By Jo Murray,
Frank Willis Butler, president and CEO of Catalina Yachts who helped transform Long Beach’s Congressional Cup into one of the world’s premier sailing competitions, died this week from unexpected complications from a recent illness. He was 92.
Butler, who founded Catalina Yachts in 1969, died Sunday, Nov. 15, at Westlake Village, his company said in statement.
Catalina Yachts, now headquartered in Florida but with offices in Woodland Hills, has grown to become the largest builder of fiberglass production sailboats in the United States, the company said.
“A sailing icon and industry ‘kingspoke,’ Frank Butler has introduced hundreds of thousands of people to sailing during his lifetime,” the company said in its statement. “Frank leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Catalina Yachts.”
In 1989, Butler designed, built and donated 11 Catalina 37s to the Long Beach Yacht Club for its annual Congressional Cup match race, which began in 1965, and other sailing competitions.
The yachts first saw action in 1990 and they’ve been used in every Congressional Cup since. The Yacht Club canceled the 2020 Congressional Cup because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the next iteration — also featuring Butler’s Catalina 37s — is set for May 11 to 16.
“Frank Butler,” said Yacht Club Commodore Charles Legeman, “is the one person who helped take Congressional Cup to the top level in the world by his donation of the Catalina 37s, which were specifically built for match racing.”
For his efforts, Butler received the Crimson Blazer — which, much like the Green Jacket at golf’s Masters tournament, goes to the Congressional Cup winner — from the Long Beach Yacht Club.
The Long Beach stop in the California Dreamin’ Series is also named the Butler Cup in his honor.
“I’ve seen many happy faces aboard Catalina Yachts sailboats,” said Long Beach Port pilot Bob Blair. “The Catalina Yachts’ various fleets are enjoyed on the waters around the world. “
Blair attributed sailing’s popularity growth to Butler, noting that he introduced hundreds of thousands of people to the activity.
Butler’s company has put more than 85,000 Catalinas on the water, Catalina Yachts said in its statement.
“Awakening the joy of sailing for so many people in past generations,” the company said, “Frank Butler’s sailing legacy will certainly continue well into in future generations.”
Frank Willis Butler was born in California in 1928 and graduated from Glendale High School, according to his company. He met his future wife, Jean, at a school dance. The couple recently celebrated their 71st anniversary.
Butler then joined the United States Navy.
In 1962, Butler contracted with a Southern California builder for a 21-foot sailboat. But after the builder couldn’t complete the work, Catalina Yachts said, finished the work himself.
Butler “found he enjoyed the process,” Catalina Yachts said, “and agreed to take over the company.”
He founded Catalina Yachts in 1970 in North Hollywood.
Four years later, Butler relocated the company to Woodland Hills. The company entirely relocated its manufacturing to Florida more than a decade ago.
In 2013, Butler was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.
Butler is survived by his wife, Jean Butler; their four daughters, Deborah Reese, Mary Linn, Nancy Bear and Karen Butler; three sons, David, Robert and Steve; and 20 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
Source: Orange County Register