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After 20 Years, Catalina 37s Are Still World Class

The 46th Congressional Cup scheduled next Tuesday through Saturday will be sailed on Catalina 37s, but that’s nothing new.

They’ve been sailed in the United States’ only Grade 1 Open match racing event for 20 years, and that doesn’t seem about to change.

The 10 skippers who will sail next week, with current International Sailing Federation (ISAF) rankings:

Sally Barkow, Nashotah, Wis. (99), Pine Lake YC

Johnie Berntsson (9), Sweden, Royal Gothenburg YC

Gavin Brady, New Zealand, Royal Hong Kong YC

Francesco Bruni (24), Italy, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda

Simone Ferrarese (32), Italy, Yacht Club Cortina

Bill Hardesty, San Diego, Chicago Match Race Center

Damien Iehl, (3) France, APCC Voile Sportive

Eric Monnin (31), Switzerland, Yacht Club Immensee

Evgeniy Neugodnikov (20), Russia , Team Synergy

Dave Perry (45), Southport, Conn., Long Beach YC

If anything, the Catalina 37s have grown in popularity since Catalina Yachts President Frank Butler and chief engineer Gerry Douglas brought 11 of them, including a spare, to the Congressional Cup organizing Long Beach Yacht Club, which later placed them under the administration of the Long Beach Sailing Foundation for charter. Now they’re used in various fleet racing regattas, including Long Beach Race Week and last weekend’s intercollegiate Harbor Cup at San Pedro.

They are the only 11 ever built and they weren’t built for speed or comfort as much as for maneuverability and to last, like your father’s good old pickup truck. They aren’t high-tech fast, either, and you probably wouldn’t sail one to Mexico or even to Santa Catalina Island for a weekend. No bunks, no nav station, no head, just a Porta-Potty.

Catalina 37s were built for match racing where, as long as all boats are equal, speed and comfort are less important than durability because match racing is more Destruction Derby than Tour de France. And the Catalina 37s are certainly equal.

They were conceived and constructed by with solid—not cored—fiberglass hulls, making them heavier but tougher, with virtually indestructible rigging and hardware. If they hadn’t been built that way they wouldn’t have lasted long enough to survive two generations of punishment and abuse from the world’s best—i.e., instinctively aggressive—sailors.

Scott Dickson has probably raced them more than anybody. Since migrating to Long Beach from New Zealand in the early 90s he has raced them as a skipper in 12 Congressional Cups and several Ficker Cups, the qualifier event—and the same door that Sally Barkow used to qualify as only the event’s fourth woman skipper in nearly half a century.

Dickson, who also has raced other boats in other international events, sees no reason to change.

“They’re a good open platform and they’re simple, which really enables you to sail a big boat with a small team, which is very challenging,” Dickson said. “The 37s are hanging on from a previous generation where you had heavier displacement and bigger boats. Displacement for match racing is a very, very good thing … [being] slow to accelerate, slow to decelerate makes it a lot more technical. You have to plan ahead a lot more.

“The other older boats that are talked about that are still very popular are the IRDs in Bermuda, for exactly the same reason. It slows the whole game down, and you’ll find that a lot of the skippers enjoy those boats, as well.

“Because the boats are not high tech and there’s not too many strings to play with has put a premium on boat handling and crew work—and you can’t get any better than that for match racing.”

For 10 years before the C/37s the Congressional Cup used Catalina 38s that were maintained by the builder but were privately owned loaners and therefore difficult to equalize for match racing. Nevertheless, LBYC often expresses its gratitude for “three decades of generous support of Catalina Yachts.”

Butler and Douglas still lead the largest sailboat building company in the United States and remain properly proud of their Catalina 37 product—the only boats they ever gave away, probably more to boost the sport than for any promotional value to be gained from a stake in the granddaddy event of world-class match racing. They talked about their creation two decades after its debut.

Q: Did you think the Catalina 37 would still be going strong after 20 years?

Gerry Douglas: “Well, we build boats to last (smile). They still look very contemporary, and I think the key to the longevity of those boats is that they were so simple.”

Q: What would you do differently now?

Douglas: “Well, they’d be big trimarans, of course (smiling again).”

Frank Butler: “Gerry, that’s a matter of opinion. I would have liked to have had one less crew on it. The more people the more weight, and it’s hard to get people to come from all over the world to bring an extra one or two.”

Douglas: “On the other hand, it has given some local sailors a chance to participate as fill-in crew that might not have had the opportunity otherwise.”

Butler: “That is a point.”

Q: What about asymmetrical spinnakers that are now so popular?

Douglas: “You could make them into pole boats. At the time these boats were designed that wasn’t on the table.”

Q: Would that enhance performance?

Douglas: “I’m not sure. Watching these guys drive downwind is kind of fun. It would remove an element from the racing that makes it interesting. Watching these guys dip-jibe as they do so quickly is kind of neat, and that just wouldn’t happen with pole boats.”

Q: The 37s were designed primarily for match racing, but these days they’re also being chartered for fleet racing by crews that aren’t match racers. Does that surprise you?

Douglas: “They’re fairly simple boats. You don’t spend a lot of time learning how to make the boat work. Something the Foundation has done that’s been terrific is that so many other events use those boats … Harbor Cup, Long Beach Race Week, the Women’s [match racing event], the Linda Elias [Women's One-Design Challenge], the Yacht Club Challenge. That’s been neat to see.”

Q: What has been the biggest criticism of the boats over the years?

(Silence … then…)

Douglas: “I haven’t heard any, really … [except] at one time they were talking about a smaller, five-man boat, for reasons that Frank mentioned.”

Butler: “But that was about eight years ago.”

Douglas: “Technical criticism of the boat … nothing.”

Q: Speaking of the recent America’s Cup, what did you think of the match-racing tactics and strategy?

Douglas: “There didn’t seem to be any.”

Q: …compared to the Congressional Cup?

Butler: “When we go down to watch it, it’s is good from the very first to the very end.”

The Congressional Cup has maintained a high level of organization over the years with a volunteer force of some 300 club members and their families. Each crew is assigned boat hostesses and a housing team to deliver the outstanding local hospitality the Congressional Cup has offered now for 45 years.

Spinnaker sponsors are F&M Bank, the Press-Telegram and Oceanaut Watches. Sails sponsors are MCA Logistics, Gladstone’s Restaurant, Newmeyer & Dillion and Union Bank. Hospitality sponsors are The Port of Long Beach, St. Mary Medical Center, City National Bank, The Breakers of Long Beach and Mount Gay Rum. An Honorary sponsor is Catalina Yachts.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 19th, 2010 at 8:38 am and is filed under Main Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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