Some people sail for the quiet, some for the connection with the sea, and some just o get away from it all. Those who pilot historic A Cat sailboats on Barnegat
Bay do it for the speed. They also
enjoy sailing these rare boats on
the same New Jersey waters where
the boats first raced almost 100
“We love it,” says Gary Stewart,
“but also we see ourselves as caretakers of this tradition.” Stewart, a native of Toms River, and his
partners, Roy Wilkins, Maggie Groff and Rich Yetman, own Spy,
one of 13 A Cats still racing on the bay.
It is believed that only 18 A Cats were ever built. Handcrafted of wood, each A Cat is 28 feet long and sports a 46-foot mast
and a 28-foot boom that carry 600 square feet of sail.
In truth, A Cats are not the biggest
or fastest sailboats on the bay, but what
they lack in speed is more than made up
for in beauty—especially with their huge
mainsails stretched hard to the wind. The
boats evolved from working catboats that
plied East Coast waters with passengers
and freight for nearly 200 years.
Painstakingly constructed of cedar,
ash, fir and spruce, A Cats take nearly
5,000 man-hours to build. The seven
original A Cats built in the 1920s cost
about $2,500. That was a lot of money at
the time, but 93 years after the first one
was launched, it continues to compete with boats constructed
“A Cats are special,” says John Brady, director of the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum, who built one of the
new-generation A Cats. “They are special to build and to sail
and, if given a chance, I’d build another one in a minute.”
RELICS OF THE 1920S, SINGLE-MASTED A CATS
STILL SKIM THE WATERS OF BARNEGAT BAY.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY ART PETROSEMOLO
BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND
Four of the seven original A Cats out for a sail
on Barnegat Bay, circa 1920s.
BUILT FOR SPEED
Four sleek A Cats race
across Barnegat Bay. From
left: Vapor, Wasp, Tamwock,