Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Catalina 385 Review

A conservative approach to the modern cruiser

As we continue our search for a new boat we would be remiss if we didn't take a look at the new Catalina 385. Catalina Yachts moved out of its headquarters in Woodland Hills, California a few years ago, undoubtedly motivated as much by the dismal business climate for boatbuilders in this state as by the fact that the bulk of the sailboat market is nowhere near California anymore. They are now headquartered in a large and modern plant in Largo, FL where the 385 and all their other models are built.

The 385 is an interesting departure if you consider that its main domestic competitors, Hunter and Beneteau have fully embraced a modernistic approach to the styling and design of their boats while Catalina has taken a more traditional approach.  To get a sense of these differences, click on the Beneteau Oceanis 37 http://www.beneteauusa.com/Sailboats/Oceanis/Oceanis-37 or take a look at the Hunter 39 http://www.huntermarine.com/Models2011/39/39Index2011.html .

That is not to say that one design philosophy is better than the other. There is plenty of room in the ocean for all kinds of boats and I am sure that Catalina is dead certain of the market segment they are pursuing, and doing so with a good deal of success. Some may say that their designs are uninspired or stodgy, I disagree, they are inspired by a market segment that has made them arguably the most successful homegrown boatbuilder in the country. So let's take a closer look at the 385 and learn what it is that makes this company so successful.

The hull shape of the 385 is rather traditonal compared to its competition. Notice on the sailplan that bow is raked about 45 degrees and in the accommodations plan, the beam is concentrated more amidships than the Beneteau or Hunter. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. The trend seems to be toward boats with very wide transoms. This allows for lots of space below but does affect the sailing qualities of the boat. As the boat heels the bow is forced down and the rudder is pulled up. I think there is an optimum ratio between beam aft and beam amidships for different types of boats and perhaps Catalina feels that they've gone far enough in that direction.

The Catalina 385 shows a more traditional approach to hull design than its competitors
The rest of the exterior of the boat is nicely designed and very much in keeping with the conservative philosophy in the hull design. The cabin trunk is pure Catalina, with it's trademark windows and familiar T-shaped cockpit. Notice the vertical battens in the mainsail, indicating an in-mast furling system. In spite of the fact that practically every production builder uses this arrangement, I'm not a fan. I prefer a fully battened mainsail with slab reefing.  Catalina's conservative approach to the sailplan is carried through to the almost masthead rig with fore and aft lowers. Notice that the mainsheet traveler is at about the midpoint of the boom, with a block attached about three quarters of the way aft of the mast. This arrangement will allow for a mainsheet-free cockpit but does put a lot of load on the boom and cabin top.

Here are some dimensions:
LOA (hull):  38' - 2"
LWL: 34' - 5"
BMAX: 13' - 1"
Draft (deep keel):  6' - 10"
Draft (shoal keel):  4' - 8"
Disp. (deep keel): 15,500 LB
Ballast (deep keel):  5,200 LB
D/L (deep keel):  169
Sail Area: 676 sf
SA/D:  17.0

The T-shaped cockpit with walk-thru transom looks like a comfortable place to be. Notice the instruments. Those mounted to starboard will be hard for the helmsman to see when driving from the port side. This is a popular, if impractical, arrangement.  The problem is that you have to be sitting aft of the wheel to see them. A better arrangement is to locate them above the companionway so everyone can see them.

Going below, the accommodations plan carries on the conservative theme, which in my opinion is a good thing. The galley is big and well designed, with plenty of counter space and double sinks. The aft cabin features a king size bunk with plenty of storage space under, a good sized seat and plenty of locker space. Also notice that access to the engine appears to be good on the port side. I'm a big fan of good engine access. The main cabin is quite spacious. I'm glad to see that the designer didn't try to squeeze too much into this area, but I prefer a dedicated nav station instead of the small table at the aft end of the dinette. I guess this is a nod to the the fact that navigation and chart work are not very important in this coastal cruiser.

Catalina 385 galley

The head, located forward of the main bulkhead is also spacious, with access from the forward cabin as well as the main cabin. The forward cabin contains a large V-berth and plenty of storage. Once again, it's nice to see that the Catalina design team didn't try to stuff a 42 foot interior into a 38 foot boat.

Cat 38 Accommodations. Plenty of open space and a nice arrangement for weekends at the island.

The Catalina 385 is, in my opinion, a nice balance of traditional and modern design. There's plenty of living space and reasonably good performance here along with what I would call American styling. That's refreshing.


  1. You're right about labeling it a "coastal cruiser". I once spent 3 years sailing in the South Pacific and could count on my hands the number of Catalina's I saw.

    Oh, one other thing, not necessarily pertaining to just Catalina's. One evening while visiting Swiss friends for drinks, they remarked "we can always recognize the America boats in the anchorage .... they're the ones with standing headroom under the dodger".


  2. Your comment got me wondering about Catalinas offshore. I did a cursory search of the Internet and discovered that in the 1980's Patrick Childress sailed a Cat 27 around the world. A Cat 42 circled the globe in 2002 and a Catalina/Morgan 43 did the same thing in 2005. In 2007 a Cat 36, Patriot, also circumnavigated. On the Catalina Yachts web site you can read about many Catalinas that have sailed thousands of offshore miles in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. So there is no doubt that if you wish to, you can sail a Catalina pretty much wherever on the Blue Planet you care to. My old friend, Jack Ford, bought a '68 Islander 33 for about $5,000, fixed it up and set sail, completing his solo circumnavigation about four years ago.

    When I reflect on some of the boats that have circled the globe, starting with Josh Slocum's Spray, it's pretty clear that it's really not about the boat, it's about the skipper and crew.

    Catalina markets its boats to average sailors and their families. Only a tiny percentage of whom ever venture out of sight of land, much less across oceans. That doesn't mean the boats aren't capable passagemakers as long as the crew is also capable.