Swing keel boats are frequently sailed in areas of shallow water and are seldom equipped with depth sounders. The result is they sometimes run aground.
Weighing in at about 2,500 pounds with a keel that is only about 550 to 600 pounds, the Catalina 22 is not a particularly "stiff" boat. In a freshening breeze it sails nicely with a working jib and reefed main. But if it really starts blowing, or you sail in a puffy mountain lake, it is possible to take a knockdown. For these circumstances the Catalina 22 uses a locking bolt to keep the keel in its full down position.
The Catalina 22’s locking bolt acts with friction against the side of the keel. When the boat is run aground, the boat is slowed gradually as the keel is forced past the bolt. This feature is provided as a last resort to preserve the integrity of the hull. Problems can arise when the keel itself is used as a depth sounder on a regular basis in lieu of prudent seamanship and up-to-date charts.
The presense of a locking bolt may come as a surprise to some of you. If so, make sure you locate and inspect the keel locking bolt to make sure it is still operational.
Overhead view of the cabin showing the location of the keel trunk and the storage area you need to access to operate the keel locking handle.
It is interesting to note that the Catalina 25 has only a bit more sail area but has a retractable keel that is about 1,500 pounds and therefore a much greater righting moment. As a result Catalina did not equip the C-25 with a keel lock down system. C-25 owners may skip directly to Keel and Pivot Pin Wear.
Run aground several times, or routinely crank the keel up while forgetting to first loosen the locking bolt and eventually you will cause some damage. You may bend the bolt, mushroom its inboard end, or fracture the fiberglass bond that holds the keel locking strap onto the keel trunk. But repair is relatively easy.
Side and stern views of the keel showing the locking mechanism.
There has been much discussion over the years about the locking bolt design. The arguments align in one of two camps:
1) Grind the locking strap out of the boat, glass it over and remove it for good. It doesn’t work anyway and just causes problems (when I keep running aground).
2) Lock the keel down whenever sailing. The manufacturer put it there for a reason. Use it.
Although valid arguments can be made for either view, the locking bolt is there for a reason.
First, in case of a knock down, with the keel horizontal and the keel unlocked, the combination of wind and wave action could cause the keel to work its way up into the keel trunk. Now the righting moment is reduced. The horizontal boat becomes less and less stable. With the keel entirely in the trunk, the boat may actually “turn turtle” and go entirely upside down.
Second, if the boat was to experience a violent knockdown with its keel unlocked, the keel could swing rapidly into the trunk. There is nothing to stop the motion of the keel other than the fiberglass. When 550 pounds of falling cast iron meets a fiberglass laminate, everyone can guess which one will be damaged! Serious fiberglass damage may result, further compromising the seaworthiness of the boat. It's true that in a violent knockdown the friction lock probably wont keep the keel down, but the friction will at least slow the keel and likely prevent serious damage to the keel trunk.
On the other hand, if you are gunkholing in the reaches and coves of the Chesapeake, there isn’t much wind, you’ve listened to the weather reports, and there is a high likelihood you may run aground, it may be prudent to leave the keel unlocked for the moment. In areas like Lake Tahoe, where a placid day can change into a 30 knot blow in ten minutes, the keel should always be locked down.
For a complete understanding of the Catalina 22 and Catalina 25 swing keel pivot mechanism, start with the first article in this series: History of Retractable Keel Design
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