Frans Dorfling’s lifetime dream (since 1959) has been to build his own boat. After spending most of his life boating and trying to find a vessel which suits his requirements completely, he came away empty-handed. However, it paved the way for him to create his own craft. It had to be strong and had to be able to handle the roughest seas, while remaining comfortable, practical and reliable. This was the birthright of the Oyster-bay Catamaran. We travel to Port St Francis for the unveiling of this craft.
It took Frans Dorfling (affectionately known to all as Oom Frans) a while to realise his goal. From the day he conceptualised the idea, he read books, did designs, and listened to every person he could. It was five years later when his dream materialised with the launch of the all-new 35.6 ft Oyster-bay Cat. In total, the Oyster-bay Cat took two years of research (using books like Glass Fibre Boats by Hugo du Plessis, among others), one year of planning, and a further two years to manufacture. Once the plans were drawn up by Oom Frans and submitted to Sea Boat Designs (Naval designers and architects) to be checked, they came back unchanged with more than just a stamp of approval from the engineers. There was in fact a comment stating that there was nothing they could add or change on the plans as the Oyster-bay Cat had been designed to perfection.
The Oyster-bay Cat has been designed to not only be spacious, but to be comfortable like a home. Aiding this feeling upon entry is the tremendous amount of ambient interior lighting in the helm. Standard features on the craft include a stove, basin with fresh water, and a fridge. The fore cabin is around six metres squared in size and is fitted to your needs. It is capable of sleeping four adults and one child. The cabin and Fly bridge was manufactured using Nida core with an internal aluminium flair. This makes for an extremely light and strong design, which you really do feel. There is no flex under your feet when walking on the fly bridge and cabin roof, or in fact, anywhere on board the craft!
Oom Frans built the Oyster-bay Cat keeping one phrase in mind “Strength by design” and this really is evident. With a total of 16 500 litres of closed cell foam flotation, 14 mm thick hull walls above the waterline and 22 mm thick below the waterline, there’s no reason why the OB Cat can’t operate in any water conditions. In all intents and purposes, provided there are no big icebergs around, the OB Cat is unsinkable.
On paper, this craft can take a load of 5.5 tons on her deck before the sea water even reaches her excess water outlets. As a whole, the Oyster-bay Cat is capable of carrying massive amounts of weight on board while remaining stable and secure in virtually all types of seas. According to Oom Frans, the Oyster-bay Cat can be legally registered to carry up to 32 people for commercial operation. So, while that might make the vessel ideal for commercial fishermen, shark-cage operators, and possibly the Army, it also means that you will never have to worry about water conditions or getting home safely! For those in the know, all fibreglass used on the Oyster-bay Cat is ISO MPG gel and combined with Isetelic resin. For those that don’t understand, this high quality resin is long lasting and chemically water resistant. Another great safety feature of the hull not visible to the eye, are the collision bulkheads which protect the front of the hull from potential front end damage. Wood used on the boat is Iroko. This is a large hardwood tree from the west coast of tropical Africa and is often referred to as African Teak, even though it is unrelated to the teak family.
It is a durable wood and doesn’t require regular treatment with oil or varnish. Although it is almost as durable as teak, I find it does not have that same feeling of strength. An optional gangway door can be fitted to the side of the craft – this is must have if you’re planning to land a few prized catches! There is an enormous amount of deck space on the Oyster-bay Cat, so fitting a bait station and fighting chair would have very little effect on the available deck space. Fish boxes can be fitted into the deck too, should you require it. While this will compromise the maximum loading capacity of the craft slightly (due to the reduced foam filling space), the OB Cat is built with more than enough flotation to spare. While I was skippering the craft, a baby Southern Right whale breached approximately 10 metres off the starboard bow, almost landing on top of us. Luckily we weren’t underway at the time since it would’ve been quite the sight arriving back at port with a catch that size!
The Oyster-bay Cat has a total draft of 440 mm and a beam of 3.8 m. Her length is 10.8 m (35.6 ft) and has a dry weight (including motors) of 6 500 kilograms. And, that’s a lot! For power, Oom Frans has trusted twin 250 HP Evinrude E-TEC outboards to get the craft to a top speed of 60 km/h – which might seem impossible for her size. However, it goes a long way to show the amount of power being produced by the Evinrudes. If you’re looking for a comfortable cruising speed, it can be found at around the 45 km/h mark, where the engines are quiet and the boat shows she’s simply waiting to surge across the waters surface.
A Hydrive power steering system is fitted as standard to ensure the craft can be turned with minimal effort. Fuel for the outboards is supplied from two 300-litre fuel tanks. The ride is extremely stable in the following, forwarding, and side seas. This, given that there was about an eight metre swell on our review day with the winds gusting SSW at around 25 km/h. The OB Cat rides soft and comfortable and her strength is beyond reproach. She’s agile and performs surprisingly well with the twin 250 HP outboards fitted to the Coosa core transom. Due to her ski-like design at the bottom of each hull, I wasn’t able to feel her skim onto the plane – which was done almost effortlessly. Turning the Oyster-bay Cat is no problem, no matter the speed — she turns on a stable line with a slight inward lean with no outward roll. Sports fishermen like to be able to back up onto the fish, which the OB Cat does effortlessly, while remaining responsive.