The Original Sailing Mini-Van

By Bert W. Quay, A.M.S. ©1993

The Catalina 30 was designed to  take the family to a weekend of gunkhole cruising. It is built to a budget price that falls well below the cost of offshore toughness. Nobody ever said they were pretty, fancy, fast, stylish, indestructible, finely fitted, luxurious, or high-status expensive. But they are immensely practical as a vanilla boat in the real world of occasional weekend getaways and limited leisure money, because they give you most of what you need for local cruising and a surprising amount of what you think you want.

The Catalina 30 has enjoyed a production run like no other design of its size. In 25 years, over 7,000 of them have been built. Aggressive cost-control manufacturing and that high volume combined to make Catalina Yachts one of the builders who survived successive lows to become one of the dominant few in the sailboat market. The boat has evolved and improved from a short-rigged, tiller-steered version, with an Atomic-4 gas engine to today’s tall-rigged, wing-keel configurations with wheel steering and diesel power.

Used Catalina 30s are typically equipped with a main and roller furling 130% genoa, a 20-lb Danforth to fit the anchor well, dodger and/or bimini, and a basic electronics package. Newer boats may also have a propane stove, 12-volt refrigeration, a cruising spinnaker, Loran or GPS, cockpit cushions, and occasionally air conditioning. All that good sensible, usable stuff that improves the cruisability of the boat.

A Big 30-Footer!
The boat feels big, both on deck and down below. The first impression of space from the double-wide companionway hatch that slides open over the galley and chart table. And lets the cooking heat escape on southern evenings as the breeze lays down.

Skippers over 6-feet tall often have problems finding full headroom afloat. The Catalina gives you 6’3″ height, with bunk lengths to match. And there is walking around room as well, which is very difficult at 30 feet. The open quarter berth gives the interior a feeling of length that is missing on boats that are chopped into small cabins. The head is large enough to shower, sit down, or change clothes in, all without getting stuck or bruised up. If you choose or have to, you can turn the boat into a bunkhouse for the kids or guests, with a vee-berth double, a dinette double, and a double quarter berth. While spaciousness is not a sailing characteristic, it is a highly valued cruising feature. And one that alone has sold a lot of Catalina 30s, especially to the wives.

For the skipper who has to have the latest in electronic navigation gadgets, the chart table concentrates the batteries, 12v DC and 120v AC panels, and nav instruments in one location conveniently near the companionway. The older models usually need additional 120v AC breakers for the charger and receptacle circuits, plus a GFI receptacle to bring their electrical system up to date.

The galley is surprisingly efficient by anyone’s standards. It is a deep U-shape to port, out of traffic flow to he cockpit and secure in a seaway (although most cruisers will not cook until the anchor is down). The counter, sink, and storage space is excellent. So the cook has some chance of turning out a decent meal there, rather than being limited to heating a can of soup or stew. The wide hatch vents cooking heat in the dog days and keeps things brighter on rainy days under the dodger.

Some Critical Details
It seems that today’s skipper doesn’t feel in command of a real sailing vessel unless it has a wheel to stand behind. So of course, pedestal steering is standard on the Catalina 30. The fiberglass shell over the foam-cored rudder blade is fairly fragile at the joint where the two halves meet. And if the rubber hose section that cushions the quadrant stop compresses from the wheel being put hard over a lot, the top leading edge of the rudder shell can fracture against the skeg.

A lot of folks are convinced that they can’t leave the cockpit to handle sails. So of course, the Catalina 30 is now standard with the halyards led aft on the cabin top. There is little logic to leading the halyards aft to where the dodger keeps you from cranking the winch handle, but I’m not going to swim against the popular, city-based stream on that issue here.

The mast is a big section that rests on the cabin top. The compression loads are taken by a teak post seated on the hull pan. There is a glassed-in plywood web frame under the pan to carry the loading on down to the hull bottom. The main chain plates are bolted through the bulkheads, with the forward lowers in a partial bulkhead, and the aft lowers through an aluminum channel under the deck head. Under normal weekend use, there is little problem with this arrangement.

The engine sits under the galley counter and the “L” of the dinette settee, where there is good access to 3 sides and the top. Access to the shaft packing gland under a lift section of the galley sole is exceptionally good. Most of the boats were fitted with a Universal diesel, which has gone from a 12 horsepower, 2-cylinder model to the 3-cylinder, 22-horsepower engine. That progression was obviously made because the smaller engines weren’t enough in headwinds and current.

The bolt-on equipment such as pumps, tanks, stove, water closet, sinks, hatches, winches, blocks, and cleats, are all good, name-brands.

The Catalina 30 was not intended to be abused for long periods of time either in heavy seas or hard aground. And it doesn’t pretend to be a race boat. Aside from a greater than average number of air-entrapment voids in the deck, the boat doesn’t seem to suffer from any deficiencies that aren’t also seen on most other boats. The Catalina is the norm for blistering, water penetration in the rudder, deck leaks, and cracked rigging swages. Nothing especially alarming or unusual. Just about average.

The Bottom Line
If you seek security in knowing that your vessel was meant to survive the ultimate storm or grounding, then the Catalina 30 is not for you. But, if like the average skipper, you’d like to have some easy cruising on an occasional weekend with the family, then the Catalina’s big galley, big salon table, big bunks, big head, and big cockpit all add up to a boat with more of what you want than you ever thought possible at a 30-foot price.

The boat is an excellent family entry-level choice. Demand for the boat is very strong for the very reasons that you are interested. The boats turn very quickly at fairly stable prices. So when you buy one, you can be able to come out of it in three or four years with your finances still intact.