At the heart of a successful business is a great idea, and for FatCat, it was a small catamaran designed to be a safer, more stable alternative to other dinghies available.
“We began because we were concerned with the types of small boats people were going to sea in,” says boatbuilder Blair McLay.
“We kept hearing in the news of boats swamping, capsizing, being abandoned, and ultimately, the tragic loss of lives.
Not everyone can afford a large, top-of-the-line vessel, so we set about solving the problem of creating a safe, stable boat that was spacious enough to carry everything yet still remain affordable.”
That idea formed the basis of FatCat 4000 – a wide beam catamaran featuring a large boarding platform and versatile enough to be configured in multiple ways to suit a wide range of boaties.
“A large part of the solution was to move from a monohull to a catamaran platform, as the supporting buoyancy moves to the extremities rather than the middle,” McLay says.
“This solves some objectives but creates other challenges that must be solved and the answers aren’t always obvious.”
With a background in Marine Technology and having worked at Pure Design and Engineering (which was essentially Emirates Team NZ Engineering and drafting team for 2013 Americas Cup in San Francisco), McLay produced the first prototype of FatCat 4000 out of plywood in his garage in 2015.
“While at Pure, I became sick of hearing of all the accidents that happen in small boats and thought there must be a better way. So after a bit of thought, I designed and built the first prototype in my garage about five years ago. I finished it, but after the arrival of my first daughter, it largely sat in my garage for a few years.”
Things took a turn when McLay decided to put it up on TradeMe to gauge interest from buyers and to help fund another prototype.
“The boat ended up being bought by Roger (Tweddell), who himself thought the market needed something like what I had created.”
Tweddel bought the prototype and a few weeks later, approached McLay to design the next boat but instead, the pair ended teaming up and co-founded Lightning Marine (which was later rebranded to FatCat).
After the business formalities were in place, a second prototype was built and taken to the Auckland on Water Boat Show to get initial feedback from potential buyers.
“People were very generous in their comments and praise, so we set about the task of further developing until we were completely happy with the prototype in all conditions,” says McLay.
With that chapter completed, the pair have set up to mass-produce the boats, and the response has been good so far, with the company recently taking on more staff and moving to a new factory to keep up with the demand.
Appeal for anglers and hunters
The polyethylene used creates a robust and quiet hull and with four grab handles, four rod holders, and ample floor space to work with, the 4000 series is ideal for anglers when out on the waters.
The boat is also open for customisation. Buyers can choose from three layouts – open, seats, and consoles – three engine power, types, brands, and more.
Hunters, too, have found favour in the series. Earlier this year, just before the duck hunting season, FatCat delivered its first camouflage boat in Whitianga, featuring a custom trailer and 30hp Honda engine.
It is not just Kiwi boaties who are interested in the 4000 series. FatCat has been busy fulfilling orders beyond the borders.
“We’ve just completed our first export to Korea. Both boats in this shipment had the optional Ultralon grip to the floor and boarding ladders. The shipment also included products from other New Zealand brands Viking Kayaks and Railblaza with loading done at the FatCat factory in Auckland,” says McLay.
“We also just sent another two boats, this time with the alloy floor option, to the UK along with a couple of boats from another New Zealand brand Zego.”
The next step is to add in the 5000 series to the range.
“It will follow a similar method of building a prototype, testing it, then putting the investment in to create the tools to produce boats that work really well, achieve all the design objectives and still remain affordable.”
FatCat 4000 specifications
240kg (plus extras)
Open, seats, console