A Beetle Cat is a 12'4" catboat first built in 1920 in New Bedford, Massachusetts by members of the Beetle family. Over 4,000 have been built. Beetle, Inc., now in Wareham, Massachusetts, is the sole builder of Beetle Cat boats.
Famous owners include or have included Senator John Kerry, Jacqueline Onassis, who had one shipped to Greece in 1969 for John F. Kennedy Jr. to learn sailing, Steven Spielberg and Calvin Klein."''
A new Beetle 14 catboat, with bench seating, accommodates four adults and has 80% more cockpit interior space. Designed by Bill Sauerbrey in 2006/2007, it underwent a sea trial in late April 2007.
During World War II, all production of the Beetle Cat was suspended. After the war, Beetle sold the rights to the Concordia Company in South Dartmouth, MA, which set up a separate Beetle Cat division and in 1960 moved the entire Beetle Cat crew to Smith Neck Road in South Dartmouth. Among the crew was master builder Leo Telesemanick. In 1993, the Beetle Cat division was sold to Charlie York and became Beetle Inc., maintaining the shop at the same location. In October 2003, William L. Womack became the new owner of Beetle Inc. with Charlie York remaining the Master Builder. Womack re-located the operation to Wareham MA.
Beetle Cat Inc. also builds other custom wooden sail and power yachts. In 2005-6, Womack accepted a commission to build a scaled-up 28' version of a Beetle Cat. Designated a 28' C.C. Hanley Catboat, the yacht Kathleen was featured in the November/December 2006 issue of WoodenBoat magazine. Pictured at
The craft is a wooden class boat used for racing purposes, and a beach cruiser and family sailer (the craft can be launched from a sand beach as well as from a dock or boathouse lift). Although Beetle Inc. is the sole builder of new Beetle Cats, other specialty boatyards such as at The International Yacht Restoration School refurbish Beetle Cats with the objective of training and preserving traditional boat building methods.
Beetle Cats in Massachusetts are often compared to the Herreshoff/Haven 12.5s, designed in 1914 by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff. Both vessels share old-school style, boat handling, and aesthetic qualities and both attract similar classic wood-boat enthusiasts. Both craft have been included in coffee table picture books about classic wooden boats. A travel writer in the New York Times noted in a 2002 article that "over the years, the Beetle Cat has acquired an unlikely cachet, as Jacqueline Onassis had one shipped to Greece in 1969 for John F. Kennedy Jr. to learn sailing, and current Beetle Cat owners include Steven Spielberg and Calvin Klein."
The Beetle 14 boat carries . of sail, proportionate to the Beetle Cat's rig, however two sets of reef points are standard whereas the Beetle Cat has only one. A topping lift is standard as well as more purchase on the peak halyard and mainsheet. These changes, on top of a more depth of hull with less fullness forward, were intended to make the vessel easy to handle and fast.
The best known fleet of Beetle Cats are on Nantucket. In 1925 the Nantucket Yacht Club chose the design for its fleet; with the different colored sails, it became known as the “Rainbow Fleet”. The Rainbow Fleet has entered popular culture due to the ephemera available that features the fleet -- posters, gifts, toys, embroidered throws, belt buckles, half-hull models and even candies and food items.