Most anyone with an interest in wooden boats is familiar with the roomy, easy-sailing Beetle Cat, beloved in sailing liveries throughout North America. The name comes from the boatbuilding family who designed the boat in 1921 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Around that time John H. Beetle and his family built what was then known as the “Beetle Whale Boat,” a 20’-30’ open double-ender. The Beetle Cat bears more resemblance to the shallow centerboard cat boats used for fishing along Cape Cod (see Dewey). This form had evolved along the coast in the mid-1800s, and its characteristics are the large shallow rudder, cat rig, and ample cargo room. John designed the 12’ 4” boat for pleasure daysailing and for sailing instruction.
The Beetle family built these boats in New Bedford Mass until WWII, when production was suspended. After the war the business was bought by the famed Concordia Company of South Dartmouth, MA, which produced the boats for many years after. It is arguable that the true refinement of the Beetle Cat took place under Leo Telesmanick at Concordia, where production of the boats was streamlined. In 1968 Dick Wagner purchased two new Beetle Cats from the Concordia Company for the fleet of the Old Boat House, the informal livery operated out of Dick’s home in north Lake Union that would one day become CWB. In making that purchase, Dick struck up a warm correspondence with Waldo Howland, who ran Concordia until the late 1960s and was an important figure in the early days of wooden boat preservation.
Both of these boats have been actively used and maintained by CWB ever since. They are uniquely suited to livery use because of their ease of handling. The boats are wide at 6’, making them very stable. The gaff rig set way forward means that the boat will always ‘come up’ and face the wind if the tiller is released, so the boat will stop rather than sailing uncontrolled.
Beetle Cats are still traditionally built, now by the Beetle Cat Company, located in Wareham, MA.