A new age in boating was dawning in the 1960s. Using fiberglass construction, bold designs and improved propulsion, builders were coming up with new sail- and powerboats to capture the public’s attention.
At the same time, the old boats were disappearing — the wooden vessels of a bygone day, developed over generations. It looked as if the catboat, a quintessential New England working design for more than a century, would go the way of the pinky schooner and the Block Island cowhorn.
Enter Breck Marshall, sailboat racer, boatbuilder and catboat enthusiast. Marshall grew up in catboat country around Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island, and he learned to build boats crafting Beetle Cats at John Beetle’s shop in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1962 he designed a pioneering fiberglass catboat, the 18-foot Sanderling, and took it to every catboat regatta he could find, winning races at each one. Interest in the catboat began to revive.
The Sanderling garnered enough interest for Marshall to design a larger boat for day tripping and cruising. He started his own company, and in 1965, the Marshall 22 made its debut. It measured just over 21 feet at the waterline and had a 10-foot beam. The mast, with a single stay, carried a 388-square-foot mainsail. A 21-hp diesel provided auxiliary power. (A sloop version was eventually offered.)
Fishermen prized the traditional catboat for its shallow draft, large holding capacity and single sail; recreational sailors also appreciated those attributes. The Marshall 22 had room below for two berths, a head and an optional galley. Traditional touches included the trunk cabin with oval ports, the “barn door” rudder and wooden mast hoops.
It proved to be the catboat’s salvation. Marshall went on to found the Catboat Association, whose members today number in the hundreds. Marshall Marine, located in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, has built more than 1,700 catboats and John Marshall, Breck’s son, runs the company today.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.