Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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A new catalina 36?
Just to weigh in here for a moment. Having read through two extreme positions, my experiences on quite a few Catalinas fall in the middle of the two points of view. In this discussion I really thonk that each of the big Three (Hunter- Catalina- Beneteau) has strengths and weaknesses. (See below) Bavarias seem to have the worst quality and biggest hype of the three. If I were committed to buying a new 36 footer in that price range I would unquestionably buy a Dehler 36. For the dollar these are well thought out and well built boats with an up to date hull design. (The Dehler''s are carried by Pat Lane at Annapolis Yacht Sales firstname.lastname@example.org )
I strongly suggest against mainsail roller furling. The hollow leech mains really zap the boat''s performance on all points of sail and realy shorten the life of the sail according to my observations and a follow up conversation with my sailmaker.
To summarize the other big three there is no one universally right answer here. To use my favorite analogy, it is like trying to say that vanilla ice cream is always better than strawberry or vice versa. They have very distinct differences but the differences are more a matter of style, details, and personal preference.
When you talk about the big sellers in the U.S.- Hunter, Catalina, or Beneteau, you can not make a blanket statement that one or the other is better built or worse built than the others. They each have things that they do very well and other areas that they do not so well. My take on each is as follows:
Beneteau has a number of different lines. The First series is their performance line and generally seem to be better built and finished than their Oceanis or Beneteau ''number series''. The 311 and 321 are from the Oceanis series. The First 33.7 is a first series boat. All three boats are between 32'' and 32''-8" long. The big differences are in beam and displacement. All things being equal the 321 should be fastest of the three on a reach and the 33.7 should be faster up wind.
My experience with Beneteaus is that they have nice layouts with cleaver little details. Like the other two manufacturers, they tend to be lightly built and place an emphasis on accommodations over performance in this size range. I like Benteau''s hull deck joint best of the three. I also like their fit and finish best as well.
On the negative side, Beneteau does not publish ballast for their boats but from past data on similar models they tend to be a little lightly ballasted. I am not a big fan of Groupe Finot (the designer of the 311 and 321) type boats. Their boats tend to be overly beamy and do not handle a chop or have as comfortable a motion as well as a narrower hull form. Still Finot is a good as anyone in the world in modeling this form and their boats have reasonable performance for what they are. I do like their hull shapes better than the two Hunters in question.
One issue that I have with Beneteau comes from conversations with surveyors. In looking at the design of Beneteaus systems they do not do as good a job as the other two companies at meeting safety standards. This is especially true when it comes to the design of their systems. (For example in examining a Beneteau 38s5''s propane locker I noticed an opening that was not properly sealed and connected that locker to the interior of the boat. That is a very serious no-no. It may have only been a missing finishing detail but a serious one.) They tend to do things in a way that is cheaper to build and perfectly sound until it needs to be fixed. For example the Beneteau that I know most intimately used crimped hose connectors that cannot be reused. Another example is the sprayed varnish finishes. They look great but cannot be easily touched up once scratched without removing and spraying the whole panel. (This is becoming more common in the industry due to air emissions and speed of finishing the work.)
I really do not like that Beneteau is pushing in mast furling mainsails. In my mind these are really bad ideas, especially on boats of this size. In mast mains really kill performance and shorten sail life spans. They are not good in light air (loose too much area to the hollow leeches) and not too good in a blow (they work down the luff and power up at just the time when you really need flat sails.)
Beneteaus also tend to use a lot of materials and methods of construction that are not readily available over here. Plumbing connections, through-hulls, deck cleats and misc. hardware are non-standard in the U.S. market. This is somewhat offset by the Beneteau USA''s (in Marion, S.C.) willingness to be very helpful in getting obscure spare parts very quickly and at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Hunter is the most maligned and controversial of the big three. Hunter Marine marches to the sound of their own drummer and a lot of people don''t like the tune. Their aesthetics are very much and acquired taste and to many of us, who grew up with more traditional designs, would prefer not to buy their look. They tend to be over sold and many of us are somewhat put off by the implication of the "Goes the Distance" motto.
Still looking at them objectively they are reasonable performers for coastal cruising. They offer a lot of accommodations and features for the money. They tend to be sold amazingly well equipped. According to the surveyors that I have talked to Hunter does an excellent job at designing and building boats that meet the various safety standards. The two boats in question have a CE ''B'' Classification which means that they are not certified for open ocean useage.
On the flip side, few builders seem to draw the heavy fire in the court of "common knowledge". Some of this is just plain unwarranted but quite a bit reflects the reality of these boats. They are designed for a very specific clientele. These are not the circumnavigators but a family that is going to weekend and overnight. They are not really set up with sea berths or offshore galleys but the interiors work well on the anchor. They have narrow side decks and rigs that are at their best reaching but give up a bit beating (headstay sag due to no backstay) and running (the mainsail ends up plastered against the shrouds). The fractional gigs are easier to tack and are easier to deal with in changing conditions.
Things I dislike about Hunters; I really do not like the huge plastic port lights. This will deteriorate (my experience about 10 to 14 years in Maryland) and these big panels will be become unsafe and in need of replacement. That will be very expensive. I don''t like the rolled out hull deck joint. While it provides a nice rubrail, it is highly vulnerable and from an engineering standpoint has the most bending stresses and highest strains compared to almost any other kind of hull deck joint. (my current boat has this kind of hull deck joint and frankly it is the probably one thing I really don''t like about my boat. It is one thing to do this on a Kevlar boat like mine and an entirely different thing to do on an all glass boat)
I don''t like the B&R backstayless rigs. I have spent a lot of time on fractional rigs and masthead rigs. To me a fractional rig really makes a lot of sense for cruising but only with a backstay adjuster. Ideally, Fractional rigs can carry considerable larger working sail plans because of their ability to increase backstay tension and quickly depower the sailplan. This means few sail changes and few reefs. BUT the B&R rig does not use a backstay so rapid depowering is not an option. In that case much of the advantage of a fractional rig is lost. Their interiors also tend to be more sterile.
Lastly if you buy a Hunter you have to deal with the emotional issues about them. There are absolutely rabid Hunter haters out there. You can not under estimate the vehemence of their hatred. Then there are rabid Hunter lovers and defenders out there. They can be almost as bad. This roiling controversy results in a situation where you are left either defending the boat to detractors or defending you lack of defense to the rabid defenders.
My experience with Catalina is that they are no better built and no better sailors than the other two. They have their strengths and they have their weaknesses. The thing about Catalina (at least in the US) they are seen as being the most normal. They are not great boats, but they have no big faults either. Catalina uses a lot of well know hardware and details. They tend not to walk down the path less traveled which depending on your perspective is both a real strength and a real disadvantage. They definitely care about how they are perceived. I raised some issues with Catalinas on another BB and Frank Butler, the founder and president of Catalina, called me personally and explained to me why I was wrong in my opinion. (I have actually met both Frank Butler and Warren Luhrs from Hunter and both are people who are trying to do the right thing. They each have a vision of what that right thing is and (and even if their detractors question their definition of what is the right way to go with their boats) they seem to pursue their goals with a lot of personal integrity.) Catalinas are generally roomy and generally sail reasonably well. They don''t have the kind of quirky details that can drive you crazy with the other two companies.
The negatives on the Catalinas are somewhat subjective, but in terms of fit and finish, Catalinas seem to be the worst of the three. (The flip side is that they have finishes that the average guy can maintain.) Their boats have a dated look to my eye but to many people that can be seen as a traditional charm.
Then there is the cored hull issue. The other two manufacturers use some coring in their hulls. This is important to me and I would not by a boat for coastal cruising that did not have a cored hull. Cored hulls are considerably lighter and stiffer. This means less heeling and less flexing which can fatigue the glass over time. (Obviously this is not a universally held belief and I am sure that there are people out there who would not buy a cored hull on a dare.) Cored hulls are actually more expensive to produce if they are produced with care. In any event, per conversations at the Annapolis Boat Show, Catalina is in the process of switching over to cored hulls with a couple models that have already switched over and newer cored models in the works. To me building a boat intended for coastal use without a cored hull is just plain backwards BUT I emphasize that this is only my opinion and its not hard to make the case for either side of this argument.
In any event it all comes down to how you will use you boat. If all you are doing is coastal work then any of the three should work. I have spent a lot of time on examples of all three manufacturers and none of the three are compellingly superior to the other two. It''s a matter of what you wish to accomplish and which one moves you most.
Catalina like Hunter uses glued hull to deck joints. As Mr. Butler pointed out to me, Catalina uses a space age adhessive caulk developed for the aerospace industry and it is very tenacious stuff. The bolts are only there for alignment during construction. I think that this is a reasonable hull to deck joint but it is not may favorite.
In conclusion, it all comes down to how you will use you boat. If all you are doing is coastal work then any of the three should work. I have spent a lot of time on examples of all three manufacturers and none of the three are compellingly superior to the other two. It''''s a matter of what you wish to accomplish and which one moves you most.
One last point, if you are new to sailing and owning boats of this size, I would suggest that you start out with a used boat. It takes a lot to equip a boat and boats have a lot of depreciation in their first five years. It does not look like as much depreciation because you are typically comparing the ''''base price'''' or ''''delivery price'''' with that of a fully found used boat that has had the 1001 odds and ends added to make it a finished and usable boat. You may very well find that the boat you bought was not right for you and it is far easier to sell out gracefully on a used boat.
In any case good luck in your search and let us know what you decided to do. Your decision making process might be helpful to others making this kind of decision.