Catalina 390 Review: Coastal Cruiser

Catalina 390

The Catalina 390 traces its lineage back to the Morgan 381, the first Gerry Douglas designed Morgan introduced in 1993. The Morgan 381 evolved into the Catalina 380, 387, and 390. The 390 hull, deck, and rig is in fact identical to the C380 with the only change being a two cabin layout aft. Catalina has impeccable reputation for producing perfect coastal cruisers in the yachting community. The 390 fits this mold and would be an excellent value driven choice for a family looking to explore the coastline and island chains. There are better choices for long term, offshore cruising though there is certainly precedent for serious voyages in a Catalina. The main competition from a brokerage perspective are Beneteaus, late model Bavarias, Hunters, and Jeanneaus.

Catalina Yachts was formed by Frank Butler in 1970 in North Hollywood, California. He like so many new boat buyers was duped into lending money to a broke boat builder. To compensate for his loss, Butler took ownership of the tooling and eventually the production facility for an unexpected career as a sailboat manufacturer. He expanded to Largo, Florida in 1984 by acquiring the assets of the bankrupt Morgan Yachts. Butler is known as one of the foremost innovators of so-called molded liner mass production. In writing about the Catalina 390 I have the opportunity to write about a design which was previously reviewed in Sailing Magazine. If you have not noticed, I use their same format in admiration of their many excellent reviews. Please see their online Catalina 390 review for a professionally published article.

First Impressions
The 390 makes a decidedly average first impression. Her styling evokes the often lamented fantastic plastic look of mass production yachts. There are no teak highlights on deck. She has a modern raked bow to keep the rode from scratching the topsides, modest upward sheer, and roundish two step swim platform aft. What does strike you aesthetically are the hard, angular edges and sharp corners that shape the low slung cabintrunk – a give away to spotting Catalinas from their French counterparts in any harbor. Her beam is generous but still above the 3:1 length to beam ratio that you seen on some of the newer Beneteaus. Above she can have a standard or tall, double spreader anodized spar for higher performance light wind sailing. Underneath has a semi elliptical spade rudder and either 5′ 4″ wing or 7′ 2″ fin keel for the west coast.

Construction and What To Look For
Catalina makes the reasonable and necessary trade-offs to produce yachts at an affordable price. They are masters of molded liner construction which speeds up production by decomposing a yacht interior into fiberglass tabbed in sections such as the subsole grid that absorbs keel and rig loads on the 390. The hull is solid, hand laminated fiberglass, primarily of biaxial knitted fabric, which is secured to the balsa core deck via a shoe-box style hull-deck joint. The lower edge of this joint is sealed with a soft, white rubbery cocking. The joint incorporates an excellent bulwark upper ledge, so if you drop a winch handle on deck it will not immediately slide off and sink in the depths below. The mast is deck stepped with a compression post for support below. The ballast is 7,300 pounds of iron externally fastened to the keel stubby.

On Deck
As noted the deck is total plastic portholes, stainless railing, and glass combings for a low maintenance, sensible exterior. She features a rugged molded nonskid in the deck gelcoat. There is a large chain locker forward with a windlass that feeds an anchor over the standard single or optional double bow rollers. Catalina has made the deck on the 390 easy to walk around on with well inboard mounted chainplates. There are a surprisingly innumerable number of hatches though no cowl vents. The deck swings around for slight side combings and a flush deck aft to the swim platform.

The 390 cockpit is unusual with a bridgedeck. Nearly all manufacturers have eliminated the bridgedeck which is in essence a cockpit bench across the companionway. Instead manufacturers feature varying height companionway sills to prevent a rouge blow from swamping the cockpit well and spilling down the companionway hatch. It is a feature associated with old fashioned, serious offshore vessels which is about the opposite of what Catalina represents. No matter – it is a great feature which does not make a great deal of sense to do away with. Additionally both the port and starboard side cockpit benches hing upward to reveal…hatches? Instead of storage which is delivered in spades by the two aft lockers and lockers outside the combings, there are hatches port and starboard underneath the cockpit benches to air out and brighten up the dual aft cabins. Most cruisers will use one cabin as a garage with the associated hatch another access way to fill the area up.

Down Below
Here is where the 390 features important changes from the two stateroom 390. Instead of a single berth aft, there are port and starboard cabins. Until one steps below, you do not have a full admiration for the space possible in such a value packed layout. Compared to any other Beneteau I have seen the Catalina 390 has a much more spacious arrangement. Two reasons are the utilization of a sink in the forward master cabin and the elimination of the nav station. The sink allows the 390 to get away with a single head with a stall shower which lies opposite of the port galley and inline with the companionway. An aft facing nav station ostensibly exists combined with the starboard settee.

All builders are able these days to outfit yachts with superb teak veneer due to the many machines that automate laminating, sizing, and varnishing. The warm teak is paired tastefully with the white gelcoat surfaces of the many liners and modules. The dinette has a extension stowed in the master forward which enlarges the table to accommodation dining seats along the opposite settee. The table lower to form a double berth so that the 390 can sleep seven comfortably in four separate areas. The compression post travels through the dinette table for a seaworthy handhold.

Engine and Underway
Engine access is superb through the companionway and both aft berths featuring a three cylinder 40 HP Yanmar 3JH3BE. Standard fuel tankage is low at 34 gallons with another 100 gallons water. Displacement is 19,000 pounds. The standard rig is 56-foot high with 719 square feet of sail area while the tall rig has 60-foot clearance. The standard SA/D ratio is 16 which puts the 390 squarely in the cruiser class in terms of canvas. The Sailing Magazine review writes about heading towards Government Cut in Miami pushing 6 knots on a moderate reach in 10 to 12 knots true breeze and compliments the 390 for excellent visibility from the cockpit.

The Catalina 390 has a functional deck plan, roomy interior, and solid performance underway – not to mention an attractive price point. She is a perfect sailboat for a family looking to to sail on San Francisco Bay, explore the Florida Keys, or hop through the Bahamas. Please check out the brokerage market. I see three available ranging from $119,00 to $129,900 along with alternate 380 and 387 versions.


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