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Beetle Cat on a Massachusetts lake
|Construction||1/2" cedar planks on an oak frame, spars in Douglas-fir|
|LOA||12 feet 4 inches (3.76 m)|
|LOH||11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m)|
|Beam||6 feet (1.8 m)|
8 inches (0.20 m) (no centerboard)|
2 feet (0.61 m) (centerboard)
|Hull weight||450 pounds (204 kg)|
|Total sail area||100 square feet (10 m2)|
|Location||New Bedford, Massachusetts|
|Construction||1/2" cedar planks on an oak frame, spars in Douglas-fir|
|LOA||14 feet (4.3 m)|
|Total sail area||180 square feet (20 m2)|
A Beetle Cat is a 12'4" catboat first built in 1920 in New Bedford, Massachusetts by members of the Beetle family. Over 4,000 have been built. Beetle, Inc., now in Wareham, Massachusetts, is the sole builder of Beetle Cat boats.
Famous owners include or have included Senator John Kerry, Jacqueline Onassis, who had one shipped to Greece in 1969 for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy to learn sailing in, Steven Spielberg and Calvin Klein."
A new Beetle 14 catboat, with bench seating, accommodates four adults and has 80% more cockpit interior space. Designed by Bill Sauerbrey in 2006/2007, it underwent a sea trial in late April 2007.
The Beetle Cat was named after the Beetle family who designed and built the boat. The family was known for building whaleboats and other working boats. In 1921, Carl N. Beetle designed and built a small 12' gaff-rigged wooden sailboat. This was a nice inexpensive sailboat that all could afford. Its design was based on the twenty to thirty foot catboats used for shallow water fishing along Cape Cod. With interest in the Beetle Cat and the demise of the whaling industry, the family shifted production to the Beetle Cat boat.
During World War II, all production of the Beetle Cat was suspended. After the war, Beetle sold the rights to the Concordia Company in South Dartmouth, MA, which set up a separate Beetle Cat division and in 1960 moved the entire Beetle Cat crew to Smith Neck Road in South Dartmouth. Among the crew was master builder Leo Telesemanick. In 1993, the Beetle Cat division was sold to Charlie York and became Beetle Inc., maintaining the shop at the same location. In October 2003, William L. Womack became the new owner of Beetle Inc. with Charlie York remaining the Master Builder. Womack re-located the operation to Wareham MA.
Beetle Cat Inc. also builds other custom wooden sail and power yachts. In 2005-6, Womack accepted a commission to build a scaled-up 28' version of a Beetle Cat. Designated a 28' C.C. Hanley Catboat, the yacht Kathleen was featured in the November/December 2006 issue of WoodenBoat magazine.
The craft is a wooden class boat used for racing purposes, and a beach cruiser and family sailer (the craft can be launched from a sand beach as well as from a dock or boathouse lift). Although Beetle Inc. is the sole builder of new Beetle Cats, other specialty boatyards such as at he International Yacht Restoration School refurbish Beetle Cats with the objective of training and preserving traditional boat building methods.
The small cedar-hull and fir-spar boat has a sail of approximately 100 square feet (9 m2) and an eight inch draft (board up). A new one costs nearly $17k (less sail) while older ones come on the market from time to time. Beetles are built as planks of Atlantic white cedar over white oak frames. The seams are caulked with cotton. Though hull colors, and to a greater extent, sail colors vary, the classic colors are a white hull, green below the waterline, a natural cedar cockpit (or on older boats gray), and "Beetle Buff," a sort of burnt orange, for the canvas-covered deck. The spars are varnished.
Beetle Cats in Massachusetts are often compared to the Herreshoff/Haven 12.5s, designed in 1914 by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff. Both vessels share old-school style, boat handling, and aesthetic qualities and both attract similar classic wood-boat enthusiasts. Both craft have been included in coffee table picture books about classic wooden boats. A travel writer in the New York Times noted in a 2002 article that "over the years, the Beetle Cat has acquired an unlikely cachet, as Jacqueline Onassis had one shipped to Greece in 1969 for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy to learn sailing in, and current Beetle Cat owners include Steven Spielberg, Calvin Klein"  and the glass artist Michael Glancy.
Beetle, Inc. introduced a Bill Sauerbrey designed "Beetle 14" in 2007, responding to inquiries for a Beetle Cat with seats. The Beetle 14' catboat is cedar planked over white oak frames, with a canvas deck and oak coamings similar in style to the Beetle Cat. Two feet longer in length, the cockpit seats four adults. The interior on the first boat had a "natural" cockpit at the request of the owner, with painted or varnished seats. The developer made the custom stem head fitting, mast band and gooseneck patterns for the casting of the custom bronze hardware. The spars were built of solid Douglas fir and finished off with bronze hardware and blocks.
The Beetle 14 boat carries 180 sq ft (17 m2). of sail, proportionate to the Beetle Cat's rig, however two sets of reef points are standard whereas the Beetle Cat has only one. A topping lift is standard as well as more purchase on the peak halyard and mainsheet. These changes, on top of a more depth of hull with less fullness forward, were intended to make the vessel easy to handle and fast. Two have been built to date.
Beetle Cats are concentrated in Massachusetts, with the Class Association's sanctioned major regattas hosted by fleets in Barnstable, Chatham, West Falmouth, Orleans, New Bedford and Hyannis, as well as Edgewood, RI. The regatta schedule augments the local racing schedules of individual yacht clubs. There is also a fleet on Georgica Pond, in the Hamptons, where half the fleet consists of Barnstable Cat Boats. Seymour Ingraham introduced the first Beetle Cat, the Hispaniola, to Georgica Pond in the summer of 1966. Center Harbor Yacht Club in Brooklin, Maine has a fleet of Beetle Cats.
The best known fleet of Beetle Cats are on Nantucket. In 1925 the Nantucket Yacht Club chose the design for its fleet; with the different colored sails, it became known as the “Rainbow Fleet”. The Rainbow Fleet has entered popular culture due to the ephemera available that features the fleet—posters, gifts, toys, embroidered throws, belt buckles, half-hull models and even candies and food items.
There are also Beetle Cats to sail at the Mystic Seaport Museum and The International Yacht Restoration School.
The best known Beetle Cat was one purchased by Jacqueline Onassis. As described by ABC News from auction literature in 2005, this boat was:
- Ordered in 1969 by Jackie Kennedy from the Beetle Cat Boat Division of Concordia Yachts.
- Purchased so that son John and daughter Caroline could use it to learn to sail.
- Shipped to the Kennedy's in Greece, where they lived.
- Later sent to Hyannis Port, where it was kept in storage until auction.
- Expected sale price: $40,000 to $60,000.
- Currently owned by Howard Boats owner Peter Eastman.
- Georgica Pond, by Priscilla Ratazzi (2000), ISBN 0-935-11247-2
- Wood, Water & Light: Classic Wooden Boats, by Benjamin Mendlowitz and Joel White (1988), ISBN 0-393-03327-9
- The Book of Wooden Boats vol. II, by Benjamin Mendlowitz and Joel White (1992), ISBN 0-393-03417-8
- Beetle, Inc.
- New England Beetle Cat Association
- Sail Magazine Beetle Cat described
- New York Times article
- Bob Perry's review
- Beetle Cat charter or rental