One of the most popular, and least expensive, 30-foot cruiser-racers ever built,but there are some trade-offs.
[Updated December 6, 2018]
The Catalina 30 may well be the most successful 30' cruiser-racer ever made. Since the Catalina 30 went into production in 1974, output has been steady, and thousands have been built.
The success of Catalina is even more remarkable when you consider that the company does no advertising. You will not find a single ad for Catalina in any national magazine. The company depends on its extensive dealer network and on word of mouth promotion from satisfied owners.
The average boat manufacturer spends between 5% and 10% of gross revenues on advertising. By eliminating that cost, Catalina may well be saving as much as $1,000 to $2,000 per Catalina 30. Any way you look at it, that translates into a lower price in the marketplace.
The entire Catalina line is extremely popular with new boat dealers, who are required by Catalina to represent other lines as well. Usually, the Catalina line is priced about 5% lower than a comparably equipped boat of the same size and type from other manufacturers.
Catalina owners frequently trade up through the line. Some dealers make a policy of offering the customer full trade-in value for a smaller Catalina traded up for a larger one within the first two years after purchase. A remarkable number of owners do.
The line has grown over the years, and Catalina now makes a 22, 28, 30, 34, 36, 42 and 50, all available with either a fin or wing keel.
The Catalina 30 is a typical, fairly light displacement modern design. The boat has a swept-back fairly high aspect ratio keel of the type made popular by IOR racing boats in the early 1970s. The high aspect ratio spade rudder is faired into the underbody with a small skeg.
On a waterline length of 25’, the Catalina displacement of 10,200 lbs is slightly above average for modern cruiser-racers. By way of comparison, the Newport 30 displaces 8,000 lbs, the Cal 31 9,200 lbs, the O’Day 30 11,000 lbs.
The boat is conventionally modern in appearance. She is moderately high-sided, with a fairly straight sheer and short ends. The cabin trunk tapers slightly in profile, and is slightly sheered to complement the sheer of the hull. When coupled with the tapered cabin windows—a Catalina trademark—this yields a reasonably attractive appearance compared to many modern boats.
Construction of the Catalina 30
The hull of the Catalina 30 is hand layed up of solid fiberglass. In areas of high stress, such as the tops of the cockpit coamings, where winches are mounted, the laminate has been reinforced with plywood.
The external lead keel is bolted to the hull with stainless steel bolts. On most Catalina 30s we examined, there was slight cracking at the joint between the hull and ballast, which is typical of boats with narrow external ballast keels. The surface of the keel is roughly faired with polyester putty at the factory. This must be sanded properly fair by the owner or commissioning yard before the boat is launched, or light air performance will suffer. The hull must also be heavily sanded before paint is applied, or there is likely to be paint adhesion failure.
The hull-to-deck joint is simple. The deck molding is wider than the hull molding. At the outboard
edge of the deck, the molding forms a downwardfacing right-angle flange. This is slipped over the hull molding, and the joint filled with what appears to be fiberglass slurry. The joint is finished with a soft plastic rubrail held by an aluminum extrusion. The aluminum extrusion is held in place by stainless steel self-tapping screws, which reinforce the chemical bond. An integral solid wood sheerstrake, laminated into the hull, further strengthens the joint.
This joint is suitable for use in a boat which is used for daysailing and coastal cruising. We would not choose it for an offshore boat. Any projection beyond the side of a boat’s hull can be subject to tremendous strains from bashing into a head sea, Despite the fact that the joint and rubrail project only about 1/2" beyond the hull, there is some inherent weakness in this mode of hull-to-deck attachment.
There was some play in the rudder stocks of every Catalina 30 we examined. This is similar to the problem found in the Pearson 30. It is more likely to be a minor annoyance than a serious problem.
Lifeline stanchions are more closely placed than on almost any production boat we have seen. Double lifelines are standard, as are double bow and stern rails. Stanchions are through bolted, but with washers rather than the backing plates we prefer. Some owners report problems with leaking stanchions. This is easily corrected, as the stanchion fastenings are readily accessible from inside the boat.
The rig is a simple masthead sloop, with a straight section aluminum spar, double lower shrouds, and, at least on older models, wooden spreaders. The mast is stepped on deck, supported by a wooden compression column belowdecks. All the boats we examined showed local deflection of the top of the cabin trunk in the way of the mast step. This varied from as little as 1/16" to over 1/4". There was no evidence of stress in the form of cracks around any of the steps, however.
It is difficult to assess the method of attachment of the chainplates and bulkheads to the hull. The interior of the hull is completely lined, showing no raw fiberglass, nice to look at but preventing examination of the internal structure of the hull. Lower shroud chainplate attachments have been beefed up since the first hulls were produced. Owners warn that when considering the purchase of a used Catalina 30, be sure that the chainplates have the new reinforcements installed.
A shoal draft model, drawing 11" less than the standard model, is popular in some areas where the water is spread thin, such as Florida and the Chesapeake. A taller rig is also offered, and might be recommended in traditionally light air areas, such as Long Island Sound.
Handling the Catalina 30 Under Sail
With the standard rig, the Catalina 30 will be slightly undercanvassed in areas with predominantly light weather conditions. In areas with normally heavier conditions, such as San Francisco, the standard rig should yield good performance. The working sail area with the standard rig is 446 square feet. For comparison, the Pearson 30, with the same sail area, weighs 1,900 lbs less than the Catalina 30. To get good performance in light air, the boat will either have to be ordered with the taller rig, or very large headsails must be carried. If headsails larger than a 150% genoa are carried with the normal rig, turning blocks will have to be added aft in order to get a proper lead to the headsail sheet winches.
The Catalina 30 is a very stiff boat. The combination of a high ballast/displacement ratio, extraordinary beam, a deep fin keel, and a fairly small sail plan produce a boat that stands on her feet very well. Owners consider the boat to be just about as fast as other boats of the same size and type. PHRF ratings suggest that the tall rig boat is substantially faster than the boat with normal rig. With the tall rig, and well-cut racing sails, the boat should be competitive with other cruiser-racers that are actively raced, such as the Pearson 30, the O’Day 30, and the Ericson 30-2.
Sails are available from the factory, and are cheaper than one is likely to find either from a local racing sailmaker or one of the big national names. If the boat is to be used only for daysailing and cruising, the factory-supplied sails are likely to be adequate. If, however, you are concerned with performance, it is always advisable to have sails made either by a
national sailmaker with a local loft, or by a local racing sailmaker. The sailmaker who is familiar with local weather conditions, and who probably races himself, is most likely to provide a faster suit of sails for any boat than those provided as a factory option.
The Catalina 30 does not have any particularly disturbing or exciting characteristics under sail. Like many wide modern boats, she rapidly develops weather helm when heeled. The boat should be sailed on her feet. Because she is quite stiff, headsail changes will not be as frequent as with a boat such as the Pearson 30.
Handling the Catalina 30 Under Power
The standard engine for the early Catalina 30 was the workhorse, 65 cubic inch Atomic-4 gasoline engine. For an additional $785, the boat could be delivered with a 31 cubic inch, 11 horsepower Atomic-Diesel. The small diesel is barely adequate power for a 10,200 lb boat. The 16 horsepower Atomic-Diesel might have been a better choice.
In a flat calm, the small diesel will push the boat at about 5 knots. With the old Atomic-4, the boat should easily reach hull speed under power.
Although the engine has flexible mountings and a flexible shaft coupling, there is substantial vibration under power with the small engine. This is felt most acutely in the cabin, because of the midships location of the engine. The engine box has no soundproofing. The main cabin is very noisy under power. Long periods of powering would be uncomfortable for the people belowdecks.
With a fin keel and spade rudder, the boat is quite maneuverable under power, both ahead and astern. With the wheel steerer—one of the most popular options—very little steering effort is required.
Deck Layout of the Catalina 30
The deck layout of the Catalina 30 is typical of small cruiser-racers. There is a small foredeck anchor well. Access to the hull-mounted running lights is via this well. The running lights are protected from damage inside the well by molded fiberglass covers. We are not fond of running lights mounted in the topsides, which often short out. Other manufacturers who mount the lights in the hull could take a lesson from Catalina, however. Neither C&C nor Cal protects their running lights on the inside of the anchor well. There are double bow cleats, but no bow chocks. There are also double stern cleats, but no stern chocks.
Despite the wide cabin trunk, it is reasonably easy to maneuver on deck. The shrouds are placed far enough inboard to allow going outside them on the way to the foredeck. There are well-mounted teak grabrails on the cabin top.
The cockpit is large and comfortable. With wheel steering, it easily accommodates the helmsman and four companions. There is a large sail locker under the port cockpit seat, and a smaller locker under the starboard seat. There is also a fair-sized lazarette locker. The sail locker is properly separated from the under-cockpit area.
The cockpit is too large for offshore use. There are only two fairly small cockpit drains, whose size is greatly reduced by strainers. Despite the fact that the companionway has a fairly high raised sill, at least two of the three companionway drop boards would have to be in place to raise the sill to the level of the main deck.
The strong taper of the companionway allows the drop boards to be removed by lifting them only about 1.5". In a bad knockdown in really severe weather, the boards could fly out or float out much easier than if the companionway were more parallel-sided.
The sliding companionway hatch is unnecessarily large. This is useful when sitting in a marina in a hot climate, such as southern California, but it is a disadvantage at sea.
Because the main cabin bulkhead slopes forward, the drop boards cannot be left out of the companionway for ventilation when it rains. For this reason, boats used in rainy climates frequently have cockpit dodgers. Otherwise, they become stifling below in wet weather. There is no provision for ventilation below in rain or heavy weather.
There is a permanently mounted manual bilge pump operable from the cockpit. Other manufacturers would do well to include such a pump as standard equipment. Not many do.
The Catalina 30 Interior
The interior of the Catalina 30 is roomy, and quite well laid out, The forward cabin has large, tapered Vberths which form a large double when used with a filler.
A molded hatch which forms part of the front of the cabin trunk, will provide good ventilation in port, but is likely to be a leaker in heavy weather.
The head is quite comfortable. The optional shower drains directly to the bilge. Toilet installations are all optional. There is good storage space for clothes in a hanging locker and drawers opposite the head.
Interior bulkheads are teak-faced plywood. The hull is completely lined with fiberglass hull liners, yielding a very finished appearance.
The main cabin is large and comfortable for a 30' boat. There is an L-shaped settee to port, and a straight settee to starboard. The cabin table folds up against the forward bulkhead when not in use.
The engine is mounted under the settee and part of the galley counter. It’s a tight fit. Access for service is excellent through traps in the settee. The location of the engine in the lowest part of the bilge does make it vulnerable to bilgewater, however.
Under the cockpit to starboard, there is a large double quarterberth. Unfortunately, the occupant of the inboard half of the berth had better be pretty thin and non-claustrophobic, for headroom over that portion is only a little over one foot.
A large, U-shaped galley is to port. A gimbaled alcohol stove with oven is standard, as are double sinks. The icebox is uninsulated except for the side facing the stove, and it drains directly to the bilge. Storage space in the galley is plentiful, although not as much as it might first appear, for the lockers under the sinks are filled by hoses for the engine and water tanks. Batteries are well-mounted under the small chart table opposite the galley.
The appearance of the interior is one of spaciousness and good design, This initial impression breaks down somewhat on careful examination of details. Interior finish is of average stock boat quality.
Conclusions on the Catalina 30
According to Frank Butler, president and chief designer of Catalina, the company’s goal is to provide “as much boat for the money as we can.” The Catalina 30 is definitely among the lowest-priced of the 30' cruiser-racers. This boat is similar in price to the Hunter 30. For their displacements, these are two of the least expensive 30' cruiser-racers on the market. It is not reasonable to compare these boats with more expensive 30-footers such as the Ericson 30+ or the Cal 31.
There are tradeoffs to be made when one purchases a cheaper boat. In boats, as in most other things, you may not always get what you pay for, but you always pay at least for what you get.