By Jack Hornor
Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
Photo by Catalina Yachts
The Catalina 320 was introduced in 1993, along with its little sister the Catalina 270, as the first in a series of designs intended to go head to head with the more contemporary, roomier, Euro-styled designs of Catalina's competitors. It was an instant success and remains in production with more than 1,000 built as of 2004.
The most notable difference between the Catalina 320 and previous Catalina designs is the way in which the beam at the transom, compared to the maximum beam, is considerably increased. The beam at the transom of the Catalina 320 is 87% of the maximum beam while that of their earlier models was closer to 60%. This is an industry trend that can result in as much as 10% more interior volume for a given length and translates to added space for accommodations. In addition, cockpit space is considerably increased.
The 320 measures 32' 6" LOA, beam is 11' 9" and draft, with the standard wing keel, is 4' 3. A deep draft keel with bulb is offered as an option and draws 6 feet. Displacement of the shoal draft model is 11,700 lbs and 11,300 for the deep draft version.
Construction of the hull of the 320 is basically a solid fiberglass laminate, with a spun-bound polyester fabric incorporated in some areas. This material is primarily used to build up laminate thickness and is not typically considered a "core constructed" composite. Balsa wood and plywood core materials are used in the deck and cabin structures. The interior of the 320 is made up of molded fiberglass liners which, in most cases, serve a dual role as structural reinforcement and foundations for berths, lockers and joiner work. Vinylester resins are used in the first layers of hull laminate to reduce the possibility of osmotic blistering and Catalina offers a five-year warranty against blisters. For more than 30 years, Catalina has built tens of thousands of boats following their time-tested methods with remarkable success.
Some 1993 models were known to have problems with improperly routed wiring that resulted in chafed and broken wires. Catalina has retrofitted these boats with PVC conduit and redesigned later models to eliminate the problem.
On deck, the T-shaped cockpit with pedestal-mounted wheel steering offers comfortable seating for five adults. The centerline helm seat mounted just forward of the stern rail is removable, the center section of the stern rail folds aft and down making for a handy swim platform and boarding ladder. The side decks are uncluttered except for the necessary genoa track and the mast shrouds are well inboard for easy passage and improved sheeting angles. There is a storage locker on the foredeck for anchor and rode storage.
The interior of the 320 is designed with the port-to-port cruiser in mind and less thought given to sailors who make overnight or extended passages. There are comfortable in-port accommodations for two couples or a small family. The layout includes a V-berth cabin forward followed by the main saloon with a settee to port and convertible U-shaped dinette to starboard. The galley is aft to port and has a stove, oven, top loading icebox and double sink. There is a small navigation table just forward of the galley which, in a pinch, could be used as extra counter space. The head and entrance to the quarter berth cabin is opposite the galley. The head includes toilet, sink and integral shower and the quarter berth cabin has a large, athwartships double berth and hanging locker. There is adequate storage below the berths although hanging locker space is limited and there is no wet locker for wet foul weather gear, a feature which is all too often overlooked on current production boats.
Catalina has used Yanmar, Westerbeke and Perkins diesel engines of either 27 or 28 hp as standard auxiliary power at various times. All are freshwater cooled, all are dependable and all have good service support just about anywhere you sail. All provide sufficient power for this 11,000+ pound boat.
The average weekend cruiser will be well satisfied with the performance of the 320 and the weekend racer may be a bit surprised. Although the waterline length is considerably shorter and the sail area to displacement ratio is about the same as Catalina's 34-footer, the Catalina 320 has better boat speed. With the factory supplied 150% genoa and fully battened mainsail, she will point to within 40 degrees of the apparent wind and the wide beam and the low center of gravity of the fin and bulb keel result in a stiff boat. The helm is light and well balanced, in fact, so well balanced that some complain it is difficult to feel and keep the boat in the groove.
Catalina Yachts has endured the ups and downs of the recreational boating market for more than 30 years by giving sailors what they want. And, while many of us dream of sailing off to the far corners of the earth, most of us do our sailing close to home and for all-too-short of periods of time. For those of us in this category, the Catalina 320 offers a well-designed and affordable choice.
Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.