The two largest sailboat manufacturers in the United States are Catalina Yachts and Marlow Hunter. Each company has its own unique design philosophy and marketing strategy. In this article we will explain the differences between the two. As both a Catalina and Hunter dealer, our purpose at Port Sanilac Marina is not to push one brand over the other, but rather to give the buyer enough information to make an informed decision. There are advantages to each design. Both companies pay close attention to ergonomic details, both use high quality brand name components and both offer comfort and performance. Let’s take a look at what makes them truly different – the construction and rigging.

Hunter 33 in Newport RI

Marlow Hunter 33

Hunter is famous for its B&R rigging and the “arch” which keeps the boom safely overhead, making the boat safer and easier to sail. Hunter’s arch places the traveler overhead and out of the way, and provides twice the adjustment range of a cabin top setup while decreasing the mainsheet load by fifty percent. The B&R rigging uses only three rigging points with 120 degrees between each rigging point, eliminating the backstay. This allows for a larger mainsail with increased roach and a smaller jib that is easier to handle.
The roots of Marlow Hunter go back over 35 years ago. Hunter Marine was the creation of Warren Luhrs the brother of John Luhrs and son of Henry Luhrs. The Luhrs Corporation had several subsidiaries including. Mainship, Silverton, Luhrs and of course Hunter.

The Hunter and Mainship lines were purchased by David Marlow of Marlow Yachts in 2012. The Hunter name was rebranded to Marlow Hunter.

With David Marlow’s personal involvement with Hunter, the manufacturing expertise of Marlow Yachts is being integrated into the Hunter manufacturing and design process. The end result is a higher quality more affordable yacht for the consumer.

According to Hunter… on the exterior they use a “Vibrin” gel-coat which contains a UV resistant additive that stands up under punishing sunlight and is formulated to be less brittle, minimizing crazing. It also contains NPG (Neopentyl-glycol) which helps reduce blistering, is resistant to moisture intrusion and prevents the water intrusion that causes osmotic blistering and allows Hunter to offer a 5 year transferable blister warranty. On the interior, Hunter uses an anti-bacterial agent called “Microban.” This material inhibits the growth of mildew from high humidity, poor air circulation and sunlight.
After the gel coat is applied, a skin coat of modified Vynilester is applied with fiberglass to provide a water impervious shell that virtually eliminates the risk of osmosis or blistering. It also has more elasticity to keep the resin/fiber composite structure intact when high loads are encountered.
Above the waterline, Hunter uses a sandwich panel laminate to achieve maximum stiffness without adding unnecessary weight. This consists of a Baltek end grain balsa core sandwiched between two fiberglass face skins to produce a lightweight panel with exceptional stiffness. Reducing the weight in this area helps to lower the center of gravity and significantly improves thermal insulation while protecting the boat from moisture that accumulates when warm humid air condenses on a hull that is cooled by the surrounding air or water. Less condensation means less mildew and damage to the interior wood, fabrics and personal gear.
The hull laminate in the area of the chainplate is specially reinforced to bear the rig loads so that stress is spread over a large area. Multiple layers of fiberglass run all the way down to the keel sump where they overlap pieces from the other side. This creates a wide fiberglass “strap” that runs completely around the underside of the hull.
To provide an extra layer of protection against catastrophic damage, every hull 33′ and above includes a layer of of Kevlar that runs all the way from the stem to the keel sump. This material has 10 times the strength of ordinary fiberglass.
Most models feature a prominent “Bow Hollow” shape just aft of the bow which offers less resistance and makes the boat go faster sooner, give better speed in light breezes and greater fuel economy under power. Hunter’s unique shoal keel design enhances performance because the shape of the bulb and its connection to the keel create a lift-generating component while minimizing turbulence. You begin with low drag so the faster you go and by going faster you create more lift and the boat goes upwind better. Downwind you have less drag when the lift is not needed.
The Hunter Cockpit Traveler Arch clears the cockpit and creates a safer and more comfortable environment. Trimming from the aft end of the boom allows greater tension applied to the aft edge of the sail to enhance sail shape and performance. The increased leverage achieved by sheeting from the end reduces the sheet load by 50% from the common mid boom arrangement. It is easier to trim, decreases compression loads at the gooseneck and doesn’t require larger, more expensive winches.
The Arch provides a perfect attachment point for a bimini or full cockpit enclosure, lighting, speakers drink holders, dinghy davits, solar panels, wind generators and line bags. The stainless steel arch looks great, is easy to maintain, provides a secure handhold and is grounded to the keel.
The term B&R refers to the two men who designed these rigs, Lars Bergstrom and and Sven Ridder. They also invented the Windex wind indicator. The B&R rig was developed in the 60’s and has been successfully used on ocean racers and world cruisers since the 70’s – because they work. Reverse diagonal stays provide extra dynamic support to stabilize the mast and preventing “pumping” even in severe conditions. The rig has as much to support it from directly behind as it does from either side. Forces trying to push the mast forward are resisted by not one single backstay but two shroud wires that are offset from the center and reduce compression loading. This makes for a more stable platform, reduces weight and windage aloft and is less susceptible to pitching and rolling. A wider angle of support puts less strain on the boat. Removing the backstay allows for virtually unlimited roach in the mainsail. It is more efficient, easier to handle and more adjustable.
Stray Cat

Wayne Shook at the helm of Strat Cat his Catalina 355

Once known for being a price leader, Catalina is now focused on being the value leader. Catalina employs traditional rigging and is one of the few sailboat builders left that use a lead keel. Lead is more expensive than cast iron, but Catalina feels it is worth the additional cost. It is denser and weighs almost twice as much as cast iron per cubic inch. This allows for a more efficient keel (less wetted surface equals less drag). Should you ever hit something solid, the lead will absorb the impact much better than steel and ultimately lessen the damage to the boat. The other advantage is that lead will not rust.
The hull to deck joint is one of the most critical connections in yacht construction. It must be watertight, be able to take the punishment of docking and contribute to the strength of the boat by essentially making the hull and deck a single structure. Catalina uses three different types of flanges: external rolled (up to 25’), external overlapping (25’+) and the internal flange which is appropriate on larger, heavier boats when an aluminum or teak toe rail is installed.
Catalina masts are well supported and include backstays for a total of 11 attachment points on most models. All sail controls and blocks are ball-bearing and require minimum effort. Winches are oversized so as to require less effort when sheeting. Critical deck hardware is secured with large metal back-up plates and stainless steel fasteners.
Gerry Douglas, Catalina’s head designer said: “Our boats are 100 percent rebuildable, depending upon severe damage, of course. And parts are available from the factory for all our boats no matter how old. This makes older Catalinas excellent project boats for people looking for a good boat to rebuild. We put the decks on much earlier in the manufacturing process than other builders. This is a big advantage to our customers because it means everything inside the boat came through the main hatch. There are no captive tanks or bulkheads. The customer can take out everything in the boat with hand tools. Catalina is unique in that respect. Most builders put the deck on much later in the process. Our hull liners are designed to distribute loads. Bulkheads don’t bear chainplate loads, for example. Those loads pass on to the liner. That’s important to know because so many of our owners have modified their boats extensively. Our owners tend to be hands-on people. It’s easy to replace things, and you seldom have to cut anything to get a part out.
The hull is a 5-piece construction:
1. Hull
2. Structural Grid
3. Hull liner
4. Deck
5. Deck liner
The importance of the 5-piece construction is that Catalina has separated the structural component from the furniture component. There are longitudinal beams on each side of the boat which support the chainplate tie-rods that go down to the hull liner, but that’s the only part of the hull liner that is structural. The rest of the structure is the sub-sole grid, which supports the engine and tanks, and boxes in the keel area. A compression post is welded to a plate below the mast step, so it’s metal to metal from the masthead to the keel. The deck is not in compression at all, it only takes very tertiary side loads. Same thing with the upper shrouds, they go all the way through the deck with a proprietary ball and socket, so the loads are resolved directly down to the structure in the hull. Again, very little load on the deck.
Another feature that differentiates Catalina is the proprietary strike zone in the bow. Catalina is unique in that there is a collision bulkhead aft and underneath the anchor locker with a chamber filled with high density foam so that in the event of a collision with an underwater object you will have an area that will absorb the impact and not breach the bulkhead.
All of the 5 Series Catalina sailboats are set up to accommodate a removable bowsprit, which is great for an asymmetrical on a furler and lets a crew of two have the fun and performance of a spinnaker in light air without any hassle that a traditional spinnaker would require.”
One of our great customers from California owns a 2012 Catalina 355 named Stray Cat. Wayne Shook passes along some additional information about why he likes Catalina. “As for specifics, the deck joint you mentioned had more to do with the aluminum toe rail than the joint. That classic rail is so useful for attaching preventers, tweakers, etc. that the fact that it’s through bolted to the deck and hull is just icing on the cake. I really like the filter locker in the head with all the filters in one place. If you make maintenance easy to do, people will do it! Beyond that, it’s just a bunch of “little things” like the fire extinguisher port in the engine cover or the dual anchor roller at the bow, the “night” lights throughout the cabins and head. The rig seems really substantial with a much heavier mast, thicker shrouds, a double spreader setup and the true double backstays. “
There is much more that we cannot include in this short article. We invite you to visit us at Port Sanilac Marina and compare for yourself.

Written by John Siwicki – New and Used Yacht Sales Port Sanilac Marina