The Catalina 30 is a remarkable success story. We suspect that more Catalina 30s have been built than any other boat of that size anywhere in the world. While the basic boat has remained unchanged since it was introduced in 1975, there have been dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of minor developments in the boat in the course of a production run that is approaching 4,000 hulls. The advantage of a boat in production for so long is a high degree of product refinement over the years. The challenge for the owner of an early version of the boat is to upgrade his boat to the standards of models currently in production.
Two of the newest 27-foot cruising boat designs are from Beneteau and Catalina, both huge builders. Checking out both boats at a recent show, we noticed that the base list price of the Beneteau First 265 with inboard ($38,050) was less than 10 percent above the base for the Catalina 270 LE ($34,775). Their Euro-styled interior layouts were at least superficially similar as well, as were hull and sail plan dimensions. Which boat, we wondered, is the better buy, and for whom?
The Catalina 25 is not exceptionally fast, stylish, or spacious compared to newer widebody models, and while the construction and workmanship are adequate, they too are not exceptional. But because of the builder's strict adherence to a philosophy of offering a relatively spacious design, relatively well made, at a reasonable price, and backing up the product with generally good customer service, the Catalina 25 has turned out to be one of the most successful small cruising sailboats ever built, with 5,332 boats sold between 1976 and 1990, when the company ceased producing the model as demand tailed off.
Over 350 O'Day 30s were built between 1977 and 1984. During 1984, the 30 was modified by changing the keel and rudder, and the stern was lengthened to accommodate a European-style boarding platform. This "new boat" was called the O'Day 31, and it stayed in production until 1986.
Practical Sailor reviews a custom, backyard-built Tiki 30, a wood boat designed by cat-cult hero James Wharram (www.wharram.com) and built by bluewater voyager Dave Martin. Like most of Wharram's designs, testers found, the real genius in the Tiki 30 comes more from whats not found than whats present on board. No lead, no liners, and no inboard engine adds up to a displacement that is so light that a low-tech, no-boom small sail plan can provide enough drive to make way. In light zephyrs, this agile cat will tack and make progress to windward. Not only is the light-air cruiser efficient under sail, but it's also efficient to build. The price point is attractive, as long as one views the labor commitment as part of the recreational experience. But when all the glue and paint has finally cured, the bottom line is that the Tiki 30 is best suited to cruisers willing to slip away without huge battery banks or large-volume tanks, and with less mechanical propulsion reliance.
Its hard to mistake the Stiletto 27s appearance-typically with blazing topside graphics and aircraft-style, pop-top companionway hatches. Its also hard for the average sailor to appreciate the sophistication of the Stilettos construction-epoxy-saturated fiberglass over a Nomex honeycomb core. There is probably no production hull built in the U.S. with a better strength-to-weight ratio than the Stiletto. And although the design is 40 years old, the Nomex honeycomb fabrication is still impressive.
The funny thing about the Gemini is that it's an old design. Ken Shaw drew the lines in 1969. There's nothing particularly contemporary about it. However, by painting the cabin sides black (Euro styling), adding a swept-back fiberglass "pilothouse" and gradually adding length to the full-bodied hulls, the Gemini has always looked like she belonged with her contemporaries, whether that was the 1980s or 1990s.
With the introduction of the Santana 2023, one of the newer water-ballasted trailerables, the W.D. Schock Corp. in Southern California offered entry-level sailors the same types of mix-and-match options available at an automobile showroom. The A model is your basic family sloop with a contemporary, low-profile cabin. The 2023 C (cruise) has a longer trunk cabin with more amenities below. The 2023 R (race) is optimized for performance with a sprit for flying asymmetrical spinnakers, though you can add a tall mast to either the A or C model. The R model has the same cabin top as the A model, which we think is more attractive, but has less headroom below, of course.