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Catman launches a big one

by Larry S. Chowning

The multi-hull luxury catamaran above was built over a three-year period by Catman Cats in Urbanna for a South Carolina buyer and was launched in Urbanna Creek on August 28. An audience of over 100 people watched.  This is the largest catamaran ever built by the firm and it took two cranes to get the vessel into the water.  The boat is powered by two 570 hp Cummins diesel engines and is expected to cruise at 28 knots.  (Photo by Larry Chowning)
When it comes to custom multi-hull vessels Felix Herrin, a.k.a. “The Catman,” and his boatbuilding crew at Catman Cats in Urbanna have found themselves a national niche market.

Herrin’s firm has gained national attention recently by turning out some extremely unique custom multi-hull sail and power luxury vessels. Last week, the firm launched, with the help of two very tall cranes, a 65-by-25-foot luxury vessel into Urbanna Creek for a Georgetown, South Carolina, buyer. It is the largest boat the firm has ever built.

The first boat launched at Catman Cats several years ago was a 55-foot “rather exotic sailboat,” noted Herrin. It was a light rig, but big and tall and a very masculine ocean boat. It attracted some attention when it raced in the Southern Ocean Racing Challenge off Florida and did very well.

The boat gave the firm a good start. More sailboats were built and one day a customer walked into Herrin’s shop looking for a mono-hull yacht.

“He asked me if I would build him a mono-hull fiberglass trawler,” said Herrin. “I asked him, ‘Why have me build a mono-hull trawler when you can go out and buy one off the shelf?’ It would certainly be more cost effective.”

Then Herrin asked the man, “Have you ever thought about a power catamaran? He looked at me as if I was crazy and walked out of the office. About a week later, he had done some research and came back and placed an order.”

The vessel launched last week was the fourth power catamaran the firm has built. Like a lot of Chesapeake Bay boatbuilders, Herrin learned his trade in a roundabout way. His father was in the military and while growing up Herrin moved here and there. Then the family settled in Mathews County, an area with deep roots in the boatbuilding trade.

In Mathews, Herrin met the late Dave Dana, a noted designer of commercial and recreational boats. Herrin and Dana worked together on a test project for an aluminum power cat. “Dave was quite a character and helped me a lot in understanding boat design,” Herrin said. “I learned an incredible amount from that guy.”

Herrin worked at several boatyards and managed one for several years. He also took math classes at Rappahannock Community College-Glenns, which aided him in developing technical skills he uses daily.

His experience working with multi-hull vessels at boatyards made him aware of the many benefits of that style hull. “I have strong feelings toward catamarans,” he says. “They handle the waves better. They handle conditions better and are more efficient. They make life better aboard boats too.”

Herrin also appreciates the versatility of the multi-hull. “Some of my boats are racing boats and some are not. All the sailboats have been performance or cruising oriented, but the power cats have all been luxury,” he said.

“People come to me for two reasons. They usually want a power cat or they come for something totally off the wall like an insanely fast sailboat. That’s pretty much the two areas we operate in,” Herrin said.

Herrin-built boats are in Sarasota, Ft. Myers and the Florida Keys in Florida, Italy, Bahamas, Cape Cod, Canada, Virgin Islands and, now, South Carolina. “The word has gotten around that we build some great boats and we have customers calling from all over,” said Herrin, who lives with his wife Patricia and son Jeremy in Urbanna.

posted 09.04.2008

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