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The most popular boat in the U.S. today is the 14-foot outboard runabout. There are a million of these craft in the country, and their popularity is easy to understand. They are inexpensive and convenient to trail behind a car, yet large enough for family picnics, fishing trips, water skiing or just plain getting out on the water. These are the standard virtues. If, in addition, a particular runabout happens to be safe, simple to maintain and capable of taking the big new engines, that boat comes close to perfection for the average American outboarder.
One runabout that fulfills all these requirements is the Beetle Boat Company's fiber-glass Baitcaster (see cut). I saw the pilot model under construction last fall at Beetle's New Bedford, Mass. plant. In that early stage she looked more like a tapered shipping crate than a popularity contest winner, and Ben Clark, president of Beetle, sounded apologetic as he explained her humble birth.
The company had then—and still has—a fine-lined 15�-footer that gives a sound performance in a sea. Her only fault was that she didn't sell—not in sufficient quantity, anyway, to keep Beetle's big plant busy.
"Most of my dealers told me," said Clark, "that customers complained about her being too narrow, too low and too tippy. And they said that her fiber-glass deck was not as attractive as mahogany. I know she's a good design, but I'm tired of trying to educate the buyer. So I decided to give them what they wanted."
In giving the customers what they asked for, Beetle did not give up on its basic fiber-glass construction. In the matter of design, however, the company did a complete about-face. The result was Baitcaster—13 feet 7 inches long, 35 inches deep and a full 6 feet 2 inches in the beam.
Her seats are mahogany. So is her forward deck, thwart and trim. The gunwale is oak inside and mahogany outside. When varnished, these wooden parts dress her up, but pose only a minor maintenance problem. There is, of course, virtually no maintenance on the hull itself, since fiber-glass neither shrinks, swells nor rots, and requires little or no paint. A Plexiglas wraparound windshield, besides being practical, adds to her style.
When Baitcaster made her public debut at the New York Boat Show last winter, she didn't exactly take the place by storm. Admittedly she looked better than I dreamed possible from the pilot model, but still she was no beauty. A number of discerning dealers, however, placed small orders, and when their customers tried her in the water they liked her. It was evident from her quick popularity that Beetle, in trying to produce a popular boat, had hit upon a truly fine design.
The reports were so favorable that I felt I ought to test her myself. When I saw her in the water, sitting at her moorings, she looked far more trim than she had on the showroom floor. And when she was brought alongside the dock, she seemed roomier than the average 15-footer. Three adults could sit on her forward seat. Beneath this seat were two watertight storage lockers. The center of the seat could be flipped down to provide a walk-through to the after section of the boat.
Behind the seat were two large, folding aluminum chairs, with plenty of space to walk between them. Aft of the chairs, on either quarter, were two watertight compartments, each large enough to contain either a standard remote fuel tank or an electric starting battery (see drawing). Beneath the floorboards there was room for enough Styrofoam to float 180 pounds of dead weight in case of swamping. Next fall Styrofoam will be standard equipment; but until then any outboarder who takes the boat into deep water without it is asking for trouble.
HARDLY A QUIVER