Catboats captured in words
Catboats captured in words
The great ships of the world have inspired works of art and literature since time immemorial, and writers such as Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, C.S.Forester and Patrick O’Brien have thrilled readers with their tales of adventure on the sea. The cat owner responds to the muse, too.
One of the first catboat books was “The Boy, Me and the Cat: Cruise of
the Mascot, 1912-1913,” written as a personal memoir by Henry Plummer. In 1912 Plummer, his teenage son Henry and a cat named Scotty left Buzzard’s Bay in Massachusetts in their 24-foot Cape Cod catboat for a voyage to Florida and back. Suffice it to say the trip was nothing like it would be today, with marinas lining shores. For example, Plummer took along a shotgun, planning to supplement supplies by hunting for meals. It worked, sort of, but the subject of “Coot stew” almost became cause for mutiny.
Appreciated today as a glimpse into a world of boating that’s vanished forever, it’s currently in print by several publishers.
Catboat owner John Conway wrote about his family’s modern adventures restoring and cruising a vintage Crosby catboat in his book, “Catboat Summers” (Sheridan House, 2003). His wonderful personal accounts are supplemented by a helpful appendix with information on the restoration process and catboat maintenance.
Essential reading for any catboat owner or aficionado is “The Catboat Book,” published in 1991 by International Marine for the Catboat Association. Edited by John M. Leavens, at the time the secretary of the association (and owner of a Herbert Crosby catboat, Pinkletink), it’s described as the first serious attempt to bring together the story of the cat — “this distinctive American boat — its development, its career as a racer, its design elements and construction details” — in one book. Contributors include Howard Chapelle, senior historian at the Smithsonian Institution; Fenwick Williams, who designed catboats while working as a naval architect for John G. Alden; Edson Schock, former engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island; Breck Marshall, fiberglass catboat pioneer; and Waldo Howland, co-founder of Concordia yachts and for a time a Beetle Cat builder.
One section describes minutely four basic catboat types and 12 variations,
including a diagram showing different sterns and rudders. The catboat bibliography and the “Cat Album” section show the incredible variety of catboats built throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The prototypes and predecessors of today’s cat fleet, they include:
• Sea Hound, one of four mythical “sea class” cats built by Charles Crosby of Osterville, Mass., and sailed off New Haven, Conn., around 1911. A “typical Cape cat in every respect,” the 25-footer has the broad stern and barn door rudder associated with Cape Cod catboats.
• Two Sisters, a cat-yawl designed by C.C. Hanley and built in 1927 in Quincy, Mass. The double rig “was chosen to keep the main boom inboard, to save reefing and because of the undoubted value of the spanker.”
• Cumbrae, designed in 1932 by Fenwick Williams. She’s an early 21-foot cruising cat laid out with berths, head and galley.
• Compromise, the only known catboat
design from the offices of Sparkman & Stephens, a 23-footer built in Freeport, N.Y., in 1951.
More catboat books are due to be released. The Catboat Association will
release a pictorial volume, “The Catboat in Newport,” this summer, according to association president Bob Luckraft. “The common thread in all this literature is the catboat,” says Luckraft. “It’s a
traditional boat that brings traditional people together from all walks of life.”
— Steve Knauth
Other stories in this package:
Part I : Catboat moments
Part II: The men who made the catboat
Part IV: Catboat builders