Boat in a Bag

Owning a sailboat is a labor of love. The time spent maintaining the boat is measured in months and years, while the time spent in the groove of a perfect sail is measured in moments. Some say all that work makes the ride sweeter. But others drift away from the sport because it’s just too much.

A Baltimore County couple insists they’ve found a solution to make sailing less labor and more love: an ultra-portable catamaran. It’s a sailboat that never has to go to the boatyard, doesn’t need a slip or even a boat ramp to launch, and can be disassembled and stored under your bed. 

Alex and KC Caslow, the couple behind Red Beard Sailing, believe this kind of boat represents the future of sailing. And they’ll sell you one for about the same price as a high-end bicycle.

Red Beard is the first and only U.S. distributor for X-Cat and MiniCat, two European builders of portable multihull sailboats. Just how portable are these boats? A 14-foot catamaran fits inside two duffel bags that can be loaded into the back of an SUV, or checked as luggage on an airplane.

While they’re relatively rare in the states, Alex Caslow tells me these packable sailboats are quite popular among apartment dwellers in Germany, who take them on weekend trips to the country’s lakes. And Caslow believes they’ll be just as useful for Chesapeake Bay boaters. These “portables” take between 20 and 35 minutes to assemble and can be launched right from the beach or dropped in from a pier. That allows sailors to launch closer to where they actually want to sail, and requires less paddling or motoring out to the wind.

On a breezy November day, Caslow agrees to meet me at his frequent launch spot—Rocky Point Park at the mouth of Back and Middle Rivers—for a demonstration of the MiniCat 420, a 14-foot, 97-pound catamaran that can carry four people. When he opens the tailgate of his SUV, I see two duffel bags and a portable air pump. There is still plenty of room left for his son’s car seat in the back.

Caslow carries the boat bags to a grassy spot near the beach and gets to work unpacking. Out come two inflatable hulls, two keels, a mesh trampoline, poles, sails, rigging, a boom, and a mast in three parts.

With everything laid out, Caslow assembles the boat’s base: he laces the trampoline’s poles, attaches the trampoline to the hulls, snaps on the keels, and finally inflates the hulls.

It’s around this time that a curious onlooker appears. Caslow doesn’t seem surprised; he says his boats almost always draw a crowd. This time, it’s Rob Deane, the new director of the Baltimore County Sailing Center at Rocky Point. He mentions that the sailing school is considering a switch to multihulls. He hovers nearby as Caslow works, asking a steady stream of questions.

View video of MiniCat 420 assemby

Caslow tells Deane that portable sailboats are a no-brainer for sailing schools. At the end of each season, a dozen boats can be packed into bags and stored in a small shed, protected from the elements. Deane nods enthusiastically.

With the base ready to go, Caslow assembles the mast, attaches the boom and hoists the jib and main sail. After a little fiddling here and tweaking there, the MiniCat is ready for a quick push into the water. 

How does she handle, Deane wants to know? Is the boat simple enough for kids and beginner sailors? 

Caslow insists it is. In fact, he estimates that about half of his buyers have never sailed before. 

By this time, Deane’s curiosity has piqued; I can tell he’s itching to take the cat for a test sail. When Caslow offers him a ride, Deane rolls up his pant legs, grabs a life jacket, and dashes into the November water with the MiniCat. He returns visibly impressed.

Driving home, I briefly wonder if our chance encounter with Deane is all a setup: did Caslow put him up to it to show me how desirable portable sailboats are? Probably not, I conclude.

It seems, instead, that Caslow is simply a guy who stumbled on a little-known product, saw its potential for the U.S. market, and turned that potential into a fast-growing business.

Neither Alex Caslow nor his wife KC have any experience in dealing boats. Before launching Red Beard, Alex was parts manager for an industrial company, sourcing forklifts and warehouse floor scrubbers. KC works in the healthcare industry. Now, Alex sells sailboats full-time. He says 2016 sales far exceeded his expectations. He had set a goal of $60,000 in sales, and quadrupled it before the end of the year.

What is it that makes the “sailboat in a bag” concept so saleable? Caslow says because it’s a relatively small commitment, the portable is a great entry-level sailboat. “You don’t have to fit the cookie-cutter mold of a sailor to sail one of these,” he explains. 

He cites the diverse ways his clients use their boats: one sails his boat from the Western Shore to Kent Island, carrying the storage bags with him, disassembles the boat on Kent Island, and takes an Uber ride home. Another couple strapped their boat bags to the top of their Subaru and drove around the country, stopping to sail on various bodies of water.

The Caslows have plans to take Red Beard Sailing even further in 2017, with a full schedule of boat shows and demos up and down the East Coast.

—Meg Walburn Viviano

 

For a full calendar of demos, or to set up a private demo, visit
www.redbeardsailing.com