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Catalina 390

2001 May 7
The Catalina 390 is the impressive new flagship of the company's cruiser series. This series also includes the 320, 34 MK II, 36 MK II and the 380. Like all Catalinas, the 390 offers a generous combination of performance, comfort and practical accommodations. From the cheerful three-stateroom interior, to the spacious cockpit, to the easy-to-handle sailplan that also provides plenty of punch, the Catalina 390 appeals on many levels. Which, of course, is not much of a surprise. Frank Butler, the founder of Catalina Yachts, has had his finger on the pulse of the American sailboat market for more than 30 years.

While most builders dream of production runs that might, if the stars align just right, hit three digits, Catalina routinely produces models that sell in the thousands. Last year the company launched hull No. 2,000 of the venerable Catalina 36. The old Catalina 30 just may be the best-selling sailboat ever in the 30-foot and up category. One key reason for purchasing a new Catalina is that the company makes a commitment to each boat it builds: Your model won't be replaced or outdated before you've had a chance to thoroughly enjoy it. And enjoyment is what the Catalina 390 is all about.

Eastern Yacht Sales of Riviera Beach, Florida, made hull No. 6 available for a SAILING Magazine boat test on Biscayne Bay after the recent Strictly Sail Miami boat show in February. The setting was ideal. The southeast trade wind was warm and steady, but it hardly caused a ripple on the surface of the well-protected turquoise shallows. As we glided past the shimmering glass buildings that line Brickel Avenue, it didn't require a lot of imagination to feel rich and famous.

The details
The Catalina 390 has a modern hull shape, including a fairly long waterline with flat underbody sections that allow the boat to carry quite a bit of displacement while maintaining the option of shoal draft. We sailed the wing-keel model with a draft of just 4 feet, 10 inches. The fin keel, which is designed for the West Coast no doubt, pushes the draft to more than 7 feet. The displacement of the wing keel model is 19,500 pounds, 500 pounds more than the fin version. Interestingly, the new 390 displaces just about the same as the larger Catalina 400. By the numbers the 390 falls squarely into the cruiser category with a sail area/displacement ratio of around 16 for the standard rig (as opposed to the optional tall rig) and a fairly hefty displacement/length ratio of 290 for the wing-keel model. The beam is 12 feet, 4 inches and is carried well aft, creating room for twin aft cabins, a huge cockpit and an extra-wide stern step.

The hull of the 390 is solid fiberglass and hand laminated, primarily of biaxial knitted fabric. The deck is balsa cored. The hull-and-deck joint incorporates a small molded bulwark. Catalina employs many molded sections and liners in the 390. The fiberglass subsole grid section is engineered to absorb the loads of the keel and rig and also provide athwartship support. Chainplate tie rods that can be seen in the saloon are connected to this structural member. The ballast is externally fastened with stainless steel bolts that can be accessed from a small sump area in the saloon. Catalina offers a five-year warranty against blisters and structural hull damage.

The cockpit of the 390 is functional and comfortable. Unlike other production builders, Catalina has not abandoned the bridgedeck. This raised section is an important safety feature in heavy weather and keeps errant waves from slopping into the cabin. The cockpit seats are long enough to stretch out on and offer good lumbar support when seated. A large drop-leaf centerline table is perfect for cockpit dinners. There are four storage lockers of various sizes and a dedicated locker for the propane canisters. The aft cabin hatches also open into the cockpit for much needed ventilation below. The stern pulpit houses two rail seats, and the swim step includes a hot-and-cold water shower and a couple of storage lockers.

On deck
Catalina's typical low profile cabintrunk translates into excellent visibility from the helm, even with a spray dodger in place. Leaning outboard, the 40-inch Edson Destroyer wheel is easily reached, as are the self-tailing Lewmar sheet winches. All sail controls are led aft to a series of clutches on the cabintrunk. The test boat was well outfitted with Garhauer deck gear including a mainsheet traveler system that could be adjusted through the dodger. The 390 features midboom sheeting; indeed, the traveler is forward of the companionway and the sheet is actually forward of the boom midpoint. As much as I appreciate keeping the cockpit free of the mainsheet clutter, the load on the boom is accentuated when the wind pipes up.

Our test boat was also fitted with a Schaefer roller-furling headsail system and a Charleston Spars furling mast. The latter is a $3,100 option. I have learned to acknowledge the advantages of furling mains, especially if you sail shorthanded. While nobody disputes the loss of sail shape and area by having your mainsail cut for a furling system, the advantages of easily flying the right amount of sail often make up for the lack of sail shape. This is especially true in Florida during the summer when squally conditions prevail. After a few squalls lay you low you tend to reef the main and plod along undercanvassed until the next squalls arrive. With a furling main, it isn't a big deal to unfurl the sail during the lulls and shorten up again as the sky darkens.

The decks of some cruising boats are like an obstacle course, making any movement awkward and dangerous. The Catalina 390, however, has wide side decks with its shrouds set well inboard, which make moving about a pleasure. Stout stainless steel grab rails are mounted on the cabintrunk for security. The stanchions are well supported but they are a bit short. There is a large external chain locker forward and a standard electric winch. The foot switch is in the locker, offering a bit of protection from the elements. A single anchor roller extends well off the bow helping to keep the rode clear of the topsides, however, the roller may need some additional support. The standing rigging includes 5/16-inch wire on the upper and lower shrouds and 1/4-inch wire on the intermediate stay. The terminals are swage fittings. Catalina has interesting turnbuckle covers that keep sharp-edged cotter pins from causing trouble, eliminating the need for rigging tape.

Down below
The three-stateroom interior plan is something of a departure for Catalina in its under-40-foot lineup. And while the plan seems a bit crowded when examined on paper, once you drop below you see immediately that it really works. The owner's stateroom is forward. It includes a vanity, a large double berth and plenty of storage. By adding a sink in the vanity, the need for a space-grabbing second head was eliminated. The saloon features a dinette arrangement to port and a settee opposite. A clever drop-down table turns the settee into a perfect spot for a game of cards, or a mobile office. The settee also provides the seat for the aft-facing nav station. It is interesting to note that many new designs have scaled back the nav stations, and although I don't like this practice, it makes sense. With GPS, chart plotters and cockpit-mounted instruments, the nav station is just not the shrine it used to be on cruising boats. The dinette table drops to form another bunk, although it hardly seems necessary as the standard arrangement sleeps seven. The table could use some fiddles.

The galley is superb. Twin sinks on the centerline will drain on either tack. A gimbaled three-burner stainless steel stove and oven is outboard to port. The microwave locker is directly above the stovetop. Lockers above the stove and below the sink provide adequate storage. Twelve-volt refrigeration is standard and the icebox can be accessed from the top or through a convenient front-opening door. The icebox is fitted with an overboard discharge pump, a very useful feature. Also, an excellent practical idea is the rubber nonskid sole in the galley. It provides the cook with firm footing and is easy to clean.

The head is opposite the galley. It includes a separate stall shower and enough elbowroom to actually dress afterward. Three water tanks add up to 85 gallons. If you intend to take long hot showers you might have to increase the tankage, or add a watermaker for long-distance cruising. The plumbing system features corrosion-free Marlon seacocks. The aft two staterooms are identical, each with large doubles and hanging lockers. While this arrangement would be perfect for me, since it provides a private cabin for both daughters, for many I suspect that one cabin will turn into a storage area. The teak veneer is varnished and beautifully accents the many white laminated surfaces. Catalina has added several nice touches to the 390, including window shades and spring mattresses on the berths. Ventilation includes six hatches and opening portlights.

Our test boat was fitted with a three-cylinder, 40-horsepower Yanmar diesel. Access to the engine is excellent from behind the companionway and through both aft cabins. The stuffing box is also readily accessible although the 390 comes standard with a dripless model that needs little servicing. A two-blade bronze prop is standard and our test boat had an optional three-blade prop. I dropped below as we motored away from the dock and was impressed at the lack of noise and vibration.

Under sail
Back on the bay we shut down the engine and unfurled the sails. The standard headsail is 135 percent. The standard rig has an air draft of 56 feet and a sail area of 719 square feet. The tall rig is 4 feet higher and adds 52 feet of sail area to the equation. The standard rig moves the 390 smartly in 10 to 12 knots of true breeze. Sailing a close reach we angled south. Of course the ride was incredibly smooth due to the ideal conditions. We sheeted the headsail in and hauled up the traveler. I was impressed with Garhauer traveler; it was easy to adjust under load. The inboard shrouds allowed the 390 to point inside of 35 degrees apparent and we cleared an Intracoastal Waterway marker with room to spare.

Cracking off the wind, we pushed 6 knots on a moderate reach. Win Cooper, our photographer's father, was impressed with visibility through the dodger. An active racer, Win liked the feel of the boat. "It tracks nicely," he noted while observing our wake. The steering was finger-tip easy as we ambled back toward downtown Miami. We brought the boat through the wind, tacking quickly and requiring not much more than a boat length. The clean deck is an asset for efficient tacking. We set a course toward Government Cut and the open Atlantic. Unfortunately, we couldn't accompany the delivery crew on the 70-mile sail up the coast to Palm Beach, although the offer was quite tempting.