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Catalina 36's are designed as coastal cruisers. That said, folks have sailed them offshore from Norfolk to the BVI's which meets my definition of blue water sailing. They have also circumnavigated which I think will meet anyones defintion of bluewaters sailing. Still they were not designed for that and likely had very experienced crew and a high degree of modification/preparation for those types of trips.
Here on the Chesapeake C36's tend to have rather large overlapping genoa's (either a 150 or 135) since we have far more light air days than heavy weather. My boat requires the 1st reef in the main at about 20 kts sustained. At 25 knots we roll in some jib at 30 the second reef goes in the main or we roll them all the way up and motor. The Chesapeake is shallow so we get short period, steep chop vs. rollers. The C36 handles these condtions pretty well in my opinion nearly as comfortably as the Tartan 40 I spent 24 hours on beating into near gale conditions. I can't say any boat I've been on has been "comfortable" in these conditions but I can say I've never felt I wasn't safe in them on our C36 but my experience in winds over 30knots is pretty limited.
The SF fleet considers the above winds as normal conditions and are normally equipped with around a 110 Genoa. With their deeper water and presumably longer wave period, they probably don't get the kind of pounding we endure on the Chesapeake very often though. I would guess they spend a fair amount of time with a single reef in the main and rarely need to roll in the genny much, but don't know their reefing strategy.
Properly equipped you should be able to shift gears through about 30 knots comfortably, but I can't really offer an informed insight in wind conditions above that since our experience in winds over 25-30 knots have been brief TS passages and we've just rolled in the sails and motored to open water while they passed.
As a counterpoint to the article about the ill fated C36 trip posted above I'd ask you to Google "Lady Liberty" and "transpac" to learn about the C36 that competed in and completed the 2007 Trans Pacfic race from Cali to Hawaii.
s/v Palmetto Moon
1991 Catalina 36
Last edited by PalmettoSailor; 11-24-2011 at 10:30 AM.