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Catalina Yachts Announces Loss of CEO Frank W. Butler

We were sorry to receive the news this morning that one of California’s legendary boatbuilders has passed away. We’ve had the pleasure of working with Frank, his team and his dealers, as well as telling the stories of so many of his customers. Many of our readers started in one of his Catalina 22s and moved on to sail the Delta or cruise in the Baja Ha-Ha aboard one of the thousands of boats he built. We received the following from Catalina this morning:

“It is with great sadness that we announce that Frank Willis Butler, President and Chief Executive Officer of Catalina Yachts, passed away November 15, 2020, in Westlake Village, CA, due to unexpected complications from a recent illness. We extend our most heartfelt condolences and sympathy to Frank’s family. Our thoughts are with them at this most difficult time.

“A sailing icon and industry ‘kingspoke’, Frank Butler has introduced hundreds of thousands of people to sailing during his lifetime. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Frank have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Frank leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Catalina Yachts.”

Catalina Yachts
Wherever and whenever you sail, you seem to be crossing tacks with one of the boats Frank built.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

“Born in California in 1928, Frank’s line of popular sailboats put more than 85,000 Catalinas on the water throughout the yachting world. His boatbuilding career began in 1962, when he contracted with a Southern California builder for a 21’ daysailer. The builder was unable to finish the boat, and gave Butler the tooling. He completed building the boat himself, found he enjoyed the process, and agreed to take over the company.

“A few years later he founded Catalina Yachts, which has grown to become the largest builder of fiberglass production sailboats in the United States, a position it holds to this day.

“A key to Butler’s success in the sailboat industry was his attention to Catalina customers. Handling warranty issues himself, owners were nearly always surprised and reassured to get a personal call from Frank to discuss their concerns.

“Butler was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2013. In recognition of his support of the Congressional Cup, a world match racing event, Long Beach Yacht Club awarded him the Crimson Blazer. He was also a founder and lifelong member of the Westlake Yacht Club in Westlake, CA.

“Awakening the joy of sailing for so many people in past generations, Frank Butler’s sailing legacy will certainly continue well into future generations.”

26 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Mark Anderson 2 months ago

    I was Harbor Patrol at White’s Landing on Catalina Isle in 2001 and 2002. Frank sailed in in his dark blue Catalina 42 named THE BUTLER DID IT and I put him on a mooring next to my sailboat. Great Guy but 3 days later he motored off the mooring in some wind and caught the mooring wand in his prop. I put a knife in my teeth and dove in the water like Tarzan and cut him free……Frank gave me a $50.00 tip……folks that knew him said NO WAY…..But Frank did indeed tip me……A very nice man and I am sorry to hear he passed.

  2. Avatar
    Ken Brinkley 2 months ago

    He brought an awful lot of boats to an a awful lot of people and that is a great thing. Rest in peace Frank Butler your boat will sail forever.

  3. Avatar
    Pat Broderick 2 months ago

    Before Catalina Yachts there were the Coronado boats. A beat up Coronado 25 got me around the Bay, into racing, into the Singlehanded Sailing Society, every sail I’ve sailed since 1971. When we had 20 Coronado 25s on the YRA start line and more at the Nationals Frank Butler cheered us on, supported out-of-production boats, and showed up at the Southern California events. I see a Coronado 25 out sailing from time to time and reflect back on those early sailing days. — Pat Broderick, “CIBOLA” #37368

    • Avatar
      Bill Ries 2 months ago

      Thanks for that post, Pat. I started in a Coronado 25, too,” Our Boat “ before moving on to an Olson 25 (Vivace) and an Express 37 (Elan). It was the Coronado 25 Nationals at the old St. Francis that got me hooked on racing. Yes, we had a huge fleet, especially compared to anything other than the J-24 and J-105’s.

  4. Avatar
    Wyant Lauterman 2 months ago

    My family moved to Westlake Village in early 1968. I went to high school with Frank’s sons, Dave and Bob. In 1969 we bought a Coronado 15, (US 379) from him and raced it extensively. During the summer, Frank gave several of us small jobs at his factory in North Hollywood. He was a taskmaster to be sure, but a great guy. I clearly recall at the age of 14, negotiating with “Mr. Butler” for a used $300.00 trailer for our boat that he had at the factory. I remember we went ’round and ’round for nearly an hour on the price. I think he considered it a sporting event, as he was normally way too busy to be haggling with a 14 year-old kid over a trailer. I look back on that and really get a good laugh. It was an honor to know him!
    My most sincere condolences to Dave, Bob and the rest of the Butler family.

    • Avatar
      Sherry 2 months ago

      Yes!!! He was a negotiator for sure! Lol

  5. Avatar
    David Gauny 2 months ago

    I fell in love with sailing upon purchasing my first boat, a 20-year-old Catalina 30 in 2003. From there, I moved up to a beautiful 2005 Anniversary Edition Catalina 36, and then the 400. All were great boats and held their value well. Even after eventually moving up to a Tayana 52, I still consider the Catalina 36′ the best boat I had for light-breeze cruising off Santa Barbara’s coast. Simply put, the happiest days of this sailor’s life was never the day I sold a Catalina! Frank Butler made sailing affordable for the masses, and I’ve always heard great things about him as a person. Fair winds, following seas, and Godspeed, sir.

  6. Avatar
    Chris Clothier 2 months ago

    loved our Catalina 38. Fond memories. RIP
    Chris Clothier for Don Clothier

  7. Avatar
    August van Driel 2 months ago

    An icon just passed on. Catalina Yachts makes beautiful, practical boats at a price affordable for anyone who gets the sailing bug thanks to Mr. Butler. In terms of value for your dollar, excellent layouts and sea worthiness it is hard if not impossible to beat what Catalina offers.

    I visited their factory about 15-20 years ago right around the time the company had started the process of moving production to Florida to get out from under the punitive and outrageous dictates of the California bureaucrats. What a sad loss of such an outstanding company to the California economy.

    The company’s dedication to customer service was top notch!

  8. Avatar
    Bob Bitchin 2 months ago

    He was responsible for more sailors than any other man I know. He will be missed!

  9. Avatar
    Mike Mahoney 2 months ago

    Our family had three catalinas, two of which are still in Alameda named the Irish Lady. My father was a huge fan. We had the pleasure of taking it to Hawaii in the Pac Cup as well. RIP Mr. Butler as you in fact, did do it (Right)

  10. Avatar
    PeggyD. 2 months ago

    My husband and I did indeed start our sailing education in a Catalina 22 at Tradewinds Sailing School in Richmond, slowly working our way up the fleet through Catalina 27s and 30s to the racer/cruiser classic Catalina 38. We loved sailing the 38 so much that a few years later we bought our own. Your boats have made a lot of people happy, Frank. Rest in peace.

  11. Avatar
    Ed Arango 2 months ago

    Frank was an icon in the industry. I worked for him in Woodland Hills as his Purchasing Manager and then under Sharon Day as a Marketing Manager. During my time at Catalina Yachts I learned more about business than any school could ever teach me. He was hard boss and expected the best out of you always. I will always look up to him, a great mentor, a tough boss but always fair. I feel honored to have worked for him and I will always miss him.

  12. Avatar
    Gregory Ross 2 months ago

    Frank Butler designed and built sailboats for the masses. I have a Catalina 30 and a Coronado 15. Both are well built, easy to work on and have tremendous support. Mr. Butler has a legacy that is unmatched. RIP Mr. Butler.

  13. Avatar
    Jeff Bruton 2 months ago

    The passing of an era.
    My first keel boat was a 1976 C22. I found ‘Hope’ abandoned in the backwaters of Tiburon. She had a horrible ‘baby-shit yellow’ paint job, a bent boom, and was filled with duck shit. For $1500 she and a non-functioning (but over time cost more than the boat in storage fees) trailer were my companions for several years. After I destroyed the keel trunk and keel lockdown bolt, I called Catalina for advice and to purchase replacement parts.
    Mr. Butler got on the line and spoke with me for 30 minutes or so. He sent me new keel pivot shoes and bolts for free and advised me to look into some of his larger boats should I continue to sail outside the GGB.
    To this day, the sea is my church and the boat is my alter. Thank you, Mr. Butler, for helping me find the way.
    Fair Winds and Following Seas Sir.

  14. Avatar
    Memo Gidley 2 months ago

    So nice to have a man in this world so passionate about sailing and building boats for such a long time. I know Catalina Yachts introduced and made sailing happen for so many people! I never met Frank Butler but will always respect what he did for boating!

  15. Avatar
    Anne Neiger 2 months ago

    So many wonderful times spent on our Cat.34. We raced, cruised and just spent the night on her for 10 years. Thanks Frank !

  16. Avatar
    Pat McIntosh 2 months ago

    Frank Butler was an honorable man!

    We purchased a “1967 DOLPHIN 26” in 1994, and nobody, including Lat/38, could give us any information about the boats origins, Richard suggested that I contact Frank Butler to see what he could tell me.
    A long story ensued, as Frank knew a lot! The short version is that some guys approached him for advice in starting to get into the boat building business with something larger that the Coronado 25 Frank was then building. Being a good guy he lent them a Coronado 25 to help them get to a good starting place.
    Those guys evidently used the boat to make a plug or a mold, changed the shape of the bow to resemble the snout of a dolphin which added about a foot, and went into the boat building business in competition with Frank with the DOLPHIN-26.
    Frank described them as “not honorable men” and wouldn’t say anything more derogatory about them.
    We can all learn from a guy who lived with that kind of attitude!
    I finally got a chance to meet him in SanDiego at the Catalina 25 Nationals in 2011. He was still involved with everything Catalina and enjoyed mixing and chatting with sailors and racers.

  17. Avatar
    Michael Bowe 2 months ago

    Frank Butler is an icon in production boat history, I bought a 1989 Catalina 42 in 2012 that I’m still sailing in the South Pacific and have logged over 25,000 Nautical Miles. A great boat, fast and lively with every inch of her well designed. I believe the Catalina 42 with swim step was the prototype for all the modern cruiser/racers.
    Catalina’s are highly regarded in New Zealand and Australia, a huge compliment to any designer/ boat builder.
    Fair Winds, Frank.

  18. Avatar
    bruco adornato 2 months ago

    in 1998 i had a fueltankleak in my catalina 36 due to poor design of the platform
    I wrote a letter to Catalina and complained about it and then about a week later I received a call at 8:30 at night on a Friday night from Frank Butler saying that he would make things right for me
    That is why the company was so successful a hard-working CEO

  19. Avatar
    NorcalSailor 2 months ago

    Fair winds!
    Bought a 380 and in the process spoke with him before and afterwards. An icon.

  20. Avatar
    Howard Conant 2 months ago

    Frank Butler was a Titan among ordinary people like us. Even with his enormous and longstanding success, he never forgot who he was, nor thought of others as less. He was an honest and honorable man whose word was better than gold. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting with him once a month for several years as we served together on the Channel Islands Harbor Association of Lessees Board.
    Rest in peace, Frank. Rest among the Gods where you belong.

  21. Avatar
    Pia Lord 2 months ago

    When I was about 7 my parents bought a house right on the Chesapeake Bay and sent us to SSA sailing school in Annapolis, MD. Then at 11 years old my parents decided we three kids were pretty proficient sailors so bought a few boats and eventually Catalina 27 named Flight One. We enjoyed sailing as a family on the bay. It was just the perfect sailboat for a family of five to do day sailing. My brother eventually convinced my Dad he could sail it and took the boat to Ft Lauderdale, Florida . Thanks to the Butlers and the Catalina Company for introducing us to big boat sailing too. I’m now a member of MYC in Melbourne and thinking about my next big boat!! Maybe it’ll be bigger than the 27’ my dad had!

  22. Avatar
    Kathleen Burchardt 2 months ago

    We kept our Catalina 22 in Dana Point for almost thirty years. It was a great day sailor that provided innumerable memories and great times. Thanks Mr. Butler. Sail on———

  23. Avatar
    Jerry Union 2 months ago

    We have owned Catatinas since 1982. We had a ’77 C-30 that we bought in 1982. We then bought a new C-36 in 1987. And when I had a minor warranty issue I too received a personal phone call from Frank Butler. He was very gracious and wanted to get the details so Gerry Douglas would address the issue. We now own a Catalina 42. We could not be happier. Thanks for Great Boating Frank, Fair Winds Always to you. You built great affordable boats.

  24. Avatar
    Dennis V. Parker 2 months ago

    Frank built me a Finn , which is an Olympic class, at his first factory, Wesco, in north Hollywood. I believe he only made 1 and I had the opportunity to race it at Lake Arrowhead Yacht Club and all over Southern California. After the Finn I purchased a Coronado 15 and raced it at Westlake Yacht Club. Frank gave up his display building in Westlake to sell boats and thats how Westlake Yacht club got started and is still there today. A great guy. RIP.

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