Purring Cat

The 23-foot Carolina Cat offers fishing- and family-friendly features in a catamaran design all for under $80,000. The boat is available at Butler Marine west of the Ashley.

At least as a motor boat, the catamaran doesn’t always get respect from watercraft families and serious fishermen because of its unconventional twin-hull and a reputation for being difficult to drive onto a trailer.

Yet suspend reality for a minute and picture a “cat” with a 9-inch draft haunting fishing havens with the power to surge to 42 mph in open ocean waters, easy handling for a smooth cruise over waves and wakes and then an effortless drive onto the hitched hauler back at shore.

Wait a minute, that’s all real. Plus, the features are all contained in a single catamaran design.

You don’t have to tell that to Justin Torrance, sales manager with Butler Marine of Charleston. He constantly tries to convey those features when pitching the Carolina Cat 23CC, introduced three years ago and priced in the mid to upper $70,000s.

“We sell a good bit of them,” Torrance said. But he acknowledged the toughest task is coaxing water lovers just to try out the boat without a V-hull and comparably smaller with twin 115-hp engines. He said they’re hooked if they relent.

“Anybody who rides a cat buys a cat.”

Tarboro, N.C.-based Carolina Cat developed the 23-footer, as well as an 18-foot model, for the boating segment “who didn’t want to spend (upwards of) $200,000” for sister brands World Cat and Glacier Bay. The smallest Glacier Bay and World Cat models are 25 footers, Torrance said. That’s not to say the Carolina Cat models, including a 23CC center console model test-driven this week, are slouches. The watercraft cruises at 28 mph, sports a 93 gallon fuel cap and can motor along at a relatively fuel-efficient 8-9 gallons per hour.

Meanwhile, the catamaran offers a smooth journey on the water. “The main thing with the (Carolina) Cat is the ride quality,” Torrance said. The vessel sits up, making it feel “more like a V-hulled boat than a catamaran.” Not only that, the 23-footer can seat 10 people including two in the center console, one in front of the shielded driving compartment, two on either side by the motors and five in cushioned seats atop storage bins and sporting grab rails in the bow area. Cupholders rim the sides of the boat, and a 30-gallon livewell provides a place to keep caught fish. Buyers can add options such as a built-in tackle box to the left of the console, he said.

Another popular feature is the Carolina Cat’s extra low draft, which is half the typical 1-and-a-half-foot depth before bottoming out. “You can fish in shallow water,” Torrance said. Alternatively, the 230-hp boost provided by twin engines can permit the boater to take the catamaran for Atlantic Ocean excursions off Charleston. On such trips, “42-43 mph is plenty fast.”

The Carolina Cat offers other family-friendly features. For instance, “you can still do water sports,” he said. In some catamarans, it’s hard to make sharp turns, which are necessary when towing adults or kids on water skis or wakeboards. According to Torrance, the 23CC “handles like a bit of a big boat.” The vessel can turn at slow speeds without using the wheel but only the throttle. What makes it work is the engines are far enough apart to spin the boat by revving one engine and not the other. All told, the boat is “very limber.”

Because of its array of special features, this “cat” isn’t one-dimensional but instead quite versatile. Torrance believes the 23CC is “designed for offshore, harbor, creeks, everything.” While excited about the 23-foot catamaran, the sales manager said dealers are “trying to stretch the boat out to 25 feet” by working with the North Carolina boatmaker on launching such a design. “It’s a pipedream now,” he acknowledged.

Online marinecraft reviewer Boatest.com compiled a glowing report on the Carolina Cat 23CC when it came out.

“When the design team at Carolina Cat decided to build a crossover fishing boat for flats and offshore they didn’t kid around,” the reviewer found. “The Carolina Cat 23CC has the draft of a flats boat, the roominess of a center console, the legs for long distance and the rough comfort of a deep-V. Seriously?” Boattest.com mock-quipped.

“Can all this really come together in one boat? We asked the same question when we set out to test this latest model from Carolina Cat and the answer is a resounding ... yes,” Boattest.com said.

In a short time behind the wheel, the Carolina Cat 23-footer handled smoothly at cruising and top speeds traveling on the Stono River and Intracoastal Waterway to and from the Limehouse Boat Landing.

The throttle provides firm control for accelerating or slowing, and the wheel is easy to maneuver. The covered center console offers plenty of space for the pilot and another person. One of the top aspects was the vessel’s ability to negotiate wakes or other choppy water with little or no bumpiness.

If Carolina Cat wants to look for upgrades, a slightly larger boat could prove practical for people when they switch positions. The boat also is too small for a portable john, for instance.

But pluses far outweigh any minuses in the 3,200-pound twin-hulled boat. The 23CC makes a nice drawing card for Carolina Cat’s attempts to convince V-hull-o-philes to at least give the “cat” a clawing chance.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.