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Beachcat History | Sailing News

Beachcat History: The Sizzler Catamaran, Aluminum Beachcat

Added by damonAdmin on Mar 15, 2004 - 11:23 PM

Sizzler 16 Catamaran

If you have ever browsed the catamaran pictures section of this site you know that I enjoy collecting pictures and information about obscure out of production beach catamarans. Today we will hear the story of a very unusual line of catamarans. How unusual? Well, you might think that all catamarans are constructed out of fiberglass in California, the Sizzler cats were made out of Aluminum in Cleveland, Ohio!

This information on the Sizzler Catamaran came to me after a member of this site enquired whether I had any information on Sizzler Catamarans, I didn't, but I knew who to ask. First I posted a message to the Beachcats Yahoogroup to find out if anyone knew this particular catamaran sailboat. Before long, a member had found a Sizzler 16, snapped some pictures, and uploaded them to the Beachcats Identification folder. Sizzler Catamaran Pictures.

Then, Mary Wells, the editor of Catamaran Sailor Magazine provided a wealth of detail about the boats construction and development. Mary actually worked for the company that manufactured the boat. Thank you very much Mary. If anyone has additional information about the Sizzler, or any of the former catamaran lines, please use the contact form.

Details on the Sizzler Catamarans from Mary Wells:

The Sizzler was one of various small cats that appeared in the 1970's and tried to ride the coattails of Hobie Cat's success. The name of the company was Great Lakes Manufacturing Co., located in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. It started in about 1974. The owners of the company were Ed Vlack and Art Bates. Bates was the one who ran the company. The designer of the Sizzler was Paul Swenson, an engineer who had built catamarans of his own in the past.

The Sizzler was unique in that it was made out of aluminum. And the process of making it was also unique -- the aluminum was stretch-formed to give it its shape. Each hull consisted of two pieces of aluminum that were fastened together all the way around, top and bottom. In order to give these two flat pieces of aluminum a boat-like shape, the two pieces of aluminum were first clamped together in a big jig, and compressed air was pumped in between the two aluminum pieces, forcing them into the desired shape.

Sizzler 16 Catamaran

Now that they had shape, the two halves of the hull were permanently secured together with a stainless steel U-strip that went all the way around, except for the stern. Castings were put into the sterns to create narrow transoms to hold the rudders.

The boat had a raised deck on pylons, just like the Hobie 16. The pylons were put in place, and then the hulls were filled with some kind of expanding foam that was supposed to fill the entire interior of the hulls. Supposedly, this foam could not absorb water, but it definitely did, and that was ultimately the downfall of the Sizzler. Not only did the foam itself absorb water, but the foam often had voids in it. Those would fill with water, and there was no way to get the water out. The boats kept getting heavier and heavier as time went on.

The tops and bottoms and bows of the hulls were very sharp because of the way the two aluminum halves were fastened together, so it had probably THE most wave-piercing bow of any catamaran ever invented. The bottom curved down, and its depth, coupled with its narrow profile, was what resisted leeway.

It was really a rather pretty boat. The first model was the Sizzler 16. It had the same sail area and mast height as the Hobie 16. But for some reason it did not seem to perform as well, despite its sleek lines. So they came out with the Super Sizzler with taller mast and more sail area. That boat seemed very well balanced and was much faster. And then they came out with the Sizzler 18. That model had problems because the hulls were just too heavy, and they racked a lot under sail. (The Sizzler 18 was one of the catamarans in the movie Jaws 2.) There was also a powerboat model -- sort of a pontoon boat -- using the Sizzler 18-foot hulls.

One of its unique features, was its angled anti-pitchpole foil between the bows. The boat also had a roller-furling jib, which had a clever and simple furling system. It consisted of a plastic drum at the bottom, which was glued to a long PVC tube. The jib had a sleeve down the luff. So you slid the jib onto the PVC tube and secured it top and bottom with hose clamps. Then you ran the forestay down through the PVC tube and attached the forestay to the bridle. The furling string was wrapped around the drum. Swenson also invented a mast erector system for the Trailex trailers that we sold with our boats. And he also was experimenting with little hydrofoils that he would clamp onto the U-ring on each hull, about halfway between the main beam and the bows.

We sold quite a few boats, but obviously not enough. The company owners spent a fortune on advertising and promotional materials. We went to regattas and to boat shows. Took a 16-footer and an 18-footer down to Miami for the Midwinter Multihull Championships. It was all for naught. Art Bates gave up after a few years of pouring money into the project.

One of our dealers in Florida was a man named Hans Geissler, who later designed the G-Cats based largely on the underwater shape of the Sizzler.

In case anyone wonders whether there were electrolysis problems in saltwater between the aluminum hulls and the stainless U-ring, yes, there were. So we put a strip of rubber all the way around, to separate the two metals. Also, one practical problem with the design was that it was difficult to pull up on a beach because of it's very sharp hulls, which dig into the sand rather than sliding on it. It had an advantage on flat rock or launching ramps, because the stainless steel U-ring protected the bottom.

Mary Wells
Catamaran Sailor Magazine

Footnote: If you have any pictures of the Sizzler catamarans, please upload them into the Sizzler photo album.

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