There's a perverse sort of pleasure in being the first person to get blood and guts all over a prototype boat. The more pristine and beautiful the boat, the greater the pleasure. And when the five-pound Spanish mackerel came in over the gunwale of Chris-Craft's new Catalina 29 and began puking half-digested sardines and throwing blood across the deck with every shake of its head, pure ecstasy hung in the air. Then I slid it into one of the two 6'-long, integrated, insulated, macerated fishboxes, and the boat was virginal no more. Pristine and beautiful? When it comes to looks, the Catalina 29 scores an 11.
We don't need to waste more space yakking about how pretty this boat is. Unless you're blind or dead, the pictures on these pages prove the point. What the pictures don't show is that the construction of this boat is just as beautiful as its lines. The liner and stringers are a molded grid, affixed to the hull with Weld-On adhesive before being foamed in place. Hatches are all infused for a perfect finish inside and out and ideal resin-to-fiberglass ratios; upholstery features dual-density foam and super-thick 35-ounce vinyl; teak decking is solid wood epoxied in place; and the 22-mil gel coat is backed with a vinylester barrier coat. Did I mention that every screwhead on the boat lines up with the next one? That the T-top supports run down through the console instead of hitting the deck next to it, so you don't ever stub a toe or have to (gasp!) look at the unsightly beasts? Of course the visible pipework is powder-coated, but so are the pipes that you can't see. Want to get a glimpse? Pop up the forward section of the console to access the head, and you can see the bottoms of the supports. Yup, they're powder-coated.
Now match up the cutting-edge construction techniques with the design: The bow has gobs of flare and the outer strakes are turned down at a 7-degree angle to redirect spray-only twice during our entire day of fishing and 20-plus miles of cruising did I feel salt spray. The inner strakes are turned down at a 5-degree angle to provide lift, and the 54-degree entry tapers back through the variable-degree deadrise to a 21-degree transom deadrise. Taken as a whole, the boat runs every bit as good as it looks. And the ride was rattle- and vibration-free through a 2' chop, no matter which angle we attacked the seas from. In fact, the only thing I heard other than water and engine noise was the sound of the rigs smacking against our fishing rods as we charged through the waves.
As fun as it was to catch that first fish, the next was no less a thrill. And the next, and the next. In all we bagged about a dozen Spanish mackerel and four or five kingfish, thanks in no small part to Chris-Craft paying as much attention to designing a fishable boat as it did to making it look good and run well. This is where we find a real departure from the norm-most of the time boats that focus on good looks or high performance fall flat in the fishing department. Naturally, you'll find the standard stuff: four gunwale holders, under-gunwale rodracks, coaming bolsters, five rocket launchers across the hard top-a standard feature that many builders charge thousands for, incidentally-and a foldaway aft bench seat. But Chris-Craft went above and beyond: Baits stay lively and kicking in a 28-gallon lighted, round, baby blue livewell, which doesn't splash out or overflow when you're underway and it's full. Unfortunately, it shares a pump with the raw-water washdown, which downgrades the effectiveness of both units; give us a second pump, please. In addition to the two long aft fishboxes, there are four smaller ones in the forward deck.
Take a deep breath now-I don't want to shock you-but this boat is even prewired for electric reels or downriggers. That's an extremely rare feature, one usually reserved for raw fish-killing machines. Plus, the relatively svelte transom allows you to get closer to the outboards than the vast majority of modern boats. There's still a 4' reach so it'll be challenging to work fish around the props from the cockpit, but it will at least be possible. The transom also holds an unexpected rodholder, and when you flip down that bench seat, note that it's supported by stainless-steel brackets instead of folding legs. That means less stuff to fold every time you deploy the seat and less stuff to trip over once it's in place.
Chris-Craft scores bonus points in the nifty category for the drinkbox. Grab the passenger seat and tilt it forward to open up a refrigerator/freezer. Dial it in however you like, to keep your drinks frosty or frozen solid. Unfortunately, the Catalina 29 rates a deduction for the anchor locker. Yes, it looks great with the through-the-hull strike plate and anchor roller. Sure, hiding the windlass under a hatch is also a smart touch. But rope locker access is through a small pie plate that was barely large enough to get my elbow through. Sooner or later there will be a tangle or a knot in the rode and straightening it out will be hell.
Have you taken your blood pressure medicine today? If not, stop reading right now, because you're about to get hit with another Catalina bombshell: Its speed and efficiency beat the competition, be they die-hard fishers or eye-pleasing showboats. A glance at the performance chart shows that this boat tops out at 54.8 mph and cruises at a zippy 43.2 mph. Great numbers, but not astronomical by today's standards, right? Okay, let your eyes wander along until they hit the "stat. mpg" column. This is the row that tells you how efficiently the boat runs. At a 4500-rpm cruise, the Catalina 29 gets 1.7 miles to the gallon. Now compare that to some other twin four-stroke outboard boats of similar size. Regulator's 29, for example ($137,000 with the twin F250s), gets 1.5 mpg at the same rpm while going about 3 mph slower. Southport's 28 (closer to $150,000 with twin Honda 225s) gets 1.4 mpg at 4500 rpm while cruising at 36.5 mph. Both these boats have top-notch fit and finish and excellent fishing designs, and their performance numbers are more than respectable. Yet the Catalina 29 surpasses them.
Pristine? Beautiful? Damn straight. Efficient? A top performer? Yup. And a good fishboat, as well? You bet. It's all of these things, and even more-especially when a fish is thrashing around on the deck throwing blood all over the place.