|American Fiberglass Corporation, orginally based in Norwalk, CT USA, was the builder of the AQUA CAT catamaran, one of the most successful small boats of it's day. The AQUA CAT, because of it's ingenuity of design, it's exciting performance and resonable cost, brought large numbers of people to the sport of sailing who may never have had inclination or means do so.|
The company began with Art Javes, the boats designer, and Billy Mills, whose faith in the project, provided the financing that allowed it to go forward.
In 1962, Mills offered to invest $200,000 for a 75 percent stake in a company we would form to build Aqua Cats. He said his goal was to sell the business in 10 years for $1 million. Nine years, 11 months and 14 days later we sold it for $1.5 million."
During this time, Javes says, they built about 1,000 AQUA CATS a year.
A catamaran was hardly a mainstream boat in the 1960s, but its simplicity was surely a major factor in its success. The hulls are connected by a pair of aluminum tubes, one of which doubles as a traveler, and an aluminum frame that supports a raised trampoline deck. The mast, held up by an aluminum A-frame, fits into a sleeve in the sail shaped to produce a positive curve on the leading edge.
The sail, for its part, is a high-aspect triangle that lends a graceful look to the little cat. Javes, of course, has a story about the sail. At the shop of his friend, the noted boatbuilder Bill Luders, he was introduced to what was, in the late 1950s, a noveltyóa genoa, a large overlapping headsail for a 6-meter yacht. "Billy Luders laughed when I said that would make a good sail for my catamaran," Javes said. But it did. The AQUA CATís mainsail, its only sail, is the shape of a scaled-down 6-Meter genoa. It is sheeted like a genoa, too, to the aforementioned traveler. There is no boom, which is why gybing is less exciting than blowing oneís nose.
When Mills sold the company just before his self-imposed 10-year deadline, AQUA CAT production never missed a beat. Dave Stanton, who runs American Sail, Inc., the company that now builds the boat, reckons that something like 25,000 AQUA CATa have been sold. Slightly modified with upturned bows and 6 inches more length, they are still selling briskly for less than four times the price Javes cooked up.
This in spite of the fact in the late 1960s a surfboard maker named Hobie Alter brought out a catamaran that was faster and more exciting to race than the AQUA CAT. Which brings us to Art Javesí Hobie story: "The Aqua Cat was the first catamaran he sailed," Javes said of Alter. "I met him at a boat show in Anaheim, California. He had the neighboring booth, selling his surfboards. I introduced him to the AQUA CAT. A while later he called me and said, ĎYouíre going to hate me,í and said he was going into the catamaran business. I said I didnít mind. Having another catamaran around would only help people get the idea that sitting on a boat is better than sitting in it."
In fact, people have never had a problem liking the idea of sitting on an Aqua Cat, a boat that in all ways just makes sense. One person can sail it easily, yet its 28-square-foot Dacron trampoline deck can accommodate a family. Itís docileóno heeling unless you work at it. The only thing daunting about the boat might be that ball at the top of mast, which is meant to be an anti-capsize float. Not to worry, says Art Javes. "Itís hard to get into trouble. If you do, just let go of the sheetline, and the boat stands right up."
The AQUA CATís mass appeal may have been based on its image as an Every Personís boat, but that didnít keep more sophisticated sailors or the rich and famous away. In its heyday there were nearly 50 AQUA CAT racing fleets in the United States. Tom Hatch, who early on helped build AQUA CATS at Art Javesí side and later became a dealer, reports that King Hussein of Jordan was given one as a wedding gift when he married Queen Noor and that Bobby Kennedy bought one for the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport.
The number of AQUA CATS in the world is impressiveóvery few sailboats of any kind can match it. But to gauge its true influence on sailing, the number sold should be multiplied by the number of people who experienced sailing for the first time on the little cat they found at a resort or boat rental agency. This, says Dave Stanton, who has managed production of the boat for some 30 years, should earn the AQUA CAT "a place in sailing history."