Building Meerkat, a very small catboat

by John MacBeath Watkins

As mentioned in this post, I've been working on a new design for a boat to build. Now the building has begun on the boat I plan to call Meerkat. She will be 9'6" by 3'9" and I hope to keep the weight under 60 lb.

The boat will look something like this model, but will be big enough for two people. With just me in it, the waterline beam will be about 2'9", so she should row well and not have too much wetted surface. She will be big enough to carry two people with ease.

She will also be narrow enough, at about 3'9", to fit in the back of my '97 Nissan pickup truck with a canopy over the bed. Because I won't be putting it on a trailer, she won't cost the nearly $100 extra it takes to bring Black Swan, my 17'9" sharpie, on the ferry.

I didn't want to mess with my good plywood while I cut out the parts, so I've cut them out of doorskins, and will use those patterns to cut the parts out of my BS 1088 4 mm okume plywood with a router. I'll be building the boat around three bulkheads, two of which will be permanent and will enclose air chambers for positive buoyancy. Here are the patterns as printed out full size by Vashon Printing & Design.

I had to loft the stations for the bulkheads I'm building the boat around, which is why they don't have printed patterns. Did those today.

Now, there are some who will object that this isn't a real catboat, because it isn't a Cape Cod catboat. This boat was inspired by an earlier type, the New York catboat, a type that inspired the Cape Cod catboat and developed into the sandbaggers. Una, a New York catboat that was imported to Britain, became quite influential and may even be viewed as the ancestor of the European centerboard dinghies such as the International 14.

That is, boats like this:
These early centerboard oyster boats were often sailed as sloops in the summer, when the wind was light, and catboats in the winter, using the same rig minus the jib, and set farther forward. The smaller ones were sailed as catboats year around.

A replica of the boat pictured, Comet, has been built, and when towed under power, did not plane. It just dug a deeper hole the harder the towing powerboat worked. Meerkat won't have that weakness. She's designed as a displacement hull, but she'll exceed hull speed rather than dig a deeper hole.

The rig is from an El Toro, which has about the same beam and is about 18 inches shorter. The sail and mast are more than 40 years old, but they were inexpensive, and that's part of what I wanted.

Unlike Black Swan, which takes at least half an hour to rig and launch (more often 45 minutes,) Meerkat should launch and rig in about 5 minutes. I can carry this boat on my back like a great big beetle, plop it in the water, stick the rig in it, and sail away. That's the dream, anyway.

By the way, there's a build thread here:

More posts on this topic:


  1. Hi John
    are you going to strip this or skin on frame? either will work well and i would love to help if i can. one of the skin on frame books i have has a design in it for a boat real close to what you are building so the SOF part for this type hull is already worked out. Any ways great model and lovely lines to that little cat.

    1. This is stitch and glue. I've never done it before, but why should my life be easy, so I'm doing it my first time with my own design. Fortunately, I've been able to pick some pretty good minds on the WoodenBoat Forum.


Post a Comment