Used Boat Notebook

By John Kretschmer

Catalina 27

Good sailing, roomy interior and active owners behind the popularity of this coastal cruiser

The Catalina 27 is an American classic. First launched in 1971, more than 6,600 boats were built during a 20-year production run, making it possibly the best-selling 27-footer of all time. Frank Butler, the 27's co-designer, as well as the founder and driving force behind Catalina Yachts, has a uncanny knack for creating boats that people love and they show their love with their checkbooks. Catalina has built more than 60,000 boats, more than any other American sailboat company.

In many ways, the 27 was the model for a design and construc­tion philosophy that continues to serve Catalina today. It is a simple but successful formula-build styl­ish but definitely affordable boats with semi-modern hull shapes and high-volume interiors. Catalina builds its boats efficiently, which is often viewed as a sin by other builders that secretly envy the com­pany's huge production runs. Catalina knows its customers and what they want. The company has an impressive ratio of repeat buy­ers, which is the ultimate compli­ment for any builder.

By the same token, used boat buyers also know what they're get­ting with the Catalina 27. It's a spa­cious, user-friendly family cruiser.

A PHRF rating of around 210 means that it can be raced compet­itively on Wednesday nights or in active one-design fleets, although racing is not its forte. It is an ideal boat for the

way most of us use our boats, that is daysailing and week­end outings. It isn't the best engi­neered boat in the marina, but it is, as one owner told me, a boat you can let your 16-year-old son take out with his friends and not worry about. And you can find a nice Catalina 27 with an outboard engine for well under $10,000.

First impressions

The Catalina 27 was a "big" boat when it was first introduced in 1971. In fact, at the time it was the queen of the Catalina fleet. The look is " California 1970s modern." This translates into an almost flat sheer line with a large but nicely blended cabin trunk and cockpit coamings. There is plenty of free­board and nearly 9 feet of beam, which of course creates space below. Under the water, the high­ aspect fin keel sweeps aft, as does the spade rudder. A wing keel shoal-draft model was offered in 1979, reducing the draft from 4 feet to 3 feet, 5 inches but requiring extra ballast. A tall rig option was available for light-air regions.


The Catalina 27 hull is solid fiberglass and the thick­ness tapers significantly from the waterline up. The deck is plywood cored, which is not the best material for the job, although deck delamination doesn't seem to be the com­mon problem it is on many older boats. Catalina used molded hull and headliners,


streamlining the manufactur­ing process.

I often lament the use of liners in my reviews because they make it difficult to access the hull and have structural limita­tions. However, for boats less than 30 feet, they make production sense provided that they are well bonded to the hull. The Catalina 27 was not designed or built to be a bluewater boat, and there is noth­ing wrong with that.

Some original l construction details are more worrisome than the less than robust scantlings. Early boats were fitted with gate valves on below-the-waterline through-hull fittings and most deck hardware did not have backing plates. It is likely that these shortcomings have been addressed by owners along the way. The ballast is external and the iron keel bolts should be carefully exam­ined. The ballast-to-displacement ratio is more than 40 percent.

What to look for

The first thing to look for is the right configuration that suits your needs from among the variables: standard or shoal draft, standard or tall rig, outboard or inboard engine, gas or diesel inboard. In addition to the wing keel offered in 1979, a 3­foot shoal draft was an option from the start. If you sail on Chesapeake Bay and plan to race the boat in the active one-design fleet in Annapolis, than you might be best suited with a standard draft, tall rig, outboard engine, early model 27. These were the lightest, fastest and cheapest boats. If you in Florida and

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Reprinted with permission, November 2002 SAILING, volume 37, no. 3. – All rights reserved.