Boat Review: Catalina 355

After the 2011 Annapolis Sailboat Show, I had the chance to spend the better part of a lovely fall afternoon sailing the Catalina 355 with her designer Gerry Douglas, who is in charge of production for the company. The wind was light on the Chesapeake Bay, so we hoisted the cruising reacher and jibed our way up Spa Creek, then explored the mouth of the Severn River, where the U.S. Naval Academy dominates the shoreline. The breeze was best at the mouth, so that’s where we sailed the new boat through all angles and got a feel for how it performs.

The 355’s T-shaped cockpit is remarkably large and useful for a boat of this size. The genoa or spinnaker winches are handy to the helmsman, while the running rigging from the mast, the main sheet and traveler controls run aft on the cabintop and are managed at two winches on either side of the companionway. The five-foot long traveler is mounted on the cabintop, where it is out of the way but easy to manage; being able to depower or power up the mainsail with the traveler controls adds a useful dimension to sailing and sail trim.

The reacher flies from a single-line roller furling device, so it is simple to hoist, roll out and then trim. The trick with sails like this is to maintain firm halyard tension when rolling the sail in and out and then ease the halyard to give the sail a nice full reaching shape. The 355 is equipped with a small demountable bowsprit from which you fly the reacher. This is a useful option, as it spreads out the sail plan and allows you to leave the reacher hoisted and rolled while sailing closer to the wind with the genoa rolled out.The 355’s genoa tracks are mounted on the inboard edge of the side decks, giving the rig close sheeting and tacking angles. In the light breeze that afternoon, we tacked easily inside 90 degrees. The genoa tracks are 13 feet long, so you have the ability to trim sails from the size of a small storm jib to a full 150 percent genoa. And, you have the flexibility to move the genoa cars fore and aft as you reef and unreef the roller furling headsail.

The cockpit on this 35-footer is comfortable. Four people can easily eat at the table, whileup to eight can lounge about having sundowners. The seats are shaped to catch your back comfortably and there are plenty of places to brace yourself when the boat heels. The observation seats built into the stern pulpits expand the cockpit’s useable space and are great places to while away hours.Gerry Douglas has given the 355 a low, nicely-shaped cabintop that manages to combine the need for headroom below decks with a low, sculpted look that is easy on the eye. The chainplates on the side decks are positioned inboard, so you don’t have to duck under or around the shrouds walking forward. The chainplates are “ball and socket” designs that are backed with heavy tie rods to the main bulkhead and hull for strength and water tightness. The Selden spar is deck-stepped and supported by a robust compression post that delivers down forces to the top of the keel; the post is built through the deck head to improve strength and keep water out of the cabin.The anchor locker forward is fully below decks and accessed via a large hatch that will keep most deck spray out. The back of the locker is a watertight collision bulkhead that will maintain the boat’s integrity even after a massive head-on encounter with a hard object. The locker is self-draining and has an electric windlass with up and down buttons for managing the anchor rode. The anchors fit neatly into stainless steel bow rollers that are integral with the stem head fitting. The small bowsprit can be mounted and de-mounted easily when you want to fly the cruising chute or reacher.Whether under sail or motoring in the calm evening, the 355 feels like a much bigger boat underfoot and handles surely and safely. The deck layout works well so you don’t get tangled in lines and sheets and those lounging in the cockpit can enjoy the experience without being in the way.

Once upon a time, 35 or 36 feet was considered optimum for a family cruising boat—it combines enough accommodations in a package that is easy for a couple with children to handle and comes at a price that doesn’t crush the family budget. Witness the incredible success of the Catalina 36. While times have changed and boats and owners’ expectations have become “supersized,” we still believe 35 or 36 feet can deliver a great cruising package.The new 355 proves our point. The cabin below has everything you need for comfortable cruising. The master cabin forward has a centerline queen size berth that you can partially walk around so you don’t have to climb over your partner when getting in and out of bed. The berth has a fun, electric tilting mechanism that allows you to sit up in bed as you watch TV or read.Under the double berth is a ton of storage in large drawers, plus ample hanging locker space for your cruising wardrobe. There is a large, offshore-quality foredeck hatch over the cabin, offering plenty of natural light and excellent ventilation.The guest cabin is aft to starboard and fits neatly under the cockpit. The double bunk lies athwartship, making great use of the space while providing a comfortable berth that is large enough for guests for a week or two. There is plenty of storage and hanging space for gear and clothing.The 355’s head is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, it is huge when compared to heads on most boats of this length. Tucked in under the cabin, port side deck and forward end of the cockpit, the head has a normal commode, designer sink and faucet, and shower stall that can be closed off with a clear door. The shower compartment allows you to bathe without drenching the rest of the head, plus it creates a great hanging space for wet foul weather gear. The 355 has a lot of great attributes, but our guess is that the shower stall will migrate to the top of the list of reasons couples decide to buy one.

The saloon in the 355 almost seems like an M.C. Escher visual trick; how did Gerry fit so much into the space without making it feel tight? There is even enough open floor space to work on your Dancing with the Stars moves. The dinette to starboard will seat four for a formal meal and six for cocktails. To port, two chairs are built in with a convertible table between them; the table can fold away to create a bench settee that will be a good extra berth or a fine sea berth for overnight passages.With a large overhead hatch, sleek side windows and opening ports, the saloon has a bright, well-ventilated ambiance that is made warm by the soft hues of the interior joinery. All interior lights are LEDs or fluorescent, so energy use will be low while the cabin will be well-illuminated and inviting during the evening.

That takes us to the galley, which is to starboard at the foot of the companionway stairs.U-shaped and equipped with a two-burner stove, oven, top and side loading refrigerator, and double stainless steel sink, the galley will work well while underway on both tacks. With opening ports nearby, the space will ventilate well and is handy to the cockpit, where many meals will be served.Finally, a small navigation table with an integral stowage place for a laptop is built in to port. Instruments can be mounted above the table and you can keep your computer up and running without worrying about it crashing to the floor. Since most of us navigate with either a chartplotter, a laptop, or even an iPad or smartphone, traditional chart tables are less and less an essential part of the accommodation plan. If you do lay out a chart (as you should), you can always do so on the dinette table.Somehow, and it seems almost slight-of-hand, Catalina has fit everything you need for coastal cruising and a bit of offshore sailing in the new 355. The living spaces are open and inviting, the storage is more than adequate for a couple with occasional guests, and the galley is well set up for those who enjoy cooking at anchor or underway.

The byword of the current economy has become “innovation.” Those who have failed to adapt are struggling and those who have used this era to redefine their product lines and services are finding that customers are still eager to buy and sail new boats.The new Catalina 355, following in the wake of the brand-shifting 445, is just such an innovation. The boat brings all of the essential quality and style that has made Catalina an American favorite and updates it with new, sleeker lines; finer, more sculpted moldings—particularly around the cockpit; and a creative rethink of interior spaces.The 355 we sailed on the Chesapeake Bay was a solid little sea boat that will give her owners many years of cruising comfort and good sailing in all conditions. And, she is a great example of the “new” Catalina fleet for the new age of sailing and cruising.

Catalina 355 LOA 35’5” LWL 30’2” Beam 11’11” Draft (fin) 6’8” Draft (wing) 4’6” Mast height 54’5” Ballast 5,200 (fin) 6,200 (wing)Displ.13,800 lbs. (fin) 14,800 (wing)Engine 20-hp. DieselWater 107 gals.Fuel 30 gals.Waste 22 gals.Sail area 572 sq. ft.(CA): 818-884-7700(FL): 727-544-6681 www.catalinayachts.com

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