Edwin Schoettle on catboats, Gavin Atkin on what’s wrong with yachts and yachties

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Legendary catboat Silent Maid

Edwin Schoettle’s classic Sailing Craft published in 1928 is a fabulous big old book of nearly 800 pages – so I hope no-one will mind me posting a few of them. And perhaps my post will serve to keep the memory alight.

I’d like to explain why I’ve been thinking about the catboat lately.

I’ve complained for years that many yachties  motor or motor sail for much of the time and I’ve often wondered what the reason might be. Well, I’ve come to think that it isn’t laziness or a dislike of sailing. The reason why they’re reluctant to use their full sailplan is that they’re either sailing alone, or effectively doing so, and don’t want the fag of having to manage sails, winches and sheets as well as steer, navigate and keep a look out.  And because they’re not using their full sail plan their boats are slow without the help of its engine – and that’s why most yachties motor for much of the time.

Looked at another way, it’s because we’re using the wrong rigs.  Instead of the Bermudan sloop with a masthead rig, big foresail, winches and the rest, we could be using rigs that reduce the number of essential control lines to very few – the cat and the cat yawl.

Of course there’s a shortage of cat yawls outside of a few designers offering plans for relatively small boats aimed at the amateur builders, so I’ve been considering the experiences people have had with the catboat.

I’ve no experience with these boats and have no firm opinions to offer, but it’s interesting that Schoettle emerges as such a fan of the catboat. I’m inclined to think a modified form of catboat, perhaps one with the kind of capacious hull that’s long been normal in family cruising boats could be seriously useful to yachtsmen in the era of expensive fuel and growing environmental awareness.

Those who find it difficult to swallow the idea of the Bermudan sloop being replaced by a more old fashioned rig might thinking about the argument in a different way – instead of describing the cat or cat yawl rig of the future as being derived from historical yacht types or workboats, just think of them as big Lasers with heavy keels.

Read more about Silent Maid in a recent post at the weblog 70.8%.

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7 thoughts on “Edwin Schoettle on catboats, Gavin Atkin on what’s wrong with yachts and yachties”

  1. As an avid Laser sailor I've never been much interested in sailing typical "yachts", mainly for the reasons you discuss. But a "big Laser with a heavy keel" could almost tempt me.

  2. Gav,

    IMO, the reason so many cruising boat sailors motor or motor-sail most of the time is because they don't really like sailing or don't know enough about it to trust themselves (or the wind). Too much brought up with engines to feel comfy going anywhere without them — and sailing is so SLOW! Considering that most cruising sailboats are used maybe 3X/year, I think their owners like the idea of sailing more than the thing itself.

  3. True, the hassle and lack of crew factors keep boats in the dock, as well as the owners' lack of knowledge and skill, difficulty of access, lack of maintenance ability, not knowing where to find support, feeling intimidated by the "yachting establishment", being afraid of their boats or the mighty ocean, etc. And, yes, some boats are hard to sail well.

    But another factor is that some boats are more of a joy to sail than others. There's no one perfect boat, true, but some boat builder compromises have given us boats that don't perform too well and some boat owners may have never ever had a perfect moment on the water or been on a sail that made them want to whoop and holler.


    Desert Sea

  4. Thanks for the Schoettle pages! I've got a 23' fiberglas catboat I'm now rebuilding, and I love it for it's simplicity and good performance. It carries a 420 sq.ft sail and points pretty high with the gaff peaked at almost 75 degrees. Hydraulic steering is a great modern invention for these big-rudder boats, and the cockpit seats 8 people in comfort. With a big centerboard, if I have to put her on the beach, I can.

    I'm thinking of making a yuloh so I don't have to start the engine just to get in and out of the bay.

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