Catalina’s 445, introduced in 2009, won multiple awards and attracted much interest from buyers. According to Catalina VP and design maven Gerry Douglas, the only complaint some potential buyers had was that the boat was a bit bigger than what they needed or could afford. Hence the straightforward design brief for Douglas’s new boat, the 355, introduced at the 2010 Annapolis boat show: scale down the 445 while retaining all its best features.
Unlike many designers who conceive mass-production cruising boats, Douglas actually uses the boats he creates, which has influenced many aspects of the 355’s design, starting with the cockpit, where there is a great emphasis on ergonomics.
The raised helm seat means most helmspeople won’t need to stand to see over the cabintop. Similarly, the bench seats on either side are set lower to keep the coamings behind them high enough to provide good back support. The chainplates for the stout twin backstays are pushed as far outboard as possible, so the stays won’t interfere with the space around the helm or the two comfortable stern pulpit seats on either side of the convenient walk-through transom.
To preserve the fabulous sightlines from the helm, the low-profile binnacle has enough room on its pedestal guard to mount a chartplotter that does not protrude above the top of the wheel. The winches and working lines are well positioned, and the cockpit itself is enormous. On our test sail we had five people working and lounging in the cockpit without getting in each other’s way, an impressive feature on a boat just 35 feet long.
Access from the cockpit to the sidedecks is superb. The cockpit locker to port is enormous, with a shelf that makes it easy to grab frequently used items. Douglas, an avid cyclist, notes with some pride that he intentionally made this locker deep enough to accommodate a full-size bicycle with its front wheel removed.
Other deck details I particularly liked were the 5-foot-long traveler on the coachroof just forward of the dodger and the long genoa tracks, features lacking on many production cruisers these days. Aesthetically, I found the boat’s topside and cabin profile pleasing, though not quite as attractive as the lankier 455.
As with the deck and cockpit, the emphasis below is on functionality. The trendy raised glass vanity sink in the head seems to belie this, but the reasoning behind it is entirely practical. By lowering the countertop and raising the sink, Douglas was able to create a nice dedicated shower space in the back of the head and have room for a bit of open counter space right around the sink.
Such attention to detail is evident throughout the accommodation plan. Storage space in the galley, for example, is more than adequate and is carefully crafted to accommodate the items most commonly stored there. To make the most of the minimal counter space, the reefer box next to the stove is both front and top loading so you can work on the top while cooking and still access perishables.
The one flaw in the galley plan is that the door to the aft stateroom blocks the stove when open, so anyone in there must be shut in while the cook is working. The stateroom itself, however, is well conceived. The roomy athwartship double is not buried in a mere slit-trench of a cave; there is plenty of light and air, thanks to the one port window and two opening hatches.
In the saloon, the twin captain chairs and table to port can be quickly converted into a full-length settee, and the folding “quad-leaf” table in the dinette to starboard is wonderfully versatile and useful. All storage areas under the settees can be quickly accessed without raising any cushions. Traditionalists may find the nav station a bit vestigial, but there is space to mount some electronics and just enough room on the desk to lay out a conventional chart book.
The most fabulous part of the interior is the master stateroom forward, which is lifted straight off the 455. It includes room for a full-size island double berth (complete with an articulated head that raises up at the touch of a button), a fair amount of open floor space and lots of private storage.
The fit and finish throughout the interior is above average, with solid wood joinery in all areas subject to routine chafe and abuse.
Conditions during our test sail were frustratingly light. Fortunately, the 355 (like its predecessor) has a nifty removable bowsprit for flying over-sized reaching and downwind sails. We hoisted a loose-luffed gennaker on a continuous furler and, when a breath of air did appear, quickly had the 355 moving along at a 5-knot clip. The steering was light and responsive; the boat easily fell into a groove.
In addition to the sprit, the 355 can carry a full-sized 155 percent genoa. Our boat had an in-mast mainsail with substantial vertical battens, which is the standard rig. Those who favor a conventional mainsail with more roach and slab reefing can specify one as an option.
Under power I found that the 355’s 29hp Yanmar diesel pushed the boat along in flat water at a little over 7 knots at full throttle. At a more reasonable 2,200 rpm, our cruising speed was about 5.5 knots. The turning radius is about 11/2 boatlengths, and the boat is very predictable and manageable when backing down.
Just as Douglas uses his boats, he also maintains them. Systems on Catalinas are thus arranged with an eye to access and servicing. All wiring on the 355 is laid out in conduits under the cabin sole. The engine’s fuel and oil filters are in a dedicated chest in the head. The main electrical panel, which is itself quite large, is augmented by an auxiliary panel so that extra electronics can be added easily. One detail I liked was the sight gauge on the generous-sized holding tank, which makes it possible to accurately assess when a pump-out is required.
Though not quite as attractive as the 445 or as roomy, the 355 packs an awful lot into a smaller package and is just as well designed. There’s enough room for a family or a pair of couples to live aboard for an extended period, and the boat is set up to sail well. Cockpit ergonomics are superb, and functionality generally is very good. Construction and finish are well above average for a mass-production boat.