Catalina 38 Review from Zuzana Prochazka

Catalina 38 Review

Zuzana Prochazka
Thursday, 10 March 2011 03:00
The Original Catalina 38 -The Boat I Would Have Bought ….The original Catalina 38 may have been the boat I’d be sailing now if I hadn’t bought the one I did…. How many times have you heard that on the dock? But you know, I really mean it when I say that ever since chartering one five or six years ago, I’ve been a huge fan of the old classic, the original Catalina 38. With its classic lines and terrific performance, this boat continues to hold a spot in the heart of many and actually has lived up to its promotional literature that boasted it having “enduring desirability.” As Doug Pease of Catalina Yacht Anchorage put it, “The legacy of this boat is that it brought an East Coast sensibility to the West Coast production market at the right time and at the right price.”Design, Construction and Performance
This boat was designed as a racer by Sparkman and Stephens and was originally put into production and sold as the Yankee 38. One look at its sleek lines and round tumblehome and you can tell it’s an S&S IOR design from the 70s. Some years later, Catalina bought the molds and Frank Butler made several changes including replacing the flush deck with a cabin house to make the boat more appealing to a coastal cruising market.

These boats were bare boned at first and definitely racing oriented with tillers instead of the Edson wheel steering that was introduced later and gas engines instead of the 4 cylinder Universal diesels that became standard. The interior originally consisted of pipe berths and none of the teak veneer and teak trim that later made the accommodations more appealing. Together, these changes brought the boat into the racer-cruiser category, fit for both, a racing crew or a cruising family, and it became so popular that some 365 hulls were produced primarily between 1979 and 1989. The boat even became a famous Congressional Cup contender for many years.

The hull was originally a two-piece construction with a poured lead keel. Two pieces, because unlike the designs of today, that kind of a tumblehome would make it impossible to get the boat out of the mold once laid up. The broad beam of over 11 feet is swept gracefully back to a narrow wineglass transom. The original S&S design included a very sleek swept back keel design that maximized good performance to weather. Catalina later offered an optional shoal draft version to expand to a market that may have been draft restricted. The keel-stepped, double spreader, high aspect ratio rig and fine entry made the 38 extremely fast to weather and able to outpoint many competitors of its time.

Standard equipment lists varied over the decade that the 38 was sold. Propellers were either two or three bladed fixed props, standard winches became self-tailing, and deck hardware came from different manufacturers depending on the purchasing agents. But the 38 remained mostly intact and sold very well for over 10 years, which speaks volumes about its design and appeal.

Layout and Accommodations
The walk through on this boat is representative of its time and its heritage. Aft of the anchor locker is a comfortable vee berth followed by a head and shower combination to port with a hanging locker to starboard. The saloon follows with a U-shaped settee to port and a straight settee to starboard.

The galley originally came with a two-burner stove, a double sink and an icebox that many owners later replaced with true refrigeration.

The nav station is just forward of the quarter berth (which forms the nav seat) on starboard. At a stretch, the boat can sleep 7, but I believe it’s a perfect design to drink 6, eat 4 and sleep 2.

Still Out There Racing and Cruising
It’s much debated today but it’s rumored that the last of the 38s actually came out of the mold in 1989 and may have been sold in 1990. They seem to have been supplanted by the original Catalina 36 that ran concurrently with the S&S design in the mid 80s, but the more modern boats finally won out because they provided the market with a more sought after layout including a separate aft cabin instead of a quarter berth and a wider transom and cockpit for more room and cruising comfort.

The racing and cruising heritage of these boats goes on in this design that has lead a very healthy life. Today, there still are regattas that focus on these boats that have performed consistently in club races and done very well in PHRF races and in the Newport Ensenada over the years. I took one out for the Crew of Two Regatta around Catalina Island and I’d say no succeeding Catalina design, except for the 42, has been able to beat the old 38 for upwind speed and overall performance.

There are many of the old classics still out there in Southern California and even far beyond in Florida and Mexico. They typically range in price from 25,000 to $45,000 which is remarkable since they sold around 70-80K when new. Several boats listed on Yachtworld, including those listed by Dana Island Yachts and Sailboats Inc., are exceptionally well equipped and clearly have been cared for and upgraded by knowledgeable owners. Catalina Yacht Anchorage broker Charlie Segal tells of selling one particular boat that was taken to the South Pacific and back only to be bought and taken to the South Pacific again by its next owner, which is amazing although perhaps not considered in its design brief.

Many boats have made their way into Mexico and the Caribbean and although I’ll be the first to agree that this was primarily designed as a coastal boat, with some beefing up of old rigging and other deck hardware and systems, I would not hesitate to take this very successful design on a cruise south or north. For anyone who wonders how they could ever take some time off and fund an adventure, whether locally in the Channel Islands, north up the Coast or down to Mexico, this boat is a great value that will let the dreamer go small and go now. And although I love my current boat, as I see myself write these words, I think that would have been the boat I would have bought had I not bought the one I did…..

LOA 38’ 2”
LWL 30’ 3”
Beam 11’ 10”
Sail Area 639 sq ft
Draft 6’ 9”
Ballast 6,850 lbs
Displacement 15,900 lbs
Ballast/Displacment 43%
Displacement to Length 257
Sail Area/Displacement 16.2

3 Responses to “Catalina 38 Review from Zuzana Prochazka”

  1. mlewis says:


    Thank you for a fine discription of our lovely boats. I purchased hull #6 in Long Beach, on December 7th, 2010 (Pearl Harbor Day). It’s been a labor of love restoring her. My “punch” list is down to 19 items and about $5,000 of improvements (major items like tiller to wheel conversion, and hauling to repair and paint the bottom). I have raced with Larry Malmberg on his Catalina 38 “Hassel”. We came in 3rd in the race to the border, and will be competing in the Newport/Encinada race this weekend. She does point to windward well, and is fast when properly handled. There is a Sports Illustrated article from March of 1980 that features my boat winning the Congressional Cup (formerly named Pokai). Ted Turner and Conners were skippers then.

    Bluewater #6

  2. Mark ODell says:

    BTW…. here is that Article in SI that you mentioned, Mark. Pretty cool.

    March 24, 1980
    Split Sail, Split-second Victory
    The Congressional Cup was decided by a torn spinnaker and the blink of an eye
    Coles Phinizy

  3. mlewis says:

    Decided to keep the name Pokai, instead of Bluewater. Just too much history to let go of. Mark Pokai #6

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