Plastic fantastic alternative

Boatbuilder Blair McLay with the locally designed and made catamaran.

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The first boat to roll off local boat builder Lightning Marine’s production line is a small plastic catamaran designed as a safer and more stable alternative to the aluminium dinghy.

The Fat Cat 4000 was designed, made and tested locally, and has already attracted export orders from Korea and the UK.

Its designer, Blair McLay, produced the first prototype in his Manly garage six years ago and sold it to Stillwater boatie Roger Tweddell, who liked it so much that he is now a partner in Lightning Marine.

Blair spent eight years working for Pure Design & Engineering, which was contracted for design work on previous America’s Cup campaigns. He says a couple of years ago he did some early concept drawings for the current America’s Cup boat.

Now in his own business, the 33-year-old says his aim with the Fat Cat was to produce a relatively affordable, more stable and safer alternative to the ‘tinny’.

“I wanted to find a solution to all that tipping, rolling and getting swamped activity that can happen in a tinny,” Blair says. “A bigger boat is a safer boat, but not everyone can afford a bigger boat as prices jump fast. The size is what makes the Fat Cat unique.”

The boat is 3.8m long and 2m wide, designed for use by two people.

Feedback on the second prototype at trade shows resulted in the decision to make the boat from polyethylene – Blair says this was because plastic boats are more resilient to being knocked around. It also kept the costs and weight down and resulted in a quieter boat.

The Fat Cat is built by a rotational moulding process, also used for kayaks – the moulds were built in Silverdale a year ago. The fit out is done in the company’s Whangaparaoa workshop. The first one sold to a customer in Napier last November and Blair says word is spreading and orders are rolling in.

“You can fish or dive from it – it allows people to get out and safely enjoy the water,” Blair says.

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