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FAQ: C34 Offshore Capable?

Catalina describes the C34 as a "coastal cruiser." Is it safe to take C34s offshore? What exactly is needed for an offshore-capable" sailboat? 

There are quite a number of books written on this subject, as well as a lot of people with experience in the matter, nevertheless, I can touch on some examples that may reflect on the character of an offshore boat...The ports should be small and very sturdy.  The forward hatch on most Catalinas is a lightweight Bomar that a 200 lb. person could probably go right through if he jumped on it hard.  If the top third of a 20' wave breaks onto the foredeck, it would likely also go through the hatch.  Bomar representatives will confirm that the model Catalina uses is not in their ocean series. All exterior lockers and all interior lockers should have latches.  The boat should be able to suffer a knockdown to 100 degrees without having the contents thrown all about the boat.  Heavy canned goods should be able to be trapped in low lying lockers. here needs to be great attention paid to the routing of all wires, hoses, and cables.  Just stringing the lines between a molded floor pan and the hull invites pinching wires between the two under heavy pounding conditions.   After a few hours or days of that an electrical short or fire s possible.  If you look over the engine compartment in a good ocean voyager you will find almost fanatical attention to double clamps, hose routings, and zero occurrences of hoses rubbing or flexing with stress concentrations. Cockpit should be small and drainage needs to be excellent.  A cockpit  should hold very little water when dumped upon and should be able to drain out in seconds. Many offshore boats have provisions for a trysail.   A tiny but very rugged sail that is hung on a separate track. One of the more important qualities is the angle of stability.  All boats are very content to stay upright or to sit at 180 degrees (upside down). The angle of stability is the angle where the torque is neutral, the dividing point between wanting to come up to 0 degrees or continue down to 180 degrees.  Some beamy cruisers have an angle of stability at 110 or 120 degrees.  A knockdown that takes them beyond that angle will normally result in a 360.  Deep keels and narrow beam on an ocean cruiser can take the angle of stability to 130 or even 150 degrees.  A boat like that will take a very nasty knockdown, yet be unlikely to finish the job with a 360. I think most boats doing a 360 in rough water are unlikely to come up with rigging intact. These are just a few examples of offshore qualities.  As was said before, many people do long distance cruising in Catalina and similar boats.  Given short hops in good weather windows, or extended cruising in safe areas, this can be perfectly safe.  Never the less, there are differences between coastal cruisers and open ocean vessels and Frank has not yet put the big C on a true blue water cruiser (Greg Jackson). 

Here in Hawaii we sail in rough conditions ( force 5 - 8/12 seas typically ) . My 1990 C34 was used as a coastal cruiser for six years and had structural problems with the offshore conditions here, The forward quarter panels needed reinforcing ( oil-canning   ) , the floors had shear cracks at the turn of the bilge , and the bulkheads were either screwed in ( worked ) or had inadequate tabbing ( popped ). The keel connection failed in a moderate grounding ( insufficient matt to spread load into the bilges , no backer plates on the keel bolts ).The hull to deck joint  is very strong and holds up very well.The rig (tall) and her unusual chain plates ( Alum angles ) are probably over designed.There are a lot of Catalinas here that have sailed long distances but most of the owners I've talked to acknowledge the Catalinas limitations.  I put a lot of sea miles on mine and enjoyed her immensely. The boat for the price has value . But modification for extended offshore work is probably not worth it and would spook me (Hal Hallonquist, Hence, # 1106). 
Catalinas can and have been taken offshore.  They will require significantly more modification and preparation than a boat designed from the start for that purpose.    As has been said where, when, how long and how frequently you plan to go offshore matters will affect how the boat is prepared.  Although a  20' Pacific Seacraft Flicka is very strongly and heavily built (amazing for its size) there's something to be said for the added speed and waterline length of a larger, well prepared   coastal cruiser.  On the other hand, once you make all the appropriate modifications, you may have increased your investment to the point that you could have purchased a boat designed from the start to go offshore. As has been mentioned, the size of the cockpit and the companionway opening are areas of concern if you were to take solid water over the transom. Covering the lower two-thirds or so of the companionway or providing a method of positively locking in the companionway boards will help. Additional and/or enlarged scuppers are nice.  Building in a locker/cabinet to form a bridge deck in front of the companionway will reduce the cockpit volume. Strengthening the rig would be desirable as would increasing fuel, cooking fuel, water and battery capacities.   Plywood shutters should be on hand to protect all ports (especially the ones in the hull) and hatches in the event they are smashed.  Mechanical self steering would also be advisable since they are more reliable than electronic autopilots.  You'll need a properly sized and mounted offshore life raft, first aid and emergency supplies, offshore flares and an EIPRB.  I'm no expert in this but I understand that a Catalina's bulkheads are not fully glassed to the hull and significant structural integrity by doing so.  Of course you'll need proper  sails and storm sails with an additional mast track for a storm trysail.  An  inner forestay and running backstays is a good idea for an offshore boat   You'll want a single sideband radio so you'll need to install backstay insulators for the antenna and the best possible ground plate.   You may want to strengthen the forward most bulkhead and add a stainless steel protector at the bow in case of collision.  You may need to modify berths to make   adequate sea berths.  Make sure you have enough handholds above and below decks and provision for safety harnesses and  jack lines. This is only a partial list.  Just a few things that happened to come to mind.  It comes down to what is reasonable and prudent and how much risk you want to take.  Since you can't really build it too strong the question is how  strong is strong enough?  Some of today's ocean racers probably aren't very safe boats to take offshore and there have been some well publicized disasters.  Be considerate.  Don't forget that if you run into trouble you're  going to put others at risk to rescue you.  I thought about sailing my C34 to Bermuda.  Decided that it could be done  relatively safely but there are other boats I'd rather do it on (Bob Greenhaus). 
In the San Francisco Bay area there is a Catalina 30 that, without major modifications, was sailed single-handed for some years through the South Pacific and then returned.   There was no major damage to the boat throughout her voyage.  A 36 recently completed the TransPac from LA to Hawaii with no major damage.  It might be noted that several custom race boats lost their masts near the beginning of this year's race and there were a few who lost  rudders.  We are taking our 34 on the Pacific Cup.   It has been through 50+  knot winds and high seas off the coast of California without damage.  True, the situation we were in lasted only overnight, but the boat did handle it well.  There was a single-handed round the world voyage, I believe in 1981, with a slightly beefed up Catalina 27. True, the boats are built for "coastal cruising", but the lay-up appears good, the hulls are solid glass, and particularly the newer models have solid rigging attachments.  I have raced on several older 27's which have been knocked down many many times over the past decade or two and yet have   remained in good condition.  The debate over what boat to take offshore has many aspects and I don't think there can be one answer.   There are those who would consider taking a  Catalina offshore tantamount to suicide, but I think their reasoning is based more on prejudice and overly simplified theory than it is experience (glw998751@aol.com). 

Important: The opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors to this page, and not those of the Catalina 34 National Association or Catalina Yachts, Inc. Additionally, this material has not been reviewed by Catalina Yachts, Inc. for technical accuracy. This page's maintainer cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information or the desirability of suggested modifications or upgrades. Please obtain assistance from a competent marine mechanic or boatyard prior to making any significant modifications to your vessel.   

Last modified by Phil Imhof, Wednesday, August 11, 2004 . Copyright 2001 by Catalina 34 International Association.  All rights reserved.