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Classic catboat reborn with redesign

The gentle curve of the catboat’s cockpit seats follow the contour of the classic coaming, enhanced by a thin strip of wood molding. Beneath, mahogany seat posts, gracefully turned and varnished, hint at the ample storage space behind.

The centerboard trunk, capped by a smooth piece of low-luster varnish brightwork, emerges from a pair of louvered cabin doors, with a bronze cockpit drain in the sole on either side. A small engine box sits unobtrusively, housing the 10-hp auxiliary diesel beneath.

Geoff Masrshall of Marshall Marine in South Dartmouth, Mass., has brought back his father Breck's Sanderling catboat design with a new-and-improved cockpit.

The new one-piece, molded fiberglass cockpit that Geoff Marshall of Marshall Marine in South Dartmouth, Mass., has developed for the Sanderling 18 catboat looks as if it’s been there the whole time. That’s saying a lot, considering that the Sanderling is a 47-year-old design, an acknowledged classic already admired for its beauty and its performance, developed by an iconic catboater in Breck Marshall, who happens to be Geoff Marshall’s father.

Breck Marshall died in 1976, but the business stayed in the family until 1986 when they sold it to John Garfield, who had worked at Marshall Marine since 1970. Geoff Marshall took over from Garfield in 2006.

You need a good reason to mess with a classic design, and Geoff Marshall had three: add cockpit comfort, improve drainage and design an engine box for a new power plant. And by replacing the standard wood-and-fiberglass cockpit with an all-fiberglass, one-piece unit, he’s brought construction in line with current technology. The new Sanderling cockpit is also designed for easy, low-cost retro-fitting in older Sanderlings.

The project got off the ground last January, and the first boat with the new arrangement was launched in late May. The cockpit was first displayed in March at the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland and the response has been positive, says Marshall. He also is set to show off the new cockpit in boats Sept. 17-20 at the Newport (R.I.) International Boat Show and Oct. 8-12 at the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md.

“It’s been very well-received,” says Marshall, 43. “Of the six new 18s we did this year, four of them signed up because of the new cockpit.”

Marshall Marine staff includes (left to right) Mark Belanger, Chris White kneeling in boat, Bill Roderick and Geoff Marshall.

The old cockpit design just hadn’t kept up with the times, Marshall says. “A lot of the older 18s were coming back with rot in the soles, which were glassed-over-and-painted plywood,” he says. “I didn’t like the idea of repairing them when I could see they could [go bad] again down the road. I wanted to get something pretty much maintenance-free.”

A one-piece fiberglass, drop-in cockpit was the answer. With what amounted to a clean canvas, Marshall first altered the bench seats, now the same width all the way to the bulkhead, and with the seat bottom angled back slightly. He also added a water channel.

“The [old] seat had a straight edge so, with the shape of the cockpit coaming, it narrowed as it went forward. One of the most comfortable places to sit in a catboat is with your back leaning up against the bulkhead, and that’s where the seat was narrowest, which made it kind of uncomfortable. So I wanted to widen it at that point.”

He kept his father’s distinctive seat posts and the open stowage underneath, with fiddles to hold gear in place. “We thought about molded seats with cockpit lockers, but I think this is easier to get at,” says Marshall.

In the older boats, the cockpit scupper drains ran into the centerboard trunk and rubber stoppers were used to plug the holes when needed. “If you were sailing, you had to remember to put the plugs in,” says Marshall. “At rest, you had to take them out. Sometimes people would forget, one way or the other. Now the scuppers go out to the seacocks and you can leave them open.”

With the discontinuation of the standard Yanmar 1gm 10 inboard, Marshall saw an opportunity to pick another power plant and fit the new cockpit to it. He chose the Nanni N2.10, a 2-cylinder, 10-hp, naturally aspirated diesel made in France to replace the 1-cylinder Yanmar.

“The Nanni has same footprint as the Yanmar and the overall dimensions are virtually the same,” says Marshall. “It does weigh a little more, but it’s a natural fit and with its Kubota block, it’s a trusty engine.”

Marshall, sitting in the prototype boat (see sidebar) moored at the North Cove Yacht Club in Old Saybrook, Conn., says he’s pleased with the result. “There’s not much that we’d change if we had to do it again,” he says. “Part of the idea was to cost this to be the same as the old cockpit, and we’re right about on target.”

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This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the October 2009 issue.