Members Remember Boat Builder – Frank Butler

The sailing world lost a legend last month. On November 15th Frank Butler, president and CEO of Catalina Yachts, died at age 92. Butler’s company has put more than 85,000 Catalinas on the water since it’s beginning in 1969. Can any of us imagine a world without the Catalina brand boat? There are over 70 Catalinas owned within AYC and ASF.

Without Frank, there would be no C14.2 fleet on TTL and no C22 Fleet, Catalina 25s, 27s, 270s or other Catalinas on Lake Pleasant. And for many members, over the years, no Long Beach Race Week on the C37s. I recently learned that the C37s were built and donated by Frank to the Long Beach Yacht Club in 1989 for the Congressional Cup.

As a past Catalina Yacht owner and having raced a C37 in Long Beach Race Week, the news of Franks passing piqued my interest in his life and how he started his exemplary business. You can read more through the links below.
Last weekend I was informed that a few folks in our club knew Frank personally and these relationships, with such a man, are certainly worth sharing.

Member Joyce Seale served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Catalina National Sailing Association for six years and promoted the Catalina 22 nationally. She first met Frank in 1979 when another AYC member bought a C38. After Frank came to a club meeting to thank Joyce publicly, he helped get her C22 Hermetically Sealed packaged up and gave her the details of the freight forwarder he used. She remembers delivering it to the dock and paying for the shipping, which turned out to be so cheap she now wonders if Frank paid for part of it.

Tom Errickson aboard his Catalina 270 Smooth Operator during the 2018 Governors Cup. Photo: Deb Heisler

Tom Errickson, member and owner of the Sailboat Shop at Scorpion Bay, had this to say about Frank, “Frank Butler was an inspiration to many people, including myself. Without the high quality and service standards for Catalina and Capri products’ I would not have lasted over 30 years in the sailboat business. Frank was a unique individual, and he would always offer a hand up to people he appreciated. Many individuals in the boating industry today were bolstered by his support.

“Frank came to an AYC General Membership Meeting to thank AYC Staff Commodore Joyce Seale for her service with the Catalina 22 National Sailing Association. Before her move to New Zealand, Frank showed his gratitude again and helped Joyce get her boat shipped.

“Frank and his wife of over 50 years helped raise about a dozen foster children. Generosity, thoughtfulness, fairness, and compassion were traits that defined Frank Butler. For many sailors, his passing is a loss that will continue to ripple through the sailing world and boat industry.”

Dennis Lynde worked for Frank at the Woodland Hills factory as the Catalina Service and Parts Manager. Below is the story of his relationship with Frank.

“I was working for a dealer of Franks in Marina Del Rey when they went out of business. Frank remembered me from several of our parts discussions about Catalinas and offered me the job as Parts Manager and Customer Service Manager at Catalina Yachts. This offer came as a huge surprise to me, but I packed up and moved to the factory location in Woodland Hills.

Dennis and Linda (L) and Joyce Seale (R) on a visit to Australia.

“I was in charge of warranty and customer service, getting parts shipped to customers and dealers, and giving factory tours. One of the amazing things I did each day after lunch was to bring defective parts up to Frank’s office. I met with Frank, Jerry Douglas, and the plant manager to discuss why a part had failed: Was it our warranty if we built it, the manufacturer’s warranty, and what was needed to remedy the situation? Frank would get the customer’s names and call them back personally, and sometimes well into the night – to make sure their issues got resolved. It’s hard to find a CEO of any large manufacturing plant that does that for his customers. I was in awe of the care he took with his boats and his people.

C 14.2s heading to windward. Photo by Bob Naylor

“The factory was clean and awesome – a former Titan missile factory – and they used the cranes to move boats around on the assembly lines. Frank had his sail loft, run by Ullman sails, and a wood manufacturing facility. He made his own cushions, and the spars and rigging were all done on-site. He also owned Garhauer marine, which manufactured the blocks and hardware. He hired Sharon Day as his vice president to help make his boats more appealing to women, pick better fabrics, and offer amenities they would enjoy. And with Jerry Douglas as his engineer and designer to upgrade his boats, he was always trying to think ahead. Frank did for sailing what Henry Ford did for automobiles.

“Without Catalina Yachts, which also built Capri sailboats, I know of at least three fleets in Arizona Yacht Club that would have never existed. I owned C-22s, a C-25, and now a Capri 14.2.

“Frank was a pretty wonderful man and raised many foster children. He put on a gruff exterior until you sat down and got to know him a little. He will be missed by so many and certainly by me.”

Eight Bells Tribute in Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Sailor Transformed Hobby Into Business – Wall Street Journal Article
Cruising at 80 – A special feature article in the May 2008 issue of Cruising World. Frank also enjoyed cars and he shares a bit about them in this fun read!

Below are a few AYC members having fun on Catalinas. Thank you Frank Butler!