A Partial History of the

Paper Tiger Catamaran

by Jack Leevers

In 1967 when Ron Given was discussing with friends how he planned to design a father and son training catamaran which he proposed to build on a simple mould by sticking plywood together with fibreglass tape, his friends began to comment that he may as well use sticky paper. Eventually, the word 'paper' and also the description of 'paper boat' kept coming to mind during talks about the new boat. As a result, 'paper' soon became part of the name, followed by 'tiger' because the tiger is an active member of the cat family. By the end of 1967 five Paper Tigers were built and one made its debut at Cat Week during January 1968 at Brown's Bay, New Zealand. By the end of 1968 the New Zealand Paper Tiger Catamaran Owner's Association had been formed.

Following the publication of an article in 'New Zealand Seacraft', Nick Papas (an Australian) wrote to New Zealand for the plans. Nick also saw a New Zealand Paper Tiger while at the 1968 Melbourne (Australia) boat show. This boat was owned by Wayne Thomas who was a New Zealander who had settled in Melbourne. Nick, Graeme McArthur, Bob Legg, Norm Regan, Dick Clarke, Geoff Braden, Ken Atkin and Kevin Carabott were among the first Australian owner builders. Ken Fay was the first commercial builder of the Paper Tiger in Australia.


The first meeting of the Victorian Paper Tiger Catamaran Association was held at the home of Nick Papas during July or August, 1969. The first general meeting was held at the Burwood Tennis Club on Friday 26 September, 1969. At this meeting there were 26 foundation members of the Victorian Paper Tiger Catamaran Association. By 1970 the number of members had grown to 58, in 1971 it was 102 and the association peaked at 329 members in 1973.


The first Victorian State Titles were in 1971 and attracted 37 competitors with the number of participants extending to 68 the following year and 83 in 1973. Due to the large number of boats wishing to compete in subsequent years, elimination rounds were held to limit the fleet size. For example in 1974 there were 86 PT's before elimination rounds reduced the fleet to 50 competitors, and in 1975 a fleet of 99 PT's was reduced to 50 boats. In 1980 the fleet size peaked with 109 entrants which was restricted to 100 competitors.


The National Title events have been held since 1971 and in 1975 the International Series commenced with a visit of an Australian team to New Zealand.


The Paper Tiger Design


The original hull design of 5mm ply has stood the test of time. In fact some of the best Paper Tiger skippers of modern times have used self built ply hulls. The plans still support the original design in plywood. All other materials including fibreglass and foam sandwich are regarded as alternate materials.


By the early 1970's some fibreglass hulls were built but these were found to be too flexible and if they were built rigid enough they were too heavy. Composite designs were tried where fibreglass was used for the lower hull and plywood was used for the deck. There were many variations of combinations. For example, Terry Heron and John Clift built a composite Paper Tiger consisting of fibreglass up to the chines with plywood sides and decks. This design required less keel maintenance than a plywood hull.


The 1978 National Titles saw the appearance of the first foam sandwich Paper Tiger. This was owned by David Hart (Hartatack). This boat was built on a normal male mould and was finished externally by hand. The following year Dennis Etchells and Geoff Walker built foam sandwich hulls at 'P.T. Yachts' offering an off-the-mould finish from a female mould. By 1982 Derek Congerton of South Australia also had foam sandwich hulls in production.


Up to this time all fibreglass and foam sandwich Paper Tigers were built with the beams bolted through the deck to blocks attached to the gunwales in the same manner as the original design. In the mid 1980's a revision of the moulds allowed the beams to be bolted through the gunwales thereby removing one of the weaknesses in the design, that is, the lifting of the decks from too much force on the bolts.


While the Paper Tiger was designed as a training catamaran Ron Given, the designer, did not anticipate the competitive ability of those sailors who were attracted to the class. Through the ingenuity and determination of the sailors who have entered this class, the Paper Tiger has been turned into a smooth racing craft. Many items now approved were not in the original plans. These include a traveller which replaced a wire hawse, lower forestays which can now be adjusted and the introduction of adjustable downhaul and outhaul systems and a mast spanner. Fittings which are considerably different from those of the early Paper Tigers are a hinged gooseneck, a mast cup and pivot which replaced a pin through the main beam and a plastic washer, turnbuckles and stay adjusters which have replaced cord lashings, a multi-purchase boom-vang and swing-up rudder systems which have replaced dagger rudder boards. Also many fittings have been designed by Paper Tiger sailors especially for Paper Tigers.

 Although the Paper Tiger is a New Zealand design, the Australian state of Victoria has the greatest concentration of boats. South Africa has had a strong association and there has been a North American Paper Tiger Association. Additionally, there was a small fleet at Madang and a licence to manufacture Paper Tigers was sold to Japan. There have also been fleets in Sweden and Canada.