Catalina has long been the largest All-American family cruiser company, building what sailors might call “standard” boats. Moving up from the popular 30ft to 45ft sizes puts the company into “yacht” territory, and the new Catalina 545, winner of the SAIL magazine 2020 Best Boats award for “Best Monohull Flagship,” adds some real innovations to its traditional features.
DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
The obvious new feature of the Catalina 545 is found at the sheer, where designer/builder Gerry Douglas incorporates a molded box-beam collar to replace the conventional hull/deck joint, toerail, stanchion bases, scuppers and anchor platform, all at once. It’s one of those ideas that makes you slap your forehead and ask, “Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Besides providing great strength and rigidity, the collar adds a smooth integrated sheerline to the hull and conceals a set of scupper drains, which carry any water that collects on deck to below the waterline, thereby eliminating topside stains. The bowsprit also no longer has an added-on appearance but extends cleanly forward as a kind of extension of the overall hull structure. Perhaps we will see future Catalinas built with sheer-line collars as well.
The forestay extends nearly to the masthead, and a large light-air headsail can be easily attached to the tip of the anchor platform. The tall mast is stepped on the keel, not the deck, and those more technically minded might be tempted to install a clear plastic door in the forward cabin to display the gorgeous turnbuckles and chainplates. The high air draft and moderately deep keel mean this is will not be an Intracoastal Waterway boat.
The electrical system is simple, neat and conventional, with individually wired circuits leading to breakers on a regular panel. Douglas values easy maintenance and cited reports of troublesome distributed systems on other builders’ boats as his reason for doing wiring the “old fashioned” way.
The big house battery bank is easy to reach through a large hatch in the saloon sole. There is also excellent access to all filters and through-hulls for the engine.
The detailing aboard the Catalina 545’s deck is a testament to the builder’s experience and attention to customer feedback. The cockpit seats and deck, for example, are all at the same level and backrests are low, making movement in and out of the cockpit that much safer and easier. A steel railing, not a wire lifeline, wraps around the cockpit and extends well forward. Secure handrails provide grab points the rest of the way to the bow, and that same sheerline collar creates a high toerail/bulwark to help keep crew aboard as they make their way along the expansive side decks.
The cockpit is designed for shorthanded sailing, with control lines leading to powered winches near the twin wheels. It will also be easy to thread new lines for various headsails through the oversize covers. The controls, sightlines, seating and helm position all seem right for an average-size sailor.
The thoughtful layout works at anchor, too. The big teak cockpit table, for example, includes a fridge and is easily removable for varnishing/maintenance over the winter. Similarly, the starboard-side seat flips up to create a berth for sleeping under the stars.
The huge anchor locker includes carbon-fiber partitions to reduce weight while retaining maximum strength. It also serves as a crash compartment, being fully isolated from the rest of the hull.
Astern, the dinghy garage is also kept completely separate from the hull for safety. There’s excellent access to the rudder post and steering cables inside. With the hydraulic transom platform in the raised position, a set of handy steps molded into its slightly reverse outward face ensures it's still easy to climb aboard.
The overall impression of the Catalina 545 interior is of a simple, light, pretty apartment with quality teak and maple furnishings. The plentiful portlights, clear hatches and big square hull windows all have light-darkening shades. It’s all distinctly American, although I cannot explain how the designer achieved that effect.
The saloon includes plenty of room for eight people in two areas, with movable hassocks for added seating and a starboard settee that pulls out to form a double berth. A pretty dropleaf table and a large motorized combination TV/nav display rises from a low bulkhead complete the setting.
An efficient galley to port has stowage and fridge/freezer capacity for extended cruising. There are two small step-downs to the galley and the aft cabins, bothersome tripping points until you get used to them, but also necessary for headroom.
The owner’s cabin forward features a queen-size berth on a center island with clear access to the sides, a reading nook and an abundance of stowage. The port aft cabin of our test boat had a double berth, while the starboard aft cabin sported a pair of motorized twin berths that could whir together to form a double.
Douglas designs boats for sail reduction at around 15 knots, but we would not have that on the bright, clear autumn day of our test sail off Annapolis, Maryland. Instead, it was a pleasant, easy sail with 8 to 10-knot winds, gradually dropping to around 5 knots. I would be the first reviewer to sail this boat, which was untuned and still in its final assembly stage having just made its debut at the Annapolis boat show.
I measured 5.8 knots of boatspeed close-hauled before the wind dropped. The boat handled well, but the fluky wind precluded being able to accurately gauge our tacking angles. Our test boat had a roller-furling 135 percent genoa and an in-mast furling mainsail. The double-ended German mainsheet system worked well. I liked having all the controls to hand at the helm and completely clear of the guest area farther forward in the cockpit. The uncluttered space stretching between the transom and companionway will make daysailing with friends delightful.
Many thanks to Catalina for putting the tachometer up on the steering pedestal within easy view! All too many builders overlook this important detail. A 2,800 rpm setting produced 8 knots of boatspeed, while a wide-open throttle added another knot. There was a bit of prop vibration, and the noise level was higher than normal for a boat this size. Douglas said he plans to add more soundproofing to the engine compartment.
The turning circle was just one boatlength, and the boat stopped accurately, although it tended to kick markedly to port in reverse. This was easily solved aboard our test boat, however, thanks to a massive double jet-drive thruster system that moved both bow and stern, slipping the vessel in any direction, including sideways.
The Catalina 545 is an attractive, competent, comfortable coastal cruiser that can go offshore with ease—a straightforward, well-planned vessel that should take a couple or a family many miles with only simple maintenance.
LOA 56ft 2in LWL 50ft 6in
BEAM 15ft 6in DRAFT 6ft 3in
SAIL AREA 1,350ft2 (100% FT)
FUEL/WATER (GAL) 130/225
ENGINE 115hp Yanmar
Ballast Ratio 39
SA/D Ratio 20
What do these ratios mean? Visit sailmagazine.com/ratios
DESIGNER Gerry Douglas
BUILDER Catalina Yachts, Woodland Hills, CA, catalinayachts.com