Portside of the Catalyst cruising in Alaska.
Salon with table aboard Catalyst.
Catalyst close to glaciers in Alaska.
Captain at the wheel navigating Catalyst.
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year built
crew members
75 feet
18 feet
9 feet
cruising speed
8 knots
United States

M/V Catalyst is a historic 11-guest (Alaska) or 12-guest (Pacific Northwest) yacht with a warm wood interior that takes guests back to a time when craftsmanship was the rule, not the exception. She has decades-old varnished wood paneling, heavy beamed ceilings and glowing mahogany trim and furniture. The slow pulse of her original 1932 Washington Diesel engine, the only one like it in the world, makes the Catalyst a living creature, with a strong iron heart. The pace of a Catalyst cruise is relaxed and unhurried, but the original excitement of exploration and discovery remains on board. Catalyst’s welcoming and nurturing spirit continues to inspire those who find sanctuary aboard her as a lifetime of memories are created.   

Why Sail Aboard Catalyst

Choose a cruise aboard the Catalyst for a boat and crew with lots of character. The historic wooden vessel has been thoughtfully restored, true to her 1930s heritage. Unique to Catalyst is her ability to be quiet, equipped with electrical systems that enable up to 12 hours at anchor without running a generator. Guests can further enjoy the sounds of whales blowing in the distance, thrushes singing in the surrounding forest, sea turtles breathing in the nights’ cove, or water cascading down nearby cliff faces. Catalyst’s experienced crew and thoughtful itineraries make each departure a truly authentic nature cruise. This unique ship is one of our popular Alaska yacht charters and can offer private charter cruises everywhere she sails.

AdventureSmith Explorations has been aboard the Catalyst firsthand. Read our dedicated Catalyst Ship Review, written by our founder and president who sailed aboard the ship in Alaska. Or consult this page further for a detailed description of the Catalyst, including ship specs, deck plan, cabin images, photo gallery and current links to all the trips she sails. We can help you compare the Catalyst with other small cruise ships offering Pacific Northwest cruises and Alaska small ship cruises. Let us be your ultimate resource to discover if Catalyst is the best yacht for your travel needs.

Common Areas Aboard Catalyst

Aboard this small ship are a bow deck, covered side decks and a covered aft deck, all offering perfect opportunities for wildlife and landscape viewing. A spacious galley and a warm wood-paneled salon, each with a table and two benches, provide gathering space and a place to enjoy the excellent food and company the ship shares.

History Aboard Catalyst

Catalyst’s storied history is part of what makes this ship and her itineraries so appealing. She was the University of Washington’s first oceanographic research vessel. In 1932 Thomas G. Thompson began a personal crusade to establish a school of oceanography at the university. With the help of a $60,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, he started both the school and the construction of Catalyst. The Catalyst launched as the most state-of-the-art research vessel of her time. She was completed in June of 1932 and took her maiden cruise through the Inside Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska and served as research ship for scientists and students for many years. During WWII the Navy conscripted the vessel, mounted a machine gun on top of her pilot house and racks of depth charges on her stern. She spent the war years patrolling the Aleutian Islands for Japanese submarines.  

The Catalyst was built to last, constructed of white oak, Alaskan yellow cedar, Douglas fir, teak and Australian ironwood. After the war, the Catalyst was handsomely refit. Over the next 40 years, she was used for everything from delivering mail to mining supplies and being used as a floating dentist’s office. As a floating marine laboratory she won national acclaim; more importantly, she touched the lives of all who knew her and continues to do so today.

In 1984 she was restored to being the passenger ship Catalyst and began operating tours; she has been doing so under our operator partners Pacific Catalyst II, ever since. Refurbishments in 2013 included: rebuilt bulwarks on the starboard and stern; a rebuilt stern; Port Oxford cedar beams to strengthen her frame; a Cabin 5 redesign; and a “stern lift” to put the steering gear below decks and arrange a more comfortable sitting area on the back deck.

Dining Aboard Catalyst

Food is a sacred thing aboard the Catalyst. The philosophy aboard is that food aids and abets the spirit of community on the vessel, nourishing guest (and crew) along with the beauty of the scenery, the activities of the day and the pleasure of each others’ company and life stories.

Food is prepared from fresh, natural ingredients, including produce that is purchased from local Alaskan or San Juan farmers and fishermen. The chef avoids processed foods; using organic, fresh ingredients instead. A sample menu may comprise of: smoked chicken sausage, kale and sweet potato stew and garlic scape pesto spiral biscuits or seared halibut with wild mushroom vinaigrette, brown rice risotto and asparagus. Guests can enjoy local Washington wines and fair-trade, shade-grown coffee from beans that have been roasted locally following their purchase from small co-ops around the world. In this way the Catalyst supports local communities, embracing the idea of eating locally and using green practices whenever possible. Wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary aboard the Catalyst.

Activities Aboard Catalyst

The Catalyst is a perfect base camp for exploration, with daily off-vessel activities offered. Six double sea kayaks and three single sea kayaks are enough for the entire complement of passengers to experience naturalist-led kayak tours. The Catalyst carries a 12-foot aluminum skiff and a 17.5-foot inflatable utility boat to explore up close and ferry guests ashore for hikes. The Catalyst also holds permits to visit specific areas only offered for small groups. Aboard the Catalyst wildlife viewing is primary; watch humpback whales, Dall’s porpoises, sea otters, moose, bears and more from the viewing decks; listen to the whales underwater with the ship’s hydrophone; enjoy the ship’s viewing aquarium and microscope; learn from the presentation projector and two laptop computers, one for navigation, one for digital pictures from the boat’s camera; and use one of the twelve pairs of binoculars for guests.

Cabins & Deck Plan Aboard Catalyst

Catalyst’s classic accommodations include cozy private staterooms. Despite stateroom capacity reaching beyond 11 guests, the Catalyst keeps an intimate feel by only offering bookings for up to 11 guests in Alaska, and up to 12 guests in the Pacific Northwest. Cabin #1 is on the main deck and can be accessed from the main salon. Cabins #2-5 are located below deck and are accessed by steep stairs. Likewise Cabin #6 is on the upper deck and accessed by a steep outside stairway. Cabins #4 and #5 have shared bathrooms while all others have private bathrooms with a sink, toilet and shower en-suite. All cabins have portholes except cabin #6, which has a window. Regular 110-volt electrical outlets are in each cabin. 

Cabin 1

Cabin #1 on the Main Deck measures 10’6″ x 6’2″ and features a private bathroom with shower. Double bunk (49″ x 74″) with a single pull-down upper bunk (32″ x 74″). Private door to deck and one opening porthole.

Cabin 2

Cabin #2 on the Lower Deck is located on the forward, starboard side, measures 6’10” x 7’0″ and features a full private bathroom with sink, toilet and shower. Double bed (50″ x 78″) with four drawers under bed, hanging closet, storage closet, bookshelf and two non-opening portholes.

Cabin 3

Cabin #3 on the Lower Deck is located on the forward, port side, measures 6’10” x 6’6″ and features a full private bathroom with sink, toilet and shower. Double bed (50″ x 78″) with two drawers, storage locker and two non-opening portholes.

Cabin 4 Single

Cabin #4 on the Lower Deck is located on the aft, starboard side and measures 6’0″ x 7’0″ less a 4′ x 2’6″ companionway. Single bed (43″ x 84″) with storage under gear hammock and one non-opening porthole. Shared bathroom and shower located across the hall.

Cabin 5

Cabin #5 on the Lower Deck is an aft family cabin measuring 13’0″ x 13’0″ and sleeping up to four people. Two single beds (36″ x 77″) and one double bed (50″ x 78″) with two bench seats with storage underneath, six opening portholes and four non-opening portholes. Shared bathroom and shower located across the hall.

Cabin 6

Cabin #6 is located on the Upper Deck behind the pilot house and features a private bathroom with shower. Double bed with no bunk (50″ x 78″). Private entry from outside of pilot house; drawers and storage space; bookshelf; opening porthole and windows.

Catalyst deck plan showing below deck, main deck, and upper deck with pilot house.
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