees.

Volunteer work on the Public Arts Commission and other organizations has stopped for me and I miss it. Zoom meetings can be productive, but they are not the same. I look forward to sailing and racing with friends I have made over the years.

We hope to get to our cottage in Maine this summer, and California to see friends at the Los Angeles Yacht Club, but don’t know when that will happen due to travel restrictions. Thanks for asking. I hope for the best for our team and everyone.

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