When I was about 24 years old I lived in a houseboat on Seattle's Lake Union. It was in fact a floating home built on huge logs, permanently moored to the dock and typical of most of the Seattle houseboats of the day. It was wonderful. I was on the very end of the dock with an unobstructed view of a very busy waterway. So unobstructed and busy that from time to time wakes of powerboats would wash up into my living room. It was great.

The Menger 15 catboat under sail.

The Menger 15 catboat under sail.

My dock neighbor was Dick Wagner. Dick was a bit of an eccentric intent on preserving wooden boats. In time Dick's preoccupation with classic wooden boats led him to establish the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle. But on the houseboat dock, it was just the old boathouse where Dick rented out his collection of esoteric little boats to weekend sailors. At the rate I was renting boats, I was running out of food money so Dick suggested I work on the boats to earn usage time. This arrangement lasted about a week and, after that, I had the run of the place and on occasion would watch the business while Dick was gone.

Of all the little boats Dick had, my favorite was the Beetle cat. This stubby little catboat was heavy and fat and had all the character you could imagine. The gaff rig appeared clunky and old-fashioned and with a very long boom the Beetle could build up weather helm that would pull your arm out of its socket. Still, it was a fabulous little boat to sail and endeared me to catboats.

Menger Boatworks of Bayshore, New York, produces a line of catboats and this includes a 15-footer and a mini-cruising 19-footer. If you have been bogged down in bendy fractional-rigged sloops with bulbed, winged keels and more wires and string to pull than you know what to do with, you just might consider returning to the simple pleasures of catboat sailing.

It takes two halyards to get the big gaff main up. There is a peak halyard and a throat halyard. Pay attention, this is complicated stuff. You will need to adjust the balance of loads between peak and throat halyard to get the best look to the main. This will take about six seconds. The n you drop the center board and off you go. Then the only line to pull is the mainsheet.

The Menger 15 is designed in the style of the old sandbaggers. It is light and beamy with a beautiful hollow entry. The 145 square foot main will give you a sense of power without requiring sandbags to keep the boat on its feet. Coordination between the main and tiller is sometimes required to keep a catboat balanced and this provides a very convenient way to learn about the fine points of rig balance. The long boom will also help you learn the correct way to gybe in a breeze.

The Menger 19 is in the style of the Cape Cod catboats and has the displacement to carry minimal accommodations. This is just the kind of boat I would like to send my boys off in for the summer when they both get to the teenage years. "Here's $500. See you at the end of August." Father's dreams. I long ago explained to my boys that when I buy them that new bike, I am buying myself the bike I never had. That new baseball mitt is the glove I always wanted. "Here, Bob Perry, take this Menger 19 and this $500. I'll see you at the end of August." Three strings to pull, a locker full of Dinty Moore stew and three months to explore the San Juan Islands in a stalwart little catboat. What more could you need?

With their boards up, the Menger cats can crawl into the most snug of coves. You can anchor in two feet of water and wade ashore or just pull the nose up onto the sand, tie a line to a tree and leave life to the whims of the tide. You could add a 9 hp Yanmar diesel to the 19 if you felt outboard power was inadequate. You could tow either of these catboats to any area of the country behind your car.

You ghost into the cove around suppertime and head for a little bight in the shoreline. Drifting by the 70-footer you say hi to the skipper and ask innocently how it's going. "Well, not so good today. My weatherfax is not working and neither is the watermaker. None of the electronics are interfacing." "Damn."

You snug your lazyjacks, take up on the topping lift and drop the main. You reach for your paddle and slide toward the perfect anchoring spot leaving hardly a ripple in the mirror-like water. Your pipe goes out. Damn.


Menger 15
Displacement600 lbs.
Sail Area145 sq. ft.

Menger 19
Draft1'10" - 4'6"
Displacement2900 lbs.
Sail Area270 sq. ft.


SAILINGlogo-115This story originally appeared in Sailing Magazine, and is republished here by permission. Subscribe to Sailing.