Cormorant:Catboat from Cornwall
A boat of simple pleasures,
Cormorant combines English tradition with a modern accent.

By Thomas Baker
Small Boat Journal #42 April/May 1985

If you’re beginning to believe that all small catboat dinghies are just wet, tippy Laser clones, think again.There’s a new catboat on the block that sails to a different tack — Roger Dongray’s Cormorant. She’s made of fiberglass and she’s a dinghy, but that’s where any similarity to the present stock of low-slung skimming dishes ends. From her bluff bow to her wooden gaff rig, tanbark sail, and lapstrake hull, Cormorant oozes tradition — she’s a kind of Beetle Cat with an English accent.

Yet like her big sister the Cornish Shrimper she combines the appealing style of turn-of-the-century Channel cutters with modern thinking about dinghy design and performance. Her narrow foils and minimal wetted surface make her a sprightly performer — she showed this longtime Laser sailor a grand time during a day’s sail on the Severn River north of Annapolis — and her shoal draft, roomy cockpit, and clever boom tent hold out the promise of a weekend camp-cruise, an option not available in the sporty catboats. Cormorant is traditional, but she’s not Out of date.

Stability is at a premium in any small boat, particularly gaffers. Since a deep ballasted keel was out of the question for this trailerable design, Dongray relied on hull shape to keep Cormorant on her feet. She’s a beamy 5-foot-7 with a wide, veed bottom and a stiff turn at the bilges amidships. You can walk on her fore-and sidedecks without being dumped. Try that on a Laser!

Cormorant not only has the “shoulders” needed to carry her rig, but she’s also got plenty of interior volume. There’s enough space under the foredeck to stow an engine, a pair of oars, life preservers, a tent duffle and a couple of sea bags, and enough space in the cockpit to day sail comfortably with three. Yet Dongray has skillfully avoided any boxiness with a gentle camber to the deck, a shapely tuck in the stern, a subtle spring in the sheer, and graceful curves in the cockpit coaming. Robust Construction

Cormorant’s builder, Cornish Crabbers Ltd. of Cornwall, England (they also build the Shrimper), shows a satisfying inclination for robust construction, without going overboard, so to speak.

Her deck is built of three layers of hand-laid 1-ounce mat, stiffened in the foredeck with a ¼-inch end-grain balsa core and in the side decks with 3/8-inch marine plywood. A pair of marine-ply knees are glassed in under each side deck to provide added support in this heavily used area. The wraparound cockpit seats and storage shelves, which double as air-filled buoyancy tanks, have the same sturdy laminate schedule as the foredeck. Plywood backing plates anchor all deck fittings, an extra layer of 1.5-ounce mat reinforces the gunwale, and two extra layers strengthen the coaming lip.

The uncored hull is molded with just 3 layers of hand-laid 1-ounce mat and receives local reinforcement of 1.5-ounce mat along the keel and in the flat sections aft. Hull and deck are bonded chemically with a polyester sealant and then mechanically fastened with stainless steel screws driven on 5-inch centers through the teak rubrail, both moldings, and into the solid wood inwales. It’s about as sturdy a joint as one is likely to find on a 12-foot boat.

Despite the absence of roving, there wasn’t the slightest hint of hull flexibility during my test sail. The wraparound seat/shelf unit, the long centerboard case (it runs nearly half the length of the keel) that joins deck and hull, and the solid glass bilge keels and hardwood cored center keel (which help keep her upright when grounded) all contribute to making Cormorant a solid, stiff little boat. In short, she’s built lightly enough to keep her performance nimble and trailer weight low, yet robust enough to take abuse.

And as one might expect from a builder who cares about the quality of his product, there were no signs of any shortcuts taken in the final finishing. There were no protruding glass splinters, rough edges, or exposed fiberglass, and the gelcoat displayed a fine, glossy-smooth surface.