Following on from our profile of the Laser and the impact the design of this boat had on the world of dinghy sailing and racing, it’s time to look at another boat design that hugely altered the world of sailing, and arguably brought sailing to the masses.
The designer of the Hobie Cat, Hobart (better known as ‘Hobie’) Alter, was originally involved in surfboard design and manufacture. In fact he was largely responsible for the popularisation of surfing by making it a lot easier to do.
Before he brought out his surfboards made out of polyurethane foam, the only surfboards available were the Hawaiian style heavy wooden boards. He first started out making these, and then making boards from lighter balsa wood. But when balsa wood supplies started running short he and a friend, Gordon Clark, started making much lighter and more flexible boards out of plastic foam. These took off and became an integral part of the Southern Californian surfing subculture. Alter smartly decided to sponsor a group of surfers and produced ‘signature’ boards especially for them.
Once his surfboards were established, being a somewhat restless designer/entrepreneur, he hunted around for the next thing to do, and based this on his new found hobby; sailing. The problem he found with sailing was, again, weight related. He needed four people to help him get his 270kg catamaran into the water if he wanted to go sailing. And he needed a trailer to get it around.
He set his mind to the problem for over a year before he came out with his design for the Hobie Cat 14. His 14 foot (4.27m) lightweight catamaran could be carried by one person and could even be put on a car roof (depending on the car!) and, as an affordable small sail-craft, brought sailing within the financial reach of many people who’d never tried the sport before.
Within very short order, most beach resorts featured a range of Hobie Cats, from the smaller ones to the faster and better equipped 18 footers, which could zip along the water at breakneck speeds.
By the late sixties, Hobie Alter’s company, the Hobie Cat Company, was the largest manufacturer of small catamarans in the world, with – at last count – 135,000 Hobie 16s in use around the globe.
As we were writing this story sad news came through of the death of Hobie Alter, at the age of 80. A statement from his company said “he wanted to make a living without having to wear hard soled shoes or work east of California’s Pacific Coast Highway”, which he managed to achieve. In 2011 he was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame for his contribution to sailing.
If you haven’t been on a Hobie Cat and you get the chance, you should take up the offer. There’s no better feeling than zipping along out on the trapeze, with your feet on the side of the boat and your head about 20cm away from the water shooting by underneath you at 30kmh. It might not be fast by car standards, but it certainly feels pretty fast!
If you’re keen to get your hands on one, be prepared to spend anything up to $8000 for a secondhand Hobie Cat, or around $10,000 for a brand new one. And if you need boat finance, you know who to contact!
Hobie Cats for Sale in Australia
Image credit: https://www.hobie.com/au/en/sail/t2/