How Do We Like the Tobago 35? (Enjoying and modifying the Tobago)


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Since starting our website and the weblogs, we’ve often been asked this question.  We’ve done our best to answer each and every individual inquiry, but it makes sense to put it here for all.  Those reading this should understand that I have limited experience with other cruising cats, and even cruisers in general.  I do have experience with Hobies and daysailors, and owned a Stiletto 27 for a decade or so.  I also can apply what I know as a result of a technical education and career.  Now, at the time of this edit (Fall, 2014), we've owned and repaired Cat Tales for 12 years.


When I was dreaming of a cruising cat without a “plan”, I initially expected I’d end up with a badly damaged PDQ 36, which I would labour over for many years.  During this time I saw Tobagos sailing and in yards and assumed just by the sleek French lines that they were beyond my financial capability.   Only when I got the right broker, with some reasonable money in my hands, did I learn that the FP boats could be reasonably priced, and in some circles were considered the “Ford” of catamarans – capable of getting the job done at a reasonable price.  The acquisition of Cat Tales is a story for another day.


At 8000 pounds dry weight, the Tobago is much lighter than most cats of similar size.  At 19 feet wide, it is a significant difference from the Geminis, but still narrower than Privilege and other designs.  The materials seem smart enough:  PVC foam panels (thermoformed to the curves, I’m guessing) inside of sandwiches of fibreglass mat and roving and isophthalic resin and gel coats.  The panels seem extremely strong, while the isophthalic resin allows them to give a 5 year warranty against blistering, and means that barrier coats on the bottom are likely a waste of money and time.  The keels are supposedly fabricated separately from a foam core, and bonded into a hull slot, such that they could be destroyed without the likelihood of creating a leak in the main hull.  Supposedly, they stick down enough to protect the sail drives and rudders (but not from Maine fishing gear or poorly thought out haul out practices).


As a result of our sailing in the strong winds of the Caribbean and four crossings of the Gulf Stream, we can attest to the strength of the boat and the systems.  We have had no loosened bulkheads or even stress-cracks, save those along the secondary epoxy along the keel joints mentioned in the modifications below.


She can make 7 -9 knots very easily on a reach in a 15 knot breeze, but if the sea state is rough, the average velocity drops.  She can point nearly as well as monohull cruisers, but simply matches their speed, if that.   However, as speed goes below 5 knots when pointing, lateral drift becomes significant.   I suggest a large or confused sea would be to the monohuller’s significant advantage as well, as we decelerate significantly after a burying of the forward crossmember or receiving a major wet slap to the bridgedeck.  We crossed from Newport to Bermuda in 4 days and 7 hours, which suggests a speed of about 6.5 knots over a nice distance, thanks to a real nice eddy in the gulf stream.  Regardless, I budget 5.5 knots for most planning processes. 


The longer we sail Cat Tales, the more we realize how little sail she needs to carry to get the job done.   We certainly recommend the maximum sail areas per knot of wind suggested by FP; and indeed suggest owners try even less to improve comfort and peace of mind with very little sacrifice in speed (if any, at some points of sail).   We also recommend the captain pay close attention to the manufacturer's vector diagram regarding points of sail vs typical speed, to get out of the habit of pointing too close to the wind.




We also recommend that, when reefing, the clew should not be too tight.  If it is, we risk a vertical rip in the sail just in front of the reinforcement of the reefing point.


 A trick we use when sailing 70-120 degrees off the wind is to tie a pulley to the toggle of the side stay with 20" of line, and running the jib sheet through the pulley to the winch (a bungie cord to the lifelines keeps the block from banging around when not in use, and a bit of hose keeps the lower rope from chafing on the toerail).  The gentle curve of the sail at this angle results in significantly more forward drive.  We have passed many larger, otherwise faster catamarans with the jib so rigged and the main greatly reefed.



Motoring over 5 knots on flat water is easy with one of our Yanmar 2GM20 engines, but doing the same in bad conditions needs two engines and a lot of fuel. 


It appears that many of the Tobagos were powered with 10 hp Volvos.  Anybody pricing these should simply budget for repowering – they were a big disappointment to most that we’ve heard from.  Cat Tales already had Yanmar 2GM20s with SD10 saildrives.  We’ve had no problem with these systems, and learning how to maintain them has not been that difficult.

With respect to our particular engines, I have learned the hard way that a higher rpm is better for them.  Long periods below 2000 rpm (as when charging batteries, running refrigeration and making water) creates significant carbon that tends to block the exhaust mixing elbows and also has been blamed for a major issue we had that caused regular emptying of crankcase oil out of the dipstick hole.  It was explained that the carbon caused piston rings to stick and allow compression to leak into the crankcase.  A faulty fuel pump (verified) allowed the crankcase to fill with diesel (verified), create a runaway engine, and likely dissolve the piston ring problem (theorized).  Since then, the problem disappeared; and a lot of research and advice has me maintaining over 2300 rpm as often as practical.


Does the bridgedeck pound in a sea?  Of course.  In fact, sometimes, when the boat appears to be held by an apex of a large wave in between the hulls, the salon table, bolted directly to the bridgedeck, shudders and rattles enough to scare a neophyte.  Still, it does what it is supposed to do, keeping it all together and providing a substantial home in the next port. 


Steerage from wheel to tillers is with a cable system, and so far, it has required no attention.  The boat came to us with an Autohelm 6000, and indeed, the starboard tiller seems to have been fabricated with this system in mind, being extended with the appropriate bolt-hole.  Again, it works flawlessly on this old boat, without any attention.  I get the impression that the Autohelm 6000 is rather oversized and robust for a Tobago, and that’s all the better.  Cat Tales does not wallow back and forth in a following sea like a monohull, but in the big seas, on our last trip to Bermuda, there was some rounding up at the bottom of the larger waves.  Auto couldn’t seem to stop it, but corrected nicely.


The rig is held in place by only 3 (8mm by 1x19) shrouds, which is not uncommon with French cats.  It is a bit of a concern, but we inspect the wiring regularly, and intend to keep the wires less than 6 years old.  We replaced them ourselves initially, using Norseman – style fittings, maintaining all toggles, pins, and any turnbuckles that were not completely frozen.  The forward crossmember tension line was also reconstructed by me in 2004.   In April, 2011, we had Caribe Greement, of Marin, Martinique, replace all parts of the three shroud assemblies and all of the lifelines.  The three cables that make up the mast spreaders are inspected and oiled regularly, but never replaced.  Advice from FP regarding the spreader wires and the forward tension wire is that replacing these just is not necessary unless deterioration is obvious.


Compared especially to the non-factory designs, Cat Tales has a superb, roomy cockpit.  Those who spend time sailing in warmer climates soon realize this is important.  The little table seems just the right size, and does not seem to be in the way during passages.  The cockpit seems to have unlimited seating during a happy hour, and by supplementing the seating at the table with one little fold-up stool, we can serve 6 at the table with plenty of elbow room.  A second folding stool is kept on board that allows 8 at the table in the salon.


The galley-up salon is beautiful and functional for us.  The salon, with its wonderful panoramic view, allows passages where most of the times the watch can be done from inside, as long as the electronics are not too bright.  We can’t imagine giving this up for another style cat.  Cat Tales is the owner’s version downstairs, with three doubles and only one head.  All cabins and the head have doors installed, allowing privacy. 


Galley fixtures and appliances are from the Italian Smev company.  They don’t return phone calls and don’t answer email.  Any replacements can easily come through British or French dealers who may be more customer oriented. 


A criticism would be storage.  There is lots of room, but very little organized storage. There is little in the way of storage for food in the kitchen, and almost no shelving or drawers elsewhere.  There are little closet areas in the 3 suites, but they can’t even handle full-sized coat hangers.   We keep our stuff in bins under the bed.   The space under the beds has allowed ease of installation of our water maker, and we did put some shelving in for easy access to some tools.  As well, after we loaded the stern with a windmill, solar panels, and a larger dinghy and motor often on the davits, I installed 3 shelves at each bow, and have moved all spare parts into shallow bins there.  It worked fabulously in levelling the boat out.  I used thin plywood, gently slanting forward to keep the bins in place.  The lack of initial organized storage systems likely explains some of the difference between the weight of the Tobago as compared to others.  You can’t have it all.


One place there is lots of room is the anchor locker.  It is just ahead of the mast in the bridge deck, and is divided in two, with the divider holding the Goiott windlass.  The windlass works great, and the lockers are roomy.  Half is used for anchors, chain, and line, and the other half holds a 200 litre aluminum water tank, all the fenders, and can easily hold an additional 5 fuel carboys of 20 litres each.

I have found high quality plastic electrical boxes to protect the anchor solenoid and other otherwise exposed equipment in the anchor locker.  I also found all the wire that was originally there was not tinned, was undersized, and the connections of poor quality.  Only after a complete failure did I find a quiet bay near a chandlery and spend a few days renewing it all.  We are much happier with the installation.  We have also had the Goiott windlass renovated by a machine shop, and find it is still reliable.  It works even better now that the wire from the batteries is of the correct size.  Still, we find the solenoids seem to last only 6 years or so, with the failure related to the contacts being worn.



In summary, we like what we have.  Both the size and the level of complexity of the systems are such that we are willing and capable of maintaining them.  The boat is a pleasure to sail and on which to play the host.


Now for our modifications:


The most important ones involved the steering station chair and pedestal.  The original boat comes with a plastic chair bolted onto a flange at the top of the pedestal.  I first took the post that works for what we would call the pedestal, and had a machine shop cut off the flange and bend on aluminum until it had the diameter of the North American chairs and swivels.  I then purchased the Todd Cape Cod Helm Seat and swivel, which made a world of difference, allowing the captain to swivel the chair to look around, and to socialize with the crew.  Years later, I purchased a short  pedestal (one foot tall, american diameter) and put it on the cockpit floor in front of the salon window.  I also purchased another swivel, with locking knob, and attached a 10 inch by 8 inch laminated teak table to it.  Now, when at sea, the little table is locked on the little pedestal, and my wife or I can stand on it to get a view forward.  When in port and entertaining, the whole starboard side of the cockpit is opened up, complete with a little table to hold hors-d'oeuvres and drinks; and the helm seat is available on the new pedestal facing back towards all the other seats.   The following four pictures show the 12 inch pedestal, and the table well; the captain and guest maybe less so.




Inside of the hulls, on each side of the anchor locker, forward of the mast, is a void that has one shelf.  We hired Robin Unwin in St.Lucia to install a second, smaller shelf on each side, and it was quite worth it.


The particular molding technique has provided us with some concern.  Apparently the primary mold includes the under-bridge deck and inboard sides of the hulls, but not the outboard sides.  These were apparently mated with significant interior glass, and some epoxy along the exterior of the bond.  In 2008, I noticed a crack all along this cold joint on both hulls.  The cracks may have not been structurally significant, but I could not handle leaving them alone.  I sanded down about 4-5 mm., and built it back up with glass and isophthalic resin and a new layer of gel coat.  Labour was about 30-40 man-hours, mostly because of working upside down.   The method was simple:  

After grinding the crack and obviously weathered glass relatively flat, lay up 18-20 inches of matting and roving and resin on a layer of heavy plastic sheet, reversing the relative widths so that the widest layers are last on the plastic.  With the assistance of the first mate, lift the plastic into position onto the repair area.  Pull the plastic tight against the boat such that the excess resin is squirted out of the laminate and up onto old bottom paint where it will not bond well.  Tape this using duct or strong masking tape.  Continue along the boat, using matting and roving that is layered and overlapping the previous repair area.  Grind/sand to match the original contours, and gelcoat it normally.   The boat has to be much stronger now.







After noticing that there were cracks along the mold halves of one of our rudders, we had both dropped out of the boat in spring of 2012.  After researching the repair during the summer, I made a bench out of a pallet, and repaired both rudders.  Essentially, the repair involved grinding down the edges for 2" back all the way around, laying up epoxy and 4" glass, mixing more epoxy with filler and fairing, and reinstalling during the launch.  The area around the rudder shaft was routed out and this area was filled with glass and resin in a "rope" type installation, grinded back to the original surface.




Original water tankage was all aluminum:  one in the anchor locker and another rather angular one behind the main bulkhead under the salon seating; probably totalling around 400 litres of water storage.   Water and dampness cause crevice corrosion of the aluminum where it is caught between the tank bottoms and the fibreglass; and corrosion inside the tank created tan-coloured salts that tended to cause problems for the drinking water pumps.  This problem was even worse when the water was chlorinated.   The two water tanks have been removed and replaced with roto-molded PE tanks.  There are companies on the internet that will modify stock tanks with fittings.  Using stock tanks probably lowered our storage capabilities to around 300 litres.




 In 2004, the fuel tank was removed and a new, thicker bottom was welded on.  As well, it was placed with spacers underneath to minimize crevice corrosion between the bottom and the fibreglass.


We didn't like the arrangement of the stantions and safety lines along the back of the boat.  There is only one stantion in the middle, and the lines travel continuously to clips that connect to the pushpits at each side of the boat.  If/when you disconnect to get on the boat, all the wire is hanging, scraping, or dragging.   Also, the single stantion was always catching the main sheets as they went by with the traveller.  We first had that single stantion bent out of the way to decrease catching the stantions, then we had the talented welder Dominic, who works out of Tyrell Bay, Carriacou to build two stantions as shown in the following picture.  Dawn and I cut and crimped the wires so that we have a gate at each side, and the wires inside of the gates can be disconnected at the new stantions either side to allow access to the dinghy and liferaft from the cockpit (and for passing up groceries and luggage).   The original plasticized lifelines, with broken plastic and rusty wire, are long gone elsewhere as well.



Our bimini is pretty good covering the cockpit such that we have more headroom and manoeuvrability, and better sun protection than 95% of the boats we see in the Caribbean.   The most recent bimini was constructed in Trinidad by Superb Canvas.  Shawn modified the existing piping, strengthening it, and replaced most zippered areas with grommets and lashing and toggles.  This will allow a few more years of use as the lashing allows the bimini to be tightened, and to stay in use beyond the life of zippers.  It has a new detachable vinyl windscreen, side pieces that toggle on, and two complete stern sheets:  One made out of Textylene for reducing glare in the late afternoon, and another of sunbrella to protect us from the worst of rainstorms. 






We recommend placing a mark on your topping lift line as it goes through the rope lock at the mast, warning when the boom will contact the top of the bimini.  Use markers or sew in with thread.


Cat Tales has factory-installed dinghy davits that are pretty hardy, although rather short for the size of dinghies on the market.  We purchased a 9.8 foot AB with an aluminum bottom, and a light 9.8 hp Tohatsu.  Still, for ocean conditions we rope the dinghy in pretty tight so it doesn't shake the davits loose.  We had 2 inch pipe welded to the davits straight up to a 2 inch bar just below the top of the bimini to make a kind of a "double t" arrangement.  This holds two 124 watt panels that swivel.  I aim them forward in the morning, flat in the afternoon, and back in the late afternoon.  I have received 16 amps an hour before dark through a Blue Sky controller.  The controller also has a setting to allow for equalization of the batteries, which I do twice per year.  Note that the boom is lashed to the port side in the Caribbean to decrease shading of the panels.



On an aluminum post on the outboard corner of the starboard stern, just at the top of the steps, is an AirX Marine wind generator.   One stabilizer goes forward to the toe rail, and another bolts to the flange near the center of the boat behind the cockpit.  It is quite stable, well above any hands, and still can fold forward for maintenance (If I stand on a cooler). 




As a result of these two energy supply systems, Cat Tales never plugs in at a dock.  In fact, the original Nemo 25 220 volt power supply and the Hager electrical box are simply rusting up in place, totally unhooked from the electrical system.  I've never used them.


We have stuck to a KISS principle for monitoring our energy.  We have amp meters for solar, wind, and the two alternators.  Finding a place for these was not easy.  I ultimately took some formica counter-top material, bonded some fibreglass to it, installed a little stiffening frame to it, and wired up a panel.  I installed the panel on a hinge system in the `shed` over the port engine.  Here is a pic:



There is already a voltmeter by the batteries with a switch to select which bank to check.  I also have a voltmeter under the nav station table to monitor voltage from the cockpit or salon.  Also under the nav table is an inverter.   We left Canada with a Canadian Tire $75, 750 Watt inverter, and it lasted ten years.  We replaced it with a $160, $1000 Watt Xantrex (marine grade), which didn`t really last two months.  With Island Water World not answering our emails, we`ve replaced it with a $100, 800 Watt inverter from a St. Croix hardware store.


Prior to setting out to the Caribbean in 2004, I had a mechanic look over the boat.  He insisted in having me replace all hoses on the engine, all fuel lines, and all propane lines.  I replaced the copper fuel lines with modern reinforced rubber hoses and new ball valves, and installed Racor 500 fuel filters at each engine.  I maintain 2 micron filters in the Racors (they come with 10 micron filters), replacing them very seldomly, and replace the fuel filters on the engine even more seldomly.  I do not fill the fuel tank directly from the vendor's pump, but haul fuel aboard in 20 litre carboys.  I transfer the fuel only after having dosed it with biocide and letting it settle, and do not pour the last litre into the tank.  I consolidate the final last litre from each carboy, and let it settle further before pouring.  The last bit is discarded at the end of each season. 


Propane used to be stored in two French bottles under the cockpit seat in a little wooden box.  I constructed a sealable box out of fibreglass/foam panels with a vent to the underside of the cockpit, and replaced the copper gas lines with hose and connections provided by a natural gas installation contractor meeting Canadian standards for installation in homes and buildings.  Because of the limited space, we purchased a horizontal aluminum tank.  We also acquired a fitting that modifies the propane hose to allow the connection of the little one-pound/Coleman style tanks to carry us while the ten-pounder is being filled.  The box holds the ten-pounder and three one-pounders.   I also installed a recreational vehicle propane alarm at the floor level in the starboard hull.


The refrigerator was set up by the charter company with a 12 volt horizontal evaporator at the top, and a 220 volt cold plate along the side.  The 220 volt system has a dedicated inverter, and has not seen shore power since I purchased in 2002.  I took some fibreglass/foam panels and built a little box around the evaporator.  The door is a whittled piece of styrofoam.  I now can keep about 1/2 cubic foot of frozen goods and make 2 trays of ice per day.  I run the cold plate for a half hour during the early period of high sun, and whenever there is good wind.  The pictures show the refrigerator with the freezer door on and off.  They also show it is time to defrost!  Those are square ice cubes in a bag at the front - magical!




Of course, many, including us, would prefer a top-loading system to decrease energy loss.  Still, this works well.  We have taken at the outsides of the refrigerator and added styrofoam, spray foam, and metallic tape.  Nothing can easily be done about the door, but we`re satisfied.


I placed the Echotech watermaker in the starboard hull under the midship bunk.  The original Echotech provided about 8USG/h reasonably well, but when the filters were no longer manufactured, they upgraded pulleys to allow the same system to run through a 12 USG/h system, but requiring over 30 amperes.  Were I to do it over, the watermaker would be under the port bunk or somewhere closer to the batteries, as getting 12 volts to the motor is tough through long distances.  I`d also rather have a system that makes much less water at much lower amperes, so that it required smaller wires, less personal monitoring, and could possibly make water without an engine being run.  Still, the Echotech is the hardiest, simplest system, without special electronics and proprietor manufactured equipment.


The stock propellers have been replaced with Flex-O-Fold props.  Expensive, but I'm convinced the performance is better during sailing and even when motoring in reverse.


I replaced the little pot lites in the salon with 2nd generation LEDs, even adding one over the previously poorly lit kitchen area.  Other lights are replaced as they break with LED technology.  We`re always looking at what is available, but little fits or suits us.  Interestingly, we tried the 1st generation pot lights and were discouraged by their light.  However, I didn`t throw them away.  Here they are in a piece of bamboo, lighting our cockpit table.  With translucent backs, they light the bamboo and do a good job.   We dust the bamboo with borax once per year to control mold.



This year (November 2014), we are replacing a significant amount of electronics.  We chose the Raymarine a75, which we mounted where the Autohelm equipment resided at the steering station.  We moved the autopilot head to the right over the engine controls, removed the wind and tricorder, and installed a piece of starboard for the Ramarine a75.  The wind, speed, and depth transducers are routed into the a75 through a Raymarine ITC5 located just in behind the steering station.  An i70 replaces the tricorder at the nav station, providing all the same information, as well as lat and long.  Possibly next year, the Raymarine radar option will replace the Furuno 1621 Mark 2 which came to us with the boat.



The stereo and the VHF also took this time to die, so the work inside the nav electronics area was extensive:




The bathroom door was weathering, as it is hooked in the open position over an open port; sometimes receiving rain and salt, but always receiving sun.  As we stressed over how to fix it, it started to lose wood fiber, making an accurate reconstruction almost impossible.  Just as well.  I took it into Robin Unwin of St. Lucia and asked him to fill it and apply two coats of white epoxy paint (just the interior side).  When we shut the door, it actually matches the bathroom gelcoat.  Problem solved and weathering stopped.




There were many parts of Cat Tales that had latent damage and abuse, and we discovered many unique solutions.  As well, we have found that a little maintenance on some systems almost totally eliminates further damage.  If you still have questions, please send us an email at



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