|CRUISING WORLD Magazine Reviews the Catalina 309|
|What to do to upstage a tried-and-true cruiser? That was the question
facing the management at Catalina Yachts when they at last concluded
that after 30 years of production, the Catalina 30 had run its course.
The simple answer - to design and build a new 30 - was complicated by
the presence of 7,000 of the old models. Whatever filled the slot had
to be seductive enough to tempt buyers away from a marketplace full of
pre-owned boats at attractive prices.
Gerry Douglas, Catalina's Vice President and designer, says coming up
with the basic design brief wasn't hard. It wasn't very different from
its predecessor's: a simple family cruising boat that's fun to said and
has potential for low-key racing for owners so inclined. But he did
agonize over how the boat should look. Should he stay with Catalina's
proven but conservative styling or try to add a little dash?
He's succeeded in doing both. The Catalina 309 sports conventional
proportions of hull, coachroof, and cockpit profile set off by
contemporary half-bullett-shaped cabin trunk portlights. Also
contemporary is the broad beam aft, and Douglas has softened its visual
impact by carefully sculpting seats and a boarding step into the
Another challenge was to fit the best possible equipment without
busting the boat's necessarily tight budget; to help do that, Catalina
asked its vendors for creative solutions.
Edson responded with a tidy steering console that arrives at the
Catalina plant assembled and prewired and requires six bolts to secure
to the cockpit sole. The steering system is designed so that it barely
intrudes below the cockpit sole, making the berth beneath truly usable
by a couple.
Garhauer crafted a ball-bearing mainsheet traveler on which both
control lines exit via sheaves under the track on the port side and
lead cleanly to the cockpit.
Lewmar manufactured a new winch, a model 34, for the 309's primaries
because the needed capacity fell between its existing 30 and 40 models.
Catalina itself looked hard at its production methods. It changed the
hull/deck joint at the stern to run it across the top of the transom
and around the transom opening. This removed it from the transom/hull
perimeter, which is difficult to seal on the inside and is vulnerable
to damage. A plate at the top of the compression post for the
deck-stepped mast butts the step plate, so there's metal-to-metal
contact from the butt of the mast right down to the keel, eliminating a
prime source of old-boat maintenance woes. The mast wiring passes
through a swan-neck standpipe to prevent water ingress. The
chainplates, too, are new, with ball-and-socket joints below-decks
connecting to tie-rods, which lead to an aluminum channel laminated to
the hull-liner pan behind furniture in the salon and head.
One effect of the boat's broad beam is immediately apparent on
boarding. The cockpit is generous in its proportions, and the steering
console and integral table serve as foot braces. The bimini looks
large, but this could be a symptom of early-hull number syndrome - an
artful dodger maker could no doubt sweeten its appearance.
Other than being wider, which translates into more elbow room, the
arrangement below-decks isn't so different from the original 30. The
biggest gain is in the aft cabin, on the starboard side, where a double
berth fits under the cockpit. To port, the galley has picked up some
counter space and storage. It's also fitted with a Coolmate
refrigeration unit that automatically switches from 12 volts DC to 100
volts AC when shore power is available. Opposite the galley is a
small, aft-facing chart table served by the aft end of the starboard
settee. The switch panel, which employs automotive-type fuses instead
of circuit breakers, is mounted on the outboard partition, with space
above it and on the aft-cabin bulkhead for nav gadgets.
Forward, the V-berth expands to a double via a sliding filler panel,
and just aft and to port is the perfectly adequate head. On the
starboard side, a low hanging locker topped with a broad, fiddled shelf
contributes to the saloon's openness.
In the saloon, the center of the starboard settee's backrest flips down
for a beverage/book/game table. The dining table is to port, next to
the L-shaped settee, and stows in the aft cabin. A large, hinged table
leaf opens to meet the starboard settee. Five can sit around it in
comfort. A sixth might need to bring a folding chair from the vast
cockpit locker, because Douglas has shortened the L of the dinette,
which on the 30 extends over the engine box. ON the 309, the engine
lives under a removable box that supports the companionway steps,
making it totally accessible.
Un-ornamented, teak-veneered joiner panels decorated only by their grain
and minimal teak trim set the ambience, abetted by the "teak-and-holly"
cabin sole, which is, in fact, a colored, synthetic laminate glued into
recesses in the fiberglass floor pan - another vendor supplied
solution. The whole interior, assembled in customary Catalina fashion
in the fiberglass liner pan, promises to be comfortable and easy to
maintain, and needs the addition only of a clock and barometer set, a
few books, and some-well thumbed copies of Cruising World to make it a
My host for the test run last February was Ron Frisoky, the southeast
regional rep for Catalina Yachts who's served both builder and dealers
for decades. We set off from Miami's Bayside Marina and motored to
We'd just begun to settle in when photographer Billy Black zoomed up.
"Lookin good!" he called over. "But can you tighten up the jib
halyard?" Ron fiddled with it some, but once Billy was gone, we
decided to tighten it more. I eased the jib sheet so the sail was
partially luffing, and we led the halyard back to the cockpit winch,
cranked it up a bit, and reset the jammer on the mast. All the while,
with the main drawing and the wheel locked, the boat happily reached
steadily along. Even after I trimmed in the jib, it just kept on
course, untended, for about 10 minutes. That's the kind of forgiving
behavior I like to see in a cruising boat.
This all took place in a nice sailing breeze of maybe 10 to 12 knots
and a light chop. The speedo transducer wasn't installed, but my
eyeball-over-the transom technique suggested a solid 5 to 6 knots. If
time had permitted, we'd have had a lovely and quick sail down to Cape
Florida with the boat tacking happily through 90 degrees even with the
shoal-draft wing keel. I'd have wished to sail in a little more
bluster, but for the conditions of that day, Douglas, in his role as
sailboat designer, seems to have hit the sweet spot.
Because, in Douglas' experience, most customers for the 309 would buy
in-mast furling as an option, he made the Selden rig standard, and he
designed the sail plan with a taller fractional rig to make up for the
inherent loss in area and performance one trades off for handling
I'm a stand-to-windward helmsman, so it was only when I sat to leeward
that I noticed that you can't see the compass from down there - the
price for mounting all the instruments in the binnacle. No matter
really, because the coamings would easily accept a pair of auxiliary
compasses. When steering, I was pleased to have a real pulpit behind
me, with only a narrow lifeline gate giving access to the transom step.
When you want to use the transom for boarding or for swimming, the
helm seat lifts out and stows outboard of the cockpit on the lifelines.
The deck is cleanly laid out, and t