July 2003 Issue

 
   

Sea Cat 22

Look out Twin Vee, Glacier Bay and World Cat. After a six-year hiatus, Sea Cat is on the prowl again. The 22 center-console delivers one of the softest, driest small-boat rides we've experienced. 

A small boat is a small boat, and that remains its biggest drawback. The size of a vessel contributes to its overall ride quality and the comfort of its crew. Designers have tried to mitigate this shortcoming, and some have found success. Monohulls are designed with sharply angled V-shaped bottoms that slice through the water instead of slapping it. Contender, SeaCraft and Regulator come to mind as smooth-riding monohull center-console fishing boats under 25 feet that perform better than many other 30-footers.

The power catamaran is the marine industry's other answer to making a small boat's ride feel bigger. In addition to a more comfortable ride, the power cat-since it has two hulls at its disposal-offers more deck space. So it not only addresses the ride-quality issue but the space problem of a small boat. That's why we like them so much and have promoted the heck out of the ones we're enamored with, like Twin Vee and Glacier Bay.

Like any class of boat, however, cats have their faults. First, they're not exactly good-looking. In fact, early power cats can only be described as ugly. But builders have done a good job incorporating some monohull-type lines and shapes to soften the cat's boxy profile. Second, they're generally more expensive than monohulls, usually for two reasons: Their twin hulls require more fiberglass, resin, coring, and other construction materials, and those hulls each need an engine (except for some cats under 20 feet that can operate with one).

But the good news for cost-conscious cat lovers is that new builders are jumping into the market. And the more competition, the more we get for our money.

The latest entry is actually a revival of a cat line that flourished for a while in the 1990s but ceased production in 1997. The revivalists, Jerry Semer and Don Fidler, have kept the Sea Cat name and the basic design of the old Sea Cats. (We actually tested the Sea Cat 25 six years ago; see the May 1997 issue.) The boat we feature here, the Sea Cat 22 center console, is largely based on the design of the old Sea Cat 21. The company also currently offers a single-engine 18-footer. Three 20-foot models-a center console, a dual console and a flats bay boat-and a 26-foot center console will soon join the 22 and 18 in the Sea Cat lineup.

Design/Sea Trial
Semer and Fidler have made some improvements to the Sea Cat's design. They've increased the height of the tunnel by about 3 inches and built in a "sneeze shield," sort of a lip that extends the width of the tunnel at the bow. These two modifications help reduce "sneezing." When the bow of a cat comes down on a wave, air and water are trapped in the tunnel, and as the hull descends this mixture has nowhere to go but out the front. The heavy mist that shoots forward is often blown back into the boat. Not fun. The old Sea Cat sneezed quite a bit, said Fidler.

Semer and Fidler made another design change, but for aesthetic reasons only. The duo pushed the stem forward by about a foot so the boat isn't so boxy looking. (This explains the 22's extra foot of LOA). It's far from having the graceful lines of a Hinckley picnic boat, but it does look a bit sleeker. But we already know that good looks are not a cat's strong suit, so let's move on. 

More important is that the vessel moved quite easily through ugly seas during our sea trial in the Atlantic Ocean off of Miami. As usual, editor Chris Landry and technical advisor Erik Klockars took turns at the helm. We've had our fair share of experience with cats: Twin Vee, Glacier Bay, World Cat, Nautico, Carolina Cat, and Pro-Sports we've tested them all.

We think Twin Vee, Glacier Bay and World Cat are the best-riding cats. The Sea Cat 22 certainly would hold its own when matched against any of these three.

As we headed out Miami's Government Cut, we easily cut a path through some gnarly four-footers. The head-sea ride was excellent, as was the following-sea ride. Cats in quartering seas have a tendency to dig in and hook, which can lead to a pretty herky-jerky ride. This did not happen during our sea trial of the 22.

Those tunnel modifications seemed to pay off because the boat did not sneeze at all during our 90-minute test, and we remained dry. All in all, we were impressed. The 22 does indeed make you feel like you're in a larger boat.

The boat's aft sections are relatively round, which allows her to get up and out of the hole quickly. Each sponson has two hard chines and two strakes. The entry points of the sponsons have never been measured, but Fidler says they're so sharp it's "pure heck to lay them up." Given our pound-free ride, we believe it.

The steering on the 22 needs to be tighter, in our opinion. It takes six turns to get from lock to lock. We like steerage with about three to four turns lock to lock for quicker course adjustment in collision situations and easier docking.

The boat maintained a flat running angle at all speeds, so we never lost sight of the horizon.
 
The 22, like most cats, doesn't lean into a turn like a monohull. It turns flat, which takes some getting used to if you grew up driving monohulls. And most of us did.

Powered with twin Suzuki 115-hp four-strokes, the boat gets roughly 2.25 nautical miles per gallon when running from 3500 rpm to 4500 rpm. This is pretty good for twin engines. At 4500 rpm, the boat travels at 27 knots and burns 16 gallons of fuel per hour.

The helm was adequate, although we'd like to see a taller windscreen. The windscreen on our test boat was only 5'4" off the sole. Both testers are over 6 feet tall, so the Plexiglas-type windshield failed to block the wind from our necks up. A grabrail rims the windscreen, which offers passengers security, but it interfered with our sightlines.

Inside the helm, Klockars gave his assessment of the wiring job: "OK. Could be better. Not a pig-pen though." Sea Cat uses tinned wiring for corrosion protection.

The steering wheel is mounted like a school bus's-nearly horizontal, which we like. The angle is perfect for one of those Edson steering knobs (see June issue). All gauges (tachs, speedo, volts and fuel) are on the starboard side of the helm, which is canted inboard toward the skipper. The gauges were paired, too, for at-a-glance reading. A clustering of toggle switches-including the nav lights and the horn-are right in front of the helmsman for quick access. A large panel in the middle of console could swallow up two or three flush-mounted pieces of electronics. We like the grabrails that extend down the side of the console because, as we said, a cat drives a lot differently than a monohull, so it's good to have ample handholds.

Construction
Our editorial this month urges more boatbuilders to use a vinylester resin in their hull layups. Not only does a vinylester protect a laminate from blistering, it adds strength. Sea Cat currently uses a polyester resin exclusively in the 22. But Fidler says he expects to switch to a vinylester in the skincoat for blistering protection, or at least a polyester-vinylester blend. The original Sea Cats experienced some blistering until the builder switched over to a polyester-vinylester blend, he said. Knowing that, we think the builders of the new Sea Cat should have used vinylester from the get-go.

Stabilizing the twisting action of the twin hulls continues to be a challenge for cat designers. One hull wants to go one way and the other wants to go the other way, which puts a lot of stress on the tunnel and causes some cats to shudder. Our 22-foot Twin Vee test boat occasionally shudders, but only in very rough seas or when a wave smacks the tunnel at displacement speeds.

Sea Cat has built in three foam-filled boxes (2-1/2' long by the width of the sponson) inside each hull to dampen the twisting. The builder fiberglasses the boxes to the hull and the underside of the deck.

A PVC pipe is glassed inside each hull along the keel. It's halved lengthwise and set with its open end down to stiffen the hull and act as a conduit for water to the bilge.

The bottom and the sides of the 22 are built with solid fiberglass, although a layer of SprayCore is applied after the skincoat. This is not a conventional core material. Its primary functions are to prevent print-through and deaden sound.

To keep the boat light, the builder cores the decks and transom with 5-pound density PVC foam-either Divinycell or Klegecell.

The hull-to-deck joint goes like this: A high-density plastic is cut into strips and screwed to the inboard side of the top of the hull. The builder uses a resin putty adhesive to hold the bottom of the cockpit sole and the hull-with its array of boxes and beams-together.

Work crews line up the hull and deck, drill holes and insert lag bolts. After the resin cures, they remove the lags and use SikaFlex 292 to further adhere and seal the joint. Self-tapping screws are then drilled in. Seems to us to be pretty strong and durable.

Fuel Tanks/Deck
The boat we tested was fitted with twin 55-gallon fuel tanks made of aluminum, not our preferred material. Aluminum will eventually corrode no matter how good the installation. Access to the tanks is limited to two small access ports in the sole. Access for a full inspection or removal of the tanks on our test boat cannot be done without cutting the cockpit sole. The builder does provide scribe lines so you know where to cut.

Good news, though. Fidler told us that "we're tooling up for plastic tanks," adding that he is well aware of the corrosive realities of aluminum and is looking forward to the change to plastic. The builder will incorporate a place for the tanks within the stringer-box system in each sponson.

On deck, we found a lot to like. Let's start at the stern. Swimmers will appreciate the handrails that straddle the boarding ladder between the engines. There's plenty of room here, too-about 3 feet. The transom is one of those Euro-style, molded-in types, with a raised fishing station separating the transom and the cockpit. There's no transom door-you have to climb over the fishing station, which may make it tough on some people.

A Euro transom has its pluses and minuses: In one way, it's safer than transoms with engine cut-outs because the raised fiberglass divider prevents greenwater from entering the boat while backing down. But it also makes it tough to fish off the stern. And the lack of toekick space at the Sea Cat 22's fishing station makes it tougher.

You do have toe relief at the hull sides, even without the optional coaming pads, which some fishermen abhor because they snag hooks.

Cockpit depth is nearly 25", which some anglers (including us) like for safety reasons. Others, like contributing editor Alan Herum, prefer shorter sides so it's easier to haul in a fish.

A 160-quart fishbox fills up most of the raised fishing station. On the port side is an 80-quart livewell. Both containers are insulated. Stainless steel springs hold their lids open so the angler can concentrate on retrieving bait or securing the day's catch. We'd swap out the springs with some sturdier stainless steel pistons-and we'd put two of them on the larger fishbox lid. Sea Cat may indeed switch over to pistons, said Fidler.

On each side of this transom module are two large hatches that provide good access to the batteries and fuel-water separators. The hatch lids could use some of those shocks, too. If you have two hands inside these spaces, the hatch lid will just have to rest on your head.

A smaller hatch between the two battery access hatches provides a means to get to the hydraulic steering system's equalizer valve.

A nice beefy handrail wraps around the leaning post's backside. Third and fourth crewmembers will appreciate it when you have the throttles pegged.

You have to pay for that handrail, however: The padded leaning post, which includes four rod holders in addition to that rail, is a $1,200 option. Twin pedestal seats are standard.

Standard fishing features include two flush-mounted rod holders on the top of the gunwales and rod racks on each hull side. We like the shelves under the rod racks-good for stowing boathooks, gaffs, etc.

Our test boat had two big Igloo coolers-one under the leaning post and another forward of the console. The latter had a snapped- down pad on top so it can serve as a seat. With the Igloo-seat and a raised casting platform, things get a little cramped at the bow. And the bow rail needs to be higher. On our test boat, it didn't even reach our knees while we stood on the platform. The plus side of having a raised deck is the storage space it provides underneath. The compartment is halved and accessed through two large doors that open outboard with the aid of pistons. (We noticed that they were not stainless steel. They should be.)

The bow rails on each side of our test boat stopped a few inches before the bow cleats, with the horizontal rail sticking out beyond the last stanchion in a strange and dangerous way. The builder realizes the potential for snagged lines and has modified the rail on subsequent 22s so that it continues back into the deck.

The anchor locker lid is held open with a stainless steel spring, which was attached with undersized hardware (we're told pistons are being used now). We like to have a tie-off cleat in the anchor locker to hold the anchor rode's bitter end. There was none on this boat. The lid opens to port so that it's out of the way for you to work with the rode.

There's no centerline cleat either, meaning you have to shuffle to port or starboard to tie off the anchor line.

We'll end on a positive note: The boat has a neat raw-water washdown system. Two spigots stick out of the forward section of the console sides. Flip the switch and the water squirts out and runs aft to wash the deck. Klockars thought it was neat.

Conclusion
This boat delivers a ride that's just about as soft as they come in this size boat. It's dry, too. We appreciate the efforts Fidler and Semer have made to fine-tune the hull design (specifically, the tunnel modifications).

This boat is a little spiffier than a Twin Vee, but not so much as a World Cat or Glacier Bay. The 22-foot Island Runner from Glacier Bay (boat only) carries a $30,000 MSRP and the Twin Vee Awesome 22 is $16,000, so the Sea Cat's $24,285 price tag is a nice compromise between the low- and high-end.

We do hope that the builder follows through with its planned construction changes. Adding that vinylester resin to the layup will give consumers one less thing to worry about. And it's good that plastic fuel tanks are on their way.

The builder offers the industry-standard 5-year hull warranty. Fidler is considering bumping it to 10 years. We certainly think it's a good idea. Show some faith in your product.

Besides the vinylester and the fuel tankage, the boat needs only a few tweaks here and there: an anchor locker tie-off, a centerline bow cleat, toekick at the transom, a higher windscreen, and something to hold open the battery-access lids.

We're happy to see any boat make a comeback, especially a catamaran. We wish the folks at Sea Cat luck. They've got a hull design that's a winner.

 
   

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