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SPARHAWK 36 & 42


May 2006
Rota, Spain

Hi all,

About 15 years ago, I was designing boats and specialized in cat-ketches. I was involved with the company that did the Herreshoff 45 although my designs were all called Sparhawks (36 and 42). We also did some custom designs.

Cat ketches are superior on a reach, decent running, and not all that bad to windward. You see, I have never designed one that wouldn't go to windward all day with nobody at the helm. How high they point is a function of the quality of the masts and how well the sailmaker shapes the sails to account for the bend-off at the tips. The better ones actually point very well. In racing, I found that we got clobbered to windward between 8 and 15 knots...not in terms of pointing ability, but in terms of boatspeed. That is the range where a sloop with a 150 genoa creates lots of power and we couldn't match them. However, once at the windward mark, we started walking through the fleet on the reaching leg.

The pluses for the cat-ketch:
1) the bend-off at the mast tips depowers the sails in a puff, opening the leeches. As soon as the puff passes, the leeches close and the boat powers on. So you can wait longer before reefing.
2) a properly rigged cat-ketch should be able to be reefed from the cockpit, so there is no reason to go on deck
3) a cat-ketch with full battens is faster than anything in drifting conditions. During an Ensenada Race in the 80's, I was crewing on Skip Dashews 70 footer. When we arrived in Ensenada, we found that my 36 foot cat-ketch had already finished and was well on its way back to San Diego, winning it's class in the process.

The continued development and reliability of furling headsails took away a lot of the impetus towards the cat-ketch. Sailors are fundamentally conservative and like to get boats that are familiar to other boats.

Cat-ketches looked to radical for most, but there are still some who see their merits - like the guy who owns West Marine.


Richard Black

Sparhawk 36
Sparhawk 36