This easy-to-sail catboat makes quick work of daysails, yet is spacious enough for a weekend coastal cruise
Clark Mills envisioned a trailerable boat that was easy to rig, simple to sail, and would draw just enough water to make it suitable for breezing across skinny water or spending the night in a gunkhole.
By the time his 17-foot Com-Pac Sun Cat came along in 2000, Mills was already famous for designing the Optimist pram in 1947 and the 15-foot Windmill in 1953, the latter a one-design dinghy made for sailing with a crew of two.
Mills had received the commission to design a catboat from Com-Pac Yachts, a company founded in 1974 in Clearwater, Florida, by W.L. Hutchins, who was fond of saying, “I know people who get on a power yacht to go somewhere. But, when I get on my sailing yacht, I am there.”
The decision to once again tap Mills for his design skills came at a time when Hutchins was adding a line of catboats to its fleet. The company introduced the Picnic Cat and the Sun Cat while adding new technology such as the trademarked Mastendr Quick Rig Sailing System for raising and lowering the mast without having to remove the rigging.
According to Gerry Hutchins, who today runs the company with his brother, Richard, the Mastendr technology attracted customers interested in ease and convenience. The system allows the mast to be quickly lowered in preparation for trailering or, perhaps more importantly to coastal sailors, to fit under low bridges.
At first glance, the Com-Pac Sun Cat seems like a little bit of everything. It’s clearly a catboat with main and gaff booms, a sassy elliptical cabin port window on each side, and a sweeping sheer with pronounced bow as though meant to take on the waves. The daysailer has a huge cockpit, while the version with a cuddy cabin has potential as an overnighter, and perhaps even a weekend coastal cruiser. The hull shape and construction appear robust, coupled with a hinged mast that takes the work out of unstepping and makes it easy to load the boat on a trailer.
The Sun Cat is constructed as an open boat with a cockpit roomy enough for six adults. It is, in that sense, a picnic boat. It is also available with a cabin, which makes it capable of providing shelter on overnight trips and more accommodating during a day sail should the weather turn foul. The hull and decks are hand-laid fiberglass. In more recent years, Com-Pac has designed and introduced a stainless steel centerboard and centerboard trunk. Hull No. 471 was completed this spring.
What to look for
Catboats must endure tremendous strain on the mast with its single sail. This can cause the boat to flex and result in cracks or crazing in the gel coat. The oldest Sun Cats have been around for 16 years, which means it could be time to inspect and, if necessary, replace the standing rigging. Deck delamination is always a possibility. Close attention should also be paid to the mast hinge.
The mast is fitted with a sturdy hinge that allows it to be quickly raised or lowered. The mast rests on a crutch aft of the tiller. To raise the sail, simultaneously raise the main halyard and the peak halyard, which lifts the gaff boom horizontally until the throat halyard reaches the block. Raise the peak halyard until the sail is up above the top of the mast. Both are led through Spinlock line clutches, and you can release them momentarily without dropping the sail.
The high cockpit coamings provide welcome back rests along the bench seats. The cockpit has a bridgedeck to keep water from entering the cabin should a wave wash over the boat. The traveler is mounted across the bridgedeck. The optional bimini is popular in warmer climates. Hutchins notes that the comfortable and spacious cockpit helps ensure that owners enjoy “hanging out” on their Sun Cats. The boat also features storage under the cockpit benches.
One version of the Com-Pac catboat has a cuddy cabin with two berths and space under the bridgedeck for a porta-potti. The Sun Cat at 17 feet is obviously a wide boat, with a 7-foot 3-inch beam. The cabin has an enclosed locker forward.
The Sun Cat requires an outboard engine for propulsion. The boat has an adjustable motor bracket on the transom. It typically handles a long-shaft outboard of approximately 5 horsepower.
The Sun Cat has no shortage of control lines and clutches that when used in tandem can finely tune the sails. The primary sail control is the peak halyard that controls angle of the gaff boom, and small adjustments make a big difference in sail shape and performance. The downhaul controls the tension along the luff, and there are two outhauls, one for each boom. The traveler is mounted across the bridgedeck.
According to Hutchins, the Sun Cat literally sold itself because it was trailerable, easy to rig, offered a shoal draft, had few moving parts and was nearly maintenance-free. The company even offered advice on how to sail this diminutive catboat, including how to veer off the wind for a more comfortable sail rather than attempt to pinch it.
The Com-Pac Sun Cat 17 is an affordable, safe and sturdy boat ideal for adventurous coastal sailing and overnight gunkholing or a rollicking afternoon sail to a favorite picnic spot.
SAILING's Value Guide (5-star rating system)
PRICE: A used Com-Pac Yachts Sun Cat in good condition typically sells for between $6,000 and $12,000, while the market price for a new hull is just under $20,000 without a trailer. The trailer can add about $2,100. ★★★
DESIGN QUALITY: Clark Mills designed the gaff-rigged catboat as a comfortable family daysailer that could also be used as a weekender with a shoal draft that would allow gunkholing. The Sun Cat is one of three different deck styles available on the 17-foot hull. ★★★
CONSTRUCTION QUALITY: The fiberglass Sun Cat Daysailer is an open boat with cockpit roomy enough for six adults while the standard Sun Cat boasts a cuddy cabin with two berths and space under the bridge deck for a porta-potti. The centerboard is stainless steel with a fiberglass trunk. The standing rigging is heavy duty. ★★★
USER-FRIENDLINESS: The boat is outfitted with the patented Mastendr quick-rig sailing system. The main boom, gaff boom, sail and rigging all remain in place while the boat is being trailered, which cuts down on preparation time prior to launch. The mast is on a hinge that makes for easy raising and lowering. On board there are plenty of line clutches and trim adjustment controls. ★★★★
SAFETY: Lazy jack systems are available to help ensure the main sail gets doused efficiently and safely while also controlling the gaff boom. The keel is weighted for stability. ★★★
TYPICAL CONDITION: All of these boats are less than 20 years old and many are trailered for daysailing, which suggests the overall number of hours in the water is usually modest. ★★★
REFITTING: Finding parts for a Sun Cat is easy since the company is still in business and technological assistance is also at hand. ★★★★
SUPPORT: Com-Pac Yachts is part of the Hutchins Co., a family-owned-and-operated business founded in 1957 by W. L. Hutchins Sr. and is run by President Gerry Hutchins today. The company has been building boats in Clearwater, Florida, since 1974. The website is www.com-pacyachts.com and the company can be reached by phone at 727-443-4408. ★★★★
AVAILABILITY: Construction of the Sun Cat began in 2000. According to Gerry Hutchins, hull No. 471 was just completed. Used Sun Cats were for sale in fall 2016 in at least five states. ★★★
INVESTMENT AND RESALE: A new Sun Cat can fetch $20,000 and a decade later will be valued at slightly more than half that amount. The boats are popular with families and have remained in demand, creating a brisk aftermarket. ★★★