A few years back I made the decision to ditch my pressure-cooker job in favor of a midlife sailing hiatus. I went searching for my floating getaway machine, and given my modest economic status at the time, one name kept popping up: Catalina. “They sail well, and you get a lot of boat for your money,” the avuncular salesman kept repeating. “And,” he added with a wry smile, “they’re very forgiving.” Fourteen years and 30,000 miles later, I couldn’t agree with him more.
On the second day of a frantic search we found a 1992 C34 in a canal behind the house of an airline pilot in Punta Gorda, Florida, who wanted to buy a trawler. I liked what I saw: a long waterline, large sail area and lines leading aft for good singlehanding capability. Down below she had a roomy saloon and galley, and a comfortable V-berth—perfect for what I had in mind.
Bam! I signed the papers, cast off the lines and discovered that there’s a big difference between sailing a Hobie 16 and sailing a large keelboat. I remember well the knots in my stomach every time we left the dock and my frustrating attempts to avoid solid objects. How in the world, I wondered, was I ever going to manage such a huge boat?
The answer, of course, was lots of practice. Together with my girlfriend, Kanako, I christened her Ukiyo, Japanese for “the floating world.” And indeed, she was just that for the next two years, as Kanako and I were married on the foredeck and underway the same day. To my delight, Kanako quickly picked up the basics and stood her watches as we traveled through the Florida Keys and up the East Coast to the Chesapeake, anchoring and dodging hurricanes as we went. Before long it wasn’t just the two of us—along came two additional small crewmembers, and suddenly the boat wasn’t so huge anymore.
The C34 is a stiff vessel that sails and tacks well in all but the worst conditions. It feels great being at the helm when the wind is blowing hard and my family is down below, happily playing games in the saloon as I singlehand her on the ocean. And with Ukiyo’s shoal-draft wing keel, almost any part of the St. Johns River or the ICW is open to our excursions.
The wheel is easily accessible at the end of a huge walk-through-transom cockpit with a settee that’s perfect for evening sundowners, and the aft swing-down ladder makes for easy swimming. Most owners opt to install a full bimini, to which we added a 100-watt solar panel to top off the four golf cart batteries that serve as the house bank.
Quick deployment and retrieval of the tender is a must for most cruisers. From upside down on the foredeck to floating and ready to row is usually less than five minutes: just tie on the painter, give ‘er a heave over the lifelines, and off you go.
The ultra-reliable Universal M35 diesel is at 2,600 hours and counting; I found my basic mechanical skills were sufficient to perform all but the most difficult Nigel Calder-type maintenance and repairs, and there is easy access to the engine, stuffing box and bilge.
On the foredeck the Maxwell “back saver” windlass has faithfully retrieved the 35lb plow, and we carry a 120 percent roller furling genoa. Belowdecks the saloon is surprisingly roomy, with a full galley to starboard, head and shower to port, and private cabins fore and aft. The settee will seat six, and drops down to create a double bunk.
My only complaints with our floating world are that it’s slow under power and the rope anchor rode tends to wrap around the keel in a narrow tidal stream, but I’m sure converting to all chain would solve that conundrum.
Every used boat buyer must consider the continuity of a line: it affects everything from parts, to service, to resale. Many manufacturers have gone by the wayside over the years, but with 75,000 boats produced since its inception in 1969 and 21 models under production, it’s clear the Catalina brand will be around for the foreseeable future. And when it’s time to fix or replace parts, a very active online owners association has been there to help me through the process.
So the kids keep growing, and we keep sailing: me and my boat.
Robert Beringer’s first ebook, Water Power!, a collection of marine short stories, is available at barnesandnoble.com