The Catalina Expo 12.5
Reviewed May 2007
I took the Catalina Expo 12.5 out for small boat sailing day with the Punta Gorda Sailing Club and learned a bit more about how the boat likes to sail in light air. On the way out, I passed one of our gang in a Precision 15, returning to the dock because he had already been out long enough to drink all of his water. I turned around to chase him, and found that the little Expo could almost keep up, but not quite.
I turned and went back out the channel, messing with the outhaul tension as I went. Just a small adjustment of the outhaul substantially changes the amount of curve or camber in the sail. You can flatten it for strong breezes or let it assume a full shape in lighter winds, and the boat responds instantly to the changes. Weighing in at only 130 lbs and carrying 65 square feet of sail, the boat is naturally responsive to any changes made to the sail.
The free standing carbon fiber mast inserts easily into the deck, and we just leave the Hoyt boom in place when trailering the boat. I arrived at the park after almost everyone else, but sailed away while they were still rigging their boats. Because the sail rolls around the mast, it is possible to roller reef it, rolling up part of it when winds get strong, or let the whole thing out when winds are light.
Also present that day were a few Martin 16's with spinnakers and a nice Laser. All of those boats were considerably faster than the Expo 12.5, so our "races" in the very light winds were not very close. In the first race, they clobbered me badly because I did not have the sail set correctly to beat into the light winds. I had set it too tight, and it did not have the power to move the boat well at all. In the next race, I eased the outhaul just a couple of inches, and although pointing angle was not quite as good, the increased boat speed more than made up the difference. I still could not keep up with the faster boats, but they were noticeably closer as I came around.
A Sunfish also showed up, and provided at least a little closer competition, though that boat can also walk away from the little Expo. The guy sailing the Sunfish was curious about the Expo, so we abandoned one of the races and switched boats with each other.
I had not sailed a Sunfish in about 30 years, but remembered it being fun. It was still fun! I was racing it in what turned into our last race of the day when the wind completely died. As I approached the windward mark, I could hear Dennis yelling to me to just pick it up and bring it back with me. He did not want to try to sail all the way out to the mark to get it, and I can't say I blame him.
As we went back in toward the beach and boat ramp, the wind shifted and increased quite a bit as a small thunderstorm approached. I wished I had traded back into the Expo so that I could see how it would handle the gusts, but I did have a good time making the little Sunfish really move out as I headed to shore. Once we all got back, the rain started to fall. I quickly furled the sail on the Expo around the mast, pulled the boat up high on the beach, and got in my truck to wait out the rain. The rest of the guys were getting their boats on trailers and derigging them in the rain as I listened to the radio. When the rain let up a bit, I got the boat on the trailer, unplugged the free standing carbon fiber mast and tied it to my truck, and left as the rest of the soaked sailors finished getting their boats derigged and secured for travel.
I may not have had the boat to beat all those guys in a race, but I clobbered them in the race at the boat ramp, and I'll put the ease of use and sheer fun factor of the Catalina Expo 12.5 up against any other boat. You don't have to duck as the Hoyt boom goes overhead, and three lines allow you to control the size, shape, and angle of the sail. The side decks are wide and angled comfortably for any point of sail, and the cat rig really pulls the boat along with surprising power once you tune it correctly for the wind.
The little Catalina Expo 12.5 may not be the fastest sailing boat in its class, but it's the fastest to rig and launch.