Compact boat can explore bays, lakes and flats
The manufacturer, CraigCat of Orlando, Fla., calls it a compact boat, but sub-compact might be closer to the case. KeithCat, named for its owner, is only 11 feet, 4 inches long. It comfortably seats two people, however, and comes fully equipped.
“It’s the craziest little boat you’ve ever seen,” said Keith Mercado, who has owned the boat for only about three months. “Everywhere I go, people are in awe of this thing. I’ve had guys wanting to buy it off me, then and there.”
Basically, it’s a catamaran, a type used for everything from high-speed ferryboats to large modern contenders for the America’s Cup sailing races. But instead of the twin displacement hulls that define the type, the CraigCat is based on two shallow, foam-filled polyethylene pontoons, and powered by a modest 30-horsepower Evinrude outboard motor.
“This boat is just a lot of fun,” Mercado said. “It’s all rigged out for fishing, but when I first took it out, I wasn’t even thinking about fishing, it was so much fun just to run her around.”
The boat can speed at more than 25 knots in smooth water, and can explore places on the bays, lakes and flats that are inaccessible to deeper-draft craft; it draws only 13 inches with the motor down — about the depth of water on some Galveston streets during a heavy rain. With the motor kicked up, which can be done at the push of a button, it can float on 3 inches of water.
“I wouldn’t want to take it across an open bay in choppy water, because it could flip over,” Mercado said. “It wouldn’t actually sink, because the pontoons can’t fill with water, but it would mess up all the electronics.”
Despite its tiny size, the boat is packed with electronic equipment, including depth finder, GPS, JBL sound system with AM-FM radio and Bluetooth, LED deck, docking and navigation lights, all of which come standard with the boat.
Also standard are the folding bimini top for shelter from the sun and little transparent spray shields, one on each pontoon, to help keep everyone’s feet dry at higher speeds.
Steering is by a long joystick between the two comfortable seats, rather than with a tiller or wheel: forward and back for right or left turns.
“It takes a little getting used to, but then it works fine,” Mercado said.
For fishing, four rod holders — Mercado calls them “rocket launchers”— are mounted at the top of the bimini frame. The unusual stability of the boat means that a fisherman, having found a quiet spot, can cast his line while standing near the tip of one of the pontoons.
Mercado, who grew up in Houston, has been boating and fishing all his life.
“When I was a kid, my father built a bay house in Bayou Vista. At South Houston High School, I was the only kid who had his own car, and his own boat. I was sort of popular because of that,” Mercado said.
Today, he lives in Kemah, where he owns a promotional products company that designs and applies logos to a wide variety of products, from boats to cups to ballpoint pens.
“I can put your name on anything,” Mercado said. “Not on you, though; I don’t do tattoos.”
He has owned and operated a succession of boats in his life, but he’s clearly delighted with his latest, unconventional though it is.
Running a CraigCat for the first time may be like driving a low-slung sports car, when you have been used to sedans and trucks.
“It’s like you’re really on the water,” Mercado said.