Now the largest manufacturer of sailboats in the US, Catalina Yachts was formed in 1970, two years after founder Frank Butler was fired by the company to which he sold his first boatbuilding business.
Butler was the owner of a machine shop that provided parts for the aircraft industry when he began sailing at age 30. In 1961 he got the boatbuilding bug and formed Wesco Marine, soon changing the name to Coronado Yachts.
He successfully introduced the Coronado 25 in 1964, and sold the company to the Whitaker Corp. in 1968. A year later he was unemployed, and prohibited by a no-compete agreement from forming another company for two years.
With the expiration of the agreement in 1970 he established Catalina Yachts; introduced the Catalina 22, of which more than 15,500 have been sold; and began a steady ascent to the top of the industry.
The company’s 700 employees occupy more than 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space at two plants in California, and a third in Florida, purchased from Morgan Yachts. Butler still manages the daily affairs of the company, and continues to act as “warranty coordinator.” He is assisted by chief designer and engineer Gerry Douglas, and Sharon Day, director of marketing, both of whom are now co-owners.
Catalina’s model lines range from the 8-foot Sabot to a well-developed line of Catalina and Expedition daysailers to boats with cabins that run the gamut from the Capri 22 to the Catalina 470. The company also builds Nacra catamarans.
Like most of the company’s boats, the Catalina 36 was designed by the in-house design team under the direction of Douglas.
“The target market for the 36 is couples and families who primarily weekend and vacation cruise but may be planning some extended cruising,” said Douglas. “They want a boat that is comfortable, offers reasonable performance, and is stable and predicable to handle. The boat suits their budget, and they can add gear for bluewater cruising.”
Like most modern production boats, the 36MKII has a fairly flat sheer, low-profile cabin and short overhangs. Beam is carried well aft to accommodate the double berth in the aft cabin.
“The hull shape has remained the same, since a basic tenet was that the boat would sail in a one-design fleet,” Douglas said. As a consequence, changes to appendages have had little affect on the PHRF rating, which is 140-150, depending upon local fleet handicappers.
The standard fin keel is the same design as on hull #1, though two shoal draft keels have been offered. An optional Scheel keel, which enjoyed limited success, has been replaced by a shoal draft wing keel. On new boats the rudder has been reconfigured as a semi-elliptical blade.
Three different decks have been manufactured but, as Douglas said, “most of the changes are cosmetic or ergonomic and have gone unnoticed. Maybe a customer said that a radius needed to be softened or I noticed things on my boat that I wanted to change.”
The MKII was introduced in August 1994 with hull #1368. Hull #2038 was launched last March.
Catalinas are assembled from three principal moldings—the hull, deck and an interior liner that incorporates the cabin sole and much of the “furniture.” Butler was an early (possibly the first in the US) proponent of this time-saving method.
The hand-laid hull is solid fiberglass. Vinylester resin is used on the outer plies, underneath the gelcoat, because it better resists osmotic blistering than polyester. The balance of the laminate consists of alternating layers of 7.5-ounce cloth, 24-ounce roving and 1.5-ounce chopped strand mat (CSM).
“There’s more knitted than woven roving in current models,” Douglas said, adding that this improves structural integrity.
Hull thickness is 1″ at the centerline and 5/8″ on bottom panels.
The liner is bonded to the hull at all intersections using X-mat tape. Bulkheads are bedded in 3M 5200 and bolted or screwed to the liner.
The hand-laid deck is cored with Baltec AL 600 end-grain balsa; decks on earlier versions were cored with plywood.
The hull/deck joint is an overlapping flange bonded with a fiberglass-reinforced polyester mix and secured with 1/4″ bolts on 6″ centers.
The loads from the lower shrouds are transferred to the hull via tie rods fastened to the chainplates on top and to reinforced areas of the hull at bottom. A common complaint among owners responding to a PS survey is that chainplates leak and require annual inspection or rebedding.
Deck hardware is fastened with machine screws to drilled and tapped aluminum plates bedded in the deck laminate. This method produces a secure fit and avoids dimples on the ceiling of the interior.
The keel is lead with 2% antimony and installed with type 316 stainless steel keel bolts. The fin weighs 6,042 pounds, the wing keel 6,670 pounds.
Because the 36MKII was designed for cruising by couples and families with children, the deck layout is organized for shorthanded sailing.
The anodized mast is manufactured by Catalina. A Schaeffer 2100 furler is standard. The solid vang and most deck hardware are made by Garhauer Marine. Lewmar winches and hatches are standard. These lower-priced products are fine for their intended use.
The wire upper shrouds and stays are 5/16″; lower shrouds are 1/4″. A split backstay is equipped with adjustable turnbuckles. We would consider adding a backstay adjuster, which would have eliminated headstay sag on our test boat.
Standard running rigging on the boat is Dacron, strong enough and suitable for most owners, but we would consider switching to low-stretch rope.
Primary winches are self-tailing, chromed-bronze Lewmar 48s; halyard winches are self-tailing Lewmar 30s. Both were large enough for the heavy loads we encountered during our test sail.
The tracks for jib and genoa cars are located inboard, near the cabin sides, and outboard on the toerail. During our test sail we found the inboard track to be at least 1′ too short for sailing hard on the breeze with a double reef in the main and shortened headsail.
Standing rigging is led out of the way to the base of the cabin trunk, easing maneuvering along the 17″-wide decks. Coupled with a 1-1/2″ high toerail, and a stainless steel handrail running the length of the cabintop, we always found a handhold. However, stanchions are only 24″ high, 5″ lower than we prefer on an oceangoing yacht. Similarly, the mast pulpit is only 25″ tall.
A taller rig designed to improve performance in light air adds 24″ to the 44′ 9″ standard spar height and $860 to the purchase price, including the cost of larger sails — a deal worth grabbing, we think.
The anchor locker houses two 35-pound anchors and rode, and is designed for installation of a saltwater washdown hose. A Maxwell windlass mounted in the anchor locker is optional.
Ten-inch mooring cleats are located at the bow and stern.
We found the 8′ 8″ cockpit comfortable under sail and at dockside. Seats are 17″ wide and have comfortable 13″ backrests. Though a 42″-diameter destroyer wheel eases steering in heavy winds and seas, it impedes movement forward to the jib sheet or mainsail controls when singlehanding.
When the combination of wind and heel resulted in cushions being tossed around the cockpit, we stowed them below, only to discover that wet, slick cockpit seats make tending sail controls difficult when heeled more than 10°. A better non-skid surface would be safer.
Light and ventilation belowdecks are provided by Lewmar hatches located on the bow, amidships, and over the galley and nav station. The large hatch that vents the aft stateroom is covered by a hinged cockpit seat.
One old 36 we inspected had windows screwed to the outside of the cabin side. We prefer the current method of bedding ports in the cabin sides. However, the windows overlap the fiberglass to which they are bonded by 1-1/2 inches, and few owners reported leaks on newer boats.
A storage area spans the stern and provides access to the steering gear. A propane locker is located in the stern and vented overboard. The port lazarette has adequate space for the storage of deck gear, dock lines and, if properly stowed, an inflatable dinghy.
The accommodation plan is nearly 20 years old and is essentially unchanged, except for “minor changes in storage areas, especially where batteries are located,” Douglas said.
The saloon measures 13′ 4″ long from the companionway to the forward stateroom, and maximum headroom is 6′ 5″. The combination of light- colored composite countertops and wood cabinetry, opening ports and hatches, and two portlights in the hull contribute to a sense of spaciousness.
The galley is located to port at the foot of the companionway, aft of a U-shaped dinette that seats four. (An L-shaped dinette with fold-down table also is available.) Forward to port is the head, which can be accessed from the saloon or the forward stateroom. The V-berth measures 90″ wide at the head and 84″ on centerline.
A second stateroom below the cockpit is accessed from a door in the port quarter. The nav station sits opposite the galley, aft of two heavily cushioned seats located to either side of a 25″ x 30″ game table that can double as a dining table or be converted to a 6′ 2″ long berth. Each chair has storage in its base.
“That table has been part of the design since hull #1, and was the first of its type in the industry,” said Douglas. “It’s still a good use of the space.”
One owner complained that the dining table mounting bracket is so far off the center of the table that a large person thrown onto the inboard edge could break the table. Another owner added a hinged second leg.
A common complaint among owners concerns interior woodwork. Said one owner, “The joinery is only average, but this isn’t a Hinckley; it’s a production boat.” Cabinet corners frequently do not fit squarely, and one owner reported having to plane drawers until they fit properly.
The galley is an L-shaped affair with a Seaward two-burner propane stove. The counter is 60″ long and 18″ wide when wooden panels are placed over the double sinks. A 22″ deep dry locker would benefit from the addition of a shelf and storage containers.
The 22″ x 26″ chart table is too small for full-sized NOAA charts but suitable for folded charts or chart kits.
The owner of our test boat echoed two common complaints about the heavily upholstered nav station chair, which is mounted on a swinging stainless steel bracket.
“The lock doesn’t always hold the chair securely under the table on a starboard tack,” he said, “and the chair blocks access to the aft stateroom and also intrudes into the passageway when occupied.”
“The nav station chair has been changed as a result of complaints about the stability of early models,” Douglas said. “Current boats have a bronze bearing on the seat swivel, and a stronger spring. And the backrest can be easily removed by those who are unhappy with the space it takes amidships.”
The nav station bulkhead is large enough for mounting a VHF radio, GPS, stereo and instruments. The switch panel is hinged; wires are easily accessible and color-coded.
Newer boats have a second electrical panel located at the nav station, equipped with a Perko master switch for the engine and DC power.
Headroom at the forward end of the aft stateroom is 5′ 10″, and elbow room is adequate. The stern bunk is a whopping 78″ wide and 80″ long. However, there’s minimal clearance betweenthe bunk cushions and the bottom of the cockpit—only 16”. A hanging locker is wide enough for four sets of clothes, and storage is in four tiny drawers.
The head is essentially unchanged from early models, other than the addition of a sump in the shower. It measures 50″ x 36″ and is furnished with a large cabinet and mirror. A shower seat is forward of the sink.
The diesel engine is accessed by removing the companionway steps and panels in the aft stateroom. Reaching the port side of the engine is a difficult chore. The fuel tank is under the aft berth. All of the tanks have inspection ports.
We tested a three-year-old MKII with a tall rig on a blustery winter day on Puget Sound, and were impressed with its performance in winds of 15-30 knots.
The standard-issue sails showed signs of use, since this owner sails 60-70 days a year. The test boat was also loaded for cruising with two kayaks lashed atop the cabin, a towed dinghy, barbeque, propane tank, and outboard motor mounted on the stern rail.
In wind speeds of 16 knots true and a one-foot chop on the quarter, we sailed at 5.7 knots under full main alone. This was good speed, with a tacking angle of about 110°.
Then, sailing upwind with the full main and 135% genoa, boatspeed varied between 5.5 and 6 knots. When we reefed the main she flattened out to approximately 15° of heel, her best attitude, and speed increased to 6.2 knots. Our tacking angle with the genoa up was about 100° —not stellar, but not abnormal, either.
Next we tucked in a second reef in the main, shortened the jib to 105%, and with water coming over the bow we watched speed increase to 7.1 knots. At one point the speedo recorded 7.6 knots on the beat. She slowed to 6.2 knots when we pinched her closer to 40°. Footing off to a broad reach, our speed increased to 8-8.5 knots, a knot faster than theoretical hull speed.
With sails balanced, we also tested the Autohelm 4000 on a reach in 20-25 knots of wind and found that the boat tracks well.
The 36 MKII performs as well as owners say, but could be improved with better-cut standard sails and a backstay adjuster.
The standard engine is a four-cylinder Universal 35B diesel. Fuel consumption is estimated to be 0.8 gallons per hour at 2200 RPM. When we doused sails in 25-knot gusts the diesel easily held the boat into the wind. The boat responds quickly to the wheel under power, as we discovered while poking in and out of fingers docks in a marina.
Based on input received from more than 60 Catalina 36 owners who responded to a PS survey circulated by Phil Herring at Catalinaowners.com, we consider them a savvy bunch who understand the strengths and shortcomings of their boats.
These owners consider their boats to be structurally sound, seaworthy, and “fast enough.” They don’t suffer from expectations of Hinckley quality. We note that three 36 owners have circumnavigated the world, without incident according to the company.
“They don’t mind not having that extra layer of varnish or wood plugs in holes,” as Douglas says, “and they like to tinker on their boats. I like to think that we’ve given them a stable platform on which they can safely sail.”
Our test boat gets more-than-average use by a family that includes three teenagers, and it still looks fit. The boat also suffers some of the shortcomings of joinery assembled in a large manufacturing facility.
An excellent 78-page owner’s manual includes schematics of all of the boat’s operating systems, locations of through-hulls, a complete parts list, even a section on cleaning stains on the upholstery. From an owner’s perspective, this makes working on the boat easier. From Catalina’s perspective, it reduces the number of telephone calls to the customer service department.
The warranty is five years on the structure, and five years for blisters with a depreciating schedule that reduces to 50% in the final year.
Considering the number of 36s built during its 18-year run, and the number of repeat customers among Catalina owners, we think buyers looking for a moderately priced production boat should definitely check out this retooled version.
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Contact- Catalina Yachts, 21200 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91367; 818/884-7700; www.catalinayachts.com.