Tom Lack and his Catalacs

Catalac Catamaran Factory Brochure

Catalac Catamaran Build /Layup Photos

Designers: Tom Lack & John Winterbottom

Hull designs: Hard chine “V” section, load carrying hulls with flared bows to limit spray. They rely solely on sail area provide a safe and stable sailing platform. 

Tom Lack felt the design was so stable and safe that years ago Lack authorized a £10,000 reward to anybody that could document a Catalac with one hull out of the water. To date, no one has claimed that reward. The reason the boats are so stable is that the relatively short rig combined with the Hard chine hull design allow the boat to unload the sail area by slipping the boat sideways in a sudden gust. It’s very hard to turn turtle with this design and this along with the high build quality, is the reason most of these boats are still sailing today. 

In addition, it should be noted that these boats have solid Fiberglass hulls which will carry heavy loads far better than many others due to a wider hull-beam ratio, deep rocker design, extreme dead rise hulls with hard chines, and big, powerboat- like transoms (this was written by the noted multihull author, Charles Kanter). They also handle extremely well. Unlike others of that generation, they tack securely without backwinding the jib and handle smartly around docks, easily turning in their own length. 

Sailing Rig: Bermudan Sloop / masthead rig

Design Features: Their shallow draft and opening cabin windows all with removable screens make these boats perfect tropical cruisers.

Construction: Solid fiberglass Hulls and cored fiberglass bridge deck are one piece moldings bolted together. 3/4″ Plywood wood bulkheads are bonded to the hulls.

Catalac Windward Performance

Digging further into the history of these boats I discovered what could be called a product line upgrade which occurred around 1980. The Lack family was convinced their approach to hull design was correct, but there had been many early complaints about windward performance. The Lack family responded with the addition of skegs and updated skeg hung rudders which directly addressed the weak windward ability of the earlier design. The boat we had stumbled across was the updated model.

I’ve received some emails asking about this updated rudder configuration, as to how it works and why it was an important upgrade. So, I’ll do my best to explain it here, but if anyone reading this is a naval architect, please feel free to improve on this explanation!! 

Sail boats need lift to counteract leeway. In other words, when sailing on a beam reach (wind blowing across the boat) a boat would tend to be blown sideways as well as moving forward. Lift would prevent the sidways motion from taking place. Sail boats can receive this lift in 3 ways. Hull/keel design, their sails, and their rudders. 

Catalacs have a unique hull design which will track very well (no leeway) if the boat speed stays up. If leeway is excessive, the boat’s rudder obviously needs to be cranked on to keep the boat on course. Using the rudder at speed essentially acts as a brake, in fact slowing the boat. It would be much better for the rudder to generate lift on it’s own, eliminating the need for a helmsman to put on the brakes. 

The first diagram (above) is a rough image of the skeg/rudder system. The 2nd is a top view and hopefully shows the reason it works. 

Notice when the rudder has been slightly turned this system resembles an aircraft wing? Putting on 6 degrees of rudder turns the rudder/skeg into an underwater lifting body. By adding additional lift the part of the boat aft of the center of gravity is pulled to leeward, which has the effect of rotating the nose of the boat to windward and minimizing leeway. The addition of this rudder system in 1980 significantly improved a Catalac’s performance. However, 5 to 6 knots must be maintained for this system to perform as designed. At lower speeds leeway increases.

Which Cruising Cats Hold Their Value?
by Charles Kanter

Catalac, Cherokee, Iroquois, and Prout are cruising catamaran names that live through the decades. 

Bill Ware of 2Hulls brokerage in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says, “Generally speaking, the English cats have the best resale value. They built the most enduring catamarans in the world.” Depending on condition, they can fetch higher prices now than they did when they were new, even adjusted for inflation.  The Iroquois, designed by legendary Rod MacAlpine-Downey, is a high-quality, fast-sailing, Weatherly vessel with pivoting centerboards and kick-up rudders. Catalacs, an 8 meter (27-foot), 9 meter (30-foot), 10 meter (34-foot) and 12 meter (41-foot), each rugged and with great carrying capacity, exceptional layout and good handling, sail the other end of the performance spectrum, but many have crossed the Atlantic.

(an excerpt from the book)

Cruising Catamaran Communiqué
by Charles Kanter
Catalac catamarans, with over 600 units built and sailing, have probably brought as many hours of happy, comfortable and safe boating to more people than any other vessel. It is hard to find any comparable production vessel that has so well achieved its design objectives. One that comes close is the monohull, Morgan Out Island series, the most popular cruising boat ever.

Mr Kanter explained that Catalacs, with their short rigs, aren’t particularly fast boats but they have lots of room, they’re safe, are well thought out designs and are quality boats which are built like battleships. Mr. Kanter went on to say that the Lack family could have sold many more boats in North America, but the issue was in fact a poor marketing plan. He shared an anecdote from the 1980’s when these boats were actively marketed in America. Attending all the major boat shows, they had mediocre response from potential boat buyers until the release of the Catalac 12 Meter. Mr Kanter went on to say that even though sailors were impressed by Catalacs, no self respecting sailor was willing to return to his yacht club after a boat show and announce to his contemporaries that he had just bought a Catalac (I know how they felt – Rick). They were afraid to hear “you bought a car at a boat show?” Mr. Kanter insists that if the Lack family had listened to him and changed the boat brand name here in America, the boats would have been a huge success. Few boats at the time had so many features packaged into a reasonably priced package.


By Rick

Owner of a Catalac 8M and Catamaransite webmaster.

4 replies on “Tom Lack and his Catalacs”

I have the 8-meter Cadillac and recently the cabin lights flip the circuit breaker. When trying to trace the wiring I noticed the ceiling light in the cabin appears to have the wiring running through the fiberglass of the ceiling of the cabin. Is this a factory method of running wiring underneath fiberglass and if so how do we trace the wiring or find out where the short might be located?
Likewise it appears some wiring is running from the head over across the top of the bulkhead to just under the Mast support where the wiring from the mass comes down through the fiberglass cabin top and I can’t get to that wiring either since it’s between the bulkhead and the cabin top. What to do run all new wiring?

Yes, the Tom Lack method of building embeds the boat wiring right into the fiberglass layups. I agree, it’s a pain to diagnose. It’s not impossible, just inconvenient

I owned a Catalac 9 metre from 1981 to 1982. When I purchased her, Tom Lack made a point of mentioning the £10,000 reward if I could get a hull out of the water. A few months later while back in Christchurch I mentioned to him that I had achieved flying the port hull. Tom asked if I had any proof to which I replied, that would have been difficult due to lying on my back with the yacht on her side. His retort was, no picture, no reward. I smiled!

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