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Catalina 380

1997 September 7

Competent and thoughtfully designed midsize cruiser

The routine SouthernCalifornia day-bright sunshine, light wind from the west and a slight nip in the air-provided the perfect conditions to test sail the latest addition to Catalina's line. The Catalina 380 fills a gap between its 36- and 40-foot designs and is aimed at experienced sailors anxious to trade up in size, perhaps with a longer cruise in mind, or when a growing family calls for more ambitious plans.

Catalina's new 38-footer follows the successful design trends pioneered in the 320 and 400: minimal overhangs, elliptical keel, large cockpit and substantial beam carried aft to a reversed stern. An owner can choose a shallow-draft wing keel or a fin configuration without extra charge. Like her close relatives, the new design has a double-spreader rig with an inboard shroud base, allowing for narrow sheeting angles and large genoas. She's a striking yacht with high topsides and careful use of sheerlines to give a sense of grace and speed. At the same time she imparts a sense of profound competence, an indefinable quality born of careful design which some yachts exude the moment you step aboard. I felt at home, partly because of Catalina's proven design formula and also because the length and size of the boat appealed to me.

I explored the deck from stem to stern. Catalina's deck layouts are famous for their thoughtful design and efficiency. The 380 is no exception. The cockpit is sinfully large with excellent all-round visibility, a large Edson pedestal 40-inch wheel and permanent folding cockpit table. Engine controls and electronics are at the wheel, the latter in a convenient pod in front of the compass. All the sailing controls are relatively close to hand, the mainsail being controlled with a double-ended sheet and a low profile ball-bearing main traveler by Garhauer atop the low cabinhouse. Two Lewmar 58 self-tailing winches provide ample power for handling genoas of all sizes. This is a comfortable cockpit in a bumpy sea or on a long slog to windward, with plenty of places to jam oneself in.

Comfy in the cockpit
Even short-statured crewmembers can wedge their feet against the sturdy cockpit table. Every detail is just right. There's room to sunbathe, plenty of room so people don't get in each other's way when short tacking, and even a couple of fiberglass seats on either side of the stern pulpit where you can sit and contemplate the world. From the aft end of the cockpit, you step down onto the stern platform with its two large storage lockers for diving equipment, hot and cold running water and a retractable boarding ladder.

The wide side decks and cabinhouse are finished with textured nonskid and are designed to avoid sliding uncontrollably when the boat heels, a common problem on broad-beamed yachts. You can work your way forward in a few seconds without catching on the shrouds. The halyards and reefing lines lead aft to convenient stoppers, while the foredeck comes with a recessed anchor locker, electric windlass with foot switch and a sturdy anchor roller. There is a meticulous attention to detail on deck. The boat comes with midships cleats for spring lines, stainless steel grab handles on the cabintop, and a refreshing lack of obstacles to catch flapping sheets. And nirvana, the Z-spar mast comes complete with two folding steps which allow you to climb up to reach the main halyard or put the sail cover on.

Catalina manufactures its own sails which include the standard full-batten main, equipped with standard Dutchman furling system, and a 135-percent genoa with Schaefer roller furler. Everything attests to refinement honed over thousands of miles of sailing by Catalina owners on boats of all sizes, and to the design team's constant monitoring of skippers' feedback, a strong point of this manufacturer's approach to the marketplace.

In the galley
You step down from the cockpit into a large galley and navigation area with nonskid sole. The L-shaped galley with double sink and three-burner propane stove with oven lies to port. I imagined cooking comfortably at sea in this thoroughly workable space, with large storage lockers outboard of the cooking area and a standard refrigerator/ice box accessible from both front and top just aft of the stove. A deep locker and plenty of counter space make food preparation and cleanup easy, as does a small counter-top butcher-block surface, which tilts straight into a trash chute, a convenient feature rarely seen on yachts of this size. The test boat had an optional microwave oven neatly installed above the stove. There are 96 gallons of water stored in three tanks.

The teak-finished navigation station lies opposite, complete with a comfortable swivel chair, a hinged chart table and ample space for any of Catalina's optional electronics packages-or any other navigational gadgetry the owner desires. A large, well-labeled electrical panel faces the navigator, making wiring an easy task. The main battery and anchor windlass switches are under the chart table. This arrangement is a trifle inconvenient, especially for elderly skippers. But the batteries themselves are admirably accessible in a special locker in the galley sole.

Gerry Douglas and hisCatalina design team have paid careful attention to ventilation. The 380 comes with nine opening hatches which provide a steady flow of air through the interior, even in winds of 5 knots or less. The 380's 12-foot beam and 6-foot, 9-inch headroom create a large interior. The airy saloon is finished in varnished teak with teak sole, the bulkheads setting off the white deckhead and cabinhouse sides very tastefully.

The saloon is comfortable with a dinette arrangement and table to port and a long, comfortable berth to starboard. Long bookshelves and convenient stashing spaces line the cabin sides, with a convenient grab handle set to starboard for standing crewmembers. So many production yachts these days resemble condominiums below.Catalina has resisted the temptation and instead has designed a marvelous saloon that combines comfort and a nice feeling of homeliness with a thoroughly practical layout for serious passagemaking.

Stateroom deluxe
The staterooms lie at both ends of the yacht, effectively forming two private sleeping areas for two couples. The owner's cabin aft has an oversized double berth with numerous storage bins and lockers within easy reach. Two comfortable upholstered seats flank the foot of the bed (not a berth in the classic sense), with hanging lockers to port and starboard. Two opening hatches provide extra airiness as well as direct access to the cockpit in an emergency, apparently a recent European safety requirement. The hatches lie under hinged cockpit seats so they do not obtrude on deck. The extra light meant I did not feel claustrophobic when I lay down on the bed, unlike in many aft cabins in smaller yachts. You enter the aft cabin to port; the single head to starboard can be entered from either the cabin or the saloon. Like allCatalina heads, this is a thoughtfully designed molded compartment that is easily cleaned. The test boat had an enclosed shower stall with an acrylic door. No mess, no splashing. A nice touch is the aluminum trim that lines the doorways below, providing a nice darker color contrast and preventing nicks in the wooden edges.

The forward stateroom features a large V-berth with center insert, a wash basin to port and hanging locker to starboard-a comfortable environment for a couple or two children even on a long cruise. Inevitably, with only 38 feet to play with, you lose some space here compared with a larger boat, but there's plenty of privacy and room to sit down. A wooden panel up forward gives easy access to the anchor windlass, should service be necessary.

Setting sail
On a winter weekday Marina del Rey is nice and peaceful, the ideal arena for a test sail. We had 5 to 8 knots from the west, a fickle breeze that funneled between the buildings, making for a true test of a larger boat's sailing capabilities. The 380 reveled in the calm conditions. Moments after we unrolled the genoa, she heeled slightly and tracked effortlessly to windward at 4 to 5 knots. A gentle puff in more open water: She heeled slightly more, then stiffened and accelerated without fuss. Catalina can supply a taller rig, giving you an additional 47 square feet of sail area, but I felt no need for it with a performance this good in light wind. This is a powerful, weatherly rig that can carry sail in strong winds. I estimated you would pull down the first reef in about 15 to 18 knots and move like a train. We turned on a broad reach, trimming the sails with nice precision from the helm: little wake, progress without fuss and a fine all-round view. We covered ground surprisingly quickly.

The wind flattened so we lowered sail and fired up the 42-horsepower Westerbeke diesel for the ride home. The 380 powers quietly with no vibration, accelerating rapidly to a cruising speed in the 7- to 7.5-knot range. You could cruise all day at 2,000 rpm and only sip fuel. The 380 has a 30-gallon tank.

No vibrations
Some tricky right-hand turns into the slip revealed superb maneuverability at close quarters under power. I would be curious to see how this boat with high topsides performs under power in a strong crosswind, but I am sure it is a matter of experience with throttle and wheel. You certainly have plenty of power in reserve.

The Catalina 380 is an exceptionally refined production yacht with the high standard of finish and design one has come to expect from this manufacturer. She offers exceptional value to owners looking for a larger boat less than 40 feet, and who have relatively ambitious cruising plans in mind.