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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Magic Cat
September 26, 2014
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‘d never built one.” Art Halpern says of his decades working on boats. “I’ve built every part of a boat you can imagine.” But constructing one from the keel up was something he didn’t do until moving to Oriental a few years ago. After two years of creating “Felix,” Art can now say he’s built a boat from scratch.

Felix, though, is not just any boat. For starters, it is, like its cartoon feline namesake, a “wonderful cat.” The 37-foot long wood composite vessel is one of the largest catboats of its style on the East Coast.

cat boat felix art terry halpern side view
Felix’s low free board and shoal draft were inspired by century old work boats. With her centerboard raised, she draws 3 feet. With the board lowered, she draws 10 feet.
cat boat felix art terry halpern side view
The main cabin is one large compartment. It is divided longitudinally by the long, narrow centerboard case. Art is still finishing the interior.

For decades, Art and his wife Terry lived and sailed in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Art worked as a mechanic, repaired diesel engines and supplied batteries to boaters. A few years ago, the Halperns moved to Oriental. Art decided to build a boat.

He settled on a design influenced by Barnegat Bay catboats. Art describes them as, “work boats that carried lots of sail to get them home in light air”. To deal with the area’s shallow waters, the craft had a centerboard that could be lifted to access shoal areas. For stability, they relied on wide beam, up to 50 percent of the boat’s length on deck.

Art wanted a boat that would sail well, even in light airs. For that, Art says, “you need lots of sail area and minimum wetted area.” The design that caught his eye was Charles Mower’s “Spy” design from the early 1920s.

felix art halpern cat boat spy design
The line drawings for Charles Mower’s 1924 “Spy” design. The top, side on view, illustrates the vessel’s distinct features. Instead of a large fixed keel that runs the length of the hull, the design relies primarily on the centerboard for lateral resistance. The rudder hangs on a large wooden skeg that ends just aft the centerboard.

As much as he liked the design, there were some things he wanted to change. The original plans did not show an engine. Art wanted one. The centerboard reflected the building materials available at the time – iron and timber. This resulted in a large centerboard that occupied a good deal of the cabin. Art thought it would be better to have a long, narrow, foil-shaped centerboard. This would give the board more lift, allowing the boat to sail closer to the wind. It would also take up less interior room.

He enlisted naval architect Morgan MacDonald to redraw the almost-century old lines. Art built Felix based on this new set of drawings.

cat boat felix line drawing art terry halpern
A photo of the new set of line drawings that reflect the changes made to the old design. The large centerboard has been replaced by a long, narrow one and the skeg in front of the rudder has been shortened. The original design was stretched to 37 feet. The pencil marks and stains were incurred in the course of Felix’s construction.

One unusual thing about Felix is how she’s powered. For motoring, most sailboats this size rely on an inboard engine attached to a propeller via a steel shaft. When the boat is under sail, the shaft and propeller create drag.

Art felt there was a better way. He designed and built a propulsion unit that would retract in to the hull when not needed. A 12-horsepower diesel generator drives a hydraulic pump. Hydraulic lines lead from the pump to a propeller assembly mounted in a tube. When the motor is needed, the unit is lowered in the water. To reduce drag while under sail, the propeller retracts up the tube, in to the boat. Art estimates this reduces drag by 10 to 15 percent, and lets him “add a few knots of speed”.

cat boat felix art terry motor generator cockpit
The generator that drives the hydraulic pump resides below the cockpit sole. The straight end of the varnished mahogany rests on the end of the centerboard. The round end covers the well in which the propeller unit resides.
cat boat felix art terry motor propulsion assembly
A closer view of the pulley arrangement used to raise and lower the propulsion unit in its circular well.
cat boat felix art terry motor down
The propeller in the motoring position. It is designed around a 9.9 horsepower high thrust Yamaha outboard engine lower unit. The unit retracts in to the hull. In the raised position, the circular disk forms a seal against the hull, reducing water turbulence. (Art and Terry Halpern photo)

A traditional shaft and propeller aren’t the only things missing from the bottom of Felix’s hull. Absent in the underbody is a keel.

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Posted Friday September 26, 2014 by Bernie Harberts

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