We are dog people but recently we met a cat that really impressed us. While at TrawlerFest Anacortes, WA we were invited to sea trial the new Aspen C-100 Power Catamaran. Between seminars we snuck out onto the docks and introduced ourselves to Larry and Nick Graf of Aspen to learn about this new and interesting creature…er- cruising cat. The Grafs were quite eager to convert us to their concept of a single engine power catamaran. As we toured the boat we began to see a lot of different and innovative ideas. Hmmm. Could we really become cat people?
The first innovation takes a keen eye and a bit of non-traditional thinking: only one engine in a two hull catamaran- not a twin hull as the port hull is about 35% smaller than the starboard main hull where the engine can be found. Got your attention? Now let’s learn more about this unique design. Believing a single engine catamaran boat can be powerful enough to propel through the Pacific Northwest seas and continue on to the Inside Passage and Alaska, Larry came up with a fantastic design that feels right. But you need more than feels right, right? Even those of us without an engineering mind might struggle with this concept producing a straight and steady ride. All we can say is “you will believe it” just like we did when we went on a sea trial. This boat has a great ride and the absolute seaworthiness is there. You’ll feel it- we promise.
Dogs that we are, we started sniffing around this cat by taking a careful look at this proa design from the dock (Proa is a foreign word to most of us but hold tight and we’ll get to that in just a jiff). She has a large open aft deck and a noticeably broader port side walk-around making access to the bow easy. The tighter foothold on the starboard side is still wide enough for any mate to manage line handling when locking or docking. The engine is easily accessible via the aft deck starboard hatch with two options: the regular daily access hatch for fluid checks with two twist locks and a larger hatch opening for oil changes or servicing the Volvo D3, 220 HP Diesel engine. The port deck hatch compartment is empty (no engine!) and a capacity to store almost anything. This space is impressive.
Enter the main cabin from the aft deck looking forward toward the helm station and experience wide open visibility -port, starboard, forward, aft. Amazing sight lines. You can see everywhere with no appreciable blind spots. Between the entry door and the helm is an efficient galley to port and comfy dinette to starboard. And from the perspective of veteran live-aboards, all smart use of space. Tucked into the port hull is a single berth for an extra fishing buddy or lots more storage when provisioning for the Great Loop. Beneath the dinette a deck hatch in the starboard hull opens to reveal some items requiring low frequency maintenance including batteries, battery charger, inverter, and fuel filters. This is a great dry storage location for those seldom needed spare parts.
Continue forward and starboard of the helm, down a step or two and you have arrived in the hallway- OK, so it’s the starboard hull but it feels like a vestibule. Turn forward where you’ll find a king sized bed in the master stateroom or turn aft to a roomy head. WOW, all this in a 32 foot catamaran!
Is Proa a real word?
So now that we detailed the creature comforts we’ll attempt the science behind this design. And we suggest that you not only trust us but also verify with a sea trial yourself one day. It’s an amazing ride in so many sea conditions. We probably zinged you when we report there is only one engine in this catamaran and yet it still rides straight and true. We were Doubting Thomases ourselves as many who know us will confirm. So to start the explanation, think Hawaii. This cat design concept is similar to the South Pacific proa canoe with a second smaller hull or outrigger. The smaller hull provides stability with less drag for the larger hull and this design allows straight ahead steering with no directional skewing. Even in a following sea which we experienced during part of our time at the helm, this extraordinary little power cat pressed on like a knife through butter, rare for most displacement hulls. We took turns at the helm and both of us had to admit that the C-100 handled better when we set a course and kept our hands off the wheel. She intuitively knew how to ride the waves.
Anyone who has operated a twin engine trawler using only one engine knows the boat won’t drive straight without significant rudder correction. A starboard engine will skew to port when the port engine is not running because the starboard active engine is off center and will veer the boat to port. This is not the case on the Aspen C-100 Power Cat because the two underwater hull designs and the engine torque counteract each other and keep the boat on a straight course. Really.
Maneuvers made easy.
The starboard hull single engine will walk or back the Aspen to port in reverse, just slightly. NOTE: this is opposite of traditional single engine trawlers which usually walk starboard or right in reverse. To compensate for this, the Aspen walkway for docking is on the port. The location of a midship cleat and window next to the helm seat makes line handling comfortable for single handers. And just in case you were wondering, to aid in docking the Aspen comes with Side Power bow and stern thrusters as standard equipment also located in the starboard hull.
Another interesting fact is that the Aspen is not a planing boat. She is a displacement design giving you the speed and comfort you appreciate while riding in the water not bouncing across the top of the waves like most go-fast boats. The single Volvo diesel cruises economically at 20 knots and can top out over 30 knots! Our bias as slow trawler owners had us prepared for a jolting ride when her speeds increased but not so, even when we got out into a good chop on top of some sizable swells. This adds up to less fatigue on the captain and crew and a more enjoyable day in the ocean. You can’t beat that.
While talking about propulsion designs Larry described a unique get-home power system for the Aspen. Since all cruising boats have a dinghy to get ashore from an anchorage and that dinghy has an outboard motor, why not design a removable bracket under the swim platform to mount that outboard for backup propulsion assistance? Don’t laugh- this can work. We know because we have pushed a 46 foot ketch down a fairway and into a tight slip using our dinghy with a 9.9 Mercury outboard. Our marina neighbor has his small outboard on a transom bracket that lowers to give him get-home ability on his single engine 36 foot full displacement trawler. It works.
The Aspen has more surprises waiting to be discovered. The base boat offers an optional generator but you may not need one. A 12 volt direct current air conditioner will cool the boat down on a hot summer night and can be installed to operate from your battery bank. The batteries will recharge from the 150 amp alternator on the propulsion engine once you get back underway. Then when dockside you can plug into shore power and continue enjoying the comfort of air conditioning while the battery bank is replenished by the inverter charger. An additional battery charging system can include two solar panels mounted on the cabin roof. Or if you want to be prepared for those chilly nights in the Pacific Northwest a diesel fired heater is available as well.
As with everything else on this boat the hull layup is extraordinary too. All hand laid by Nordic Tug, the hull gelcoat is the CCP Premium Armorcote, a flexible UV stabilized blend. This is followed by pure vinyl ester Hydrex for the first layer of fiberglass under the gel coat. The vinyl ester layer prevents water intrusion and acts as a barrier coat. Then above the water line a 3MM Coremat with an ounce and a half of mat under and over is followed by alternating layers of mat and 18 oz. woven roving. Each layer is carefully squeegeed of any excess resin. Some hull sections have up to 5 layers of 18 oz. woven roving. This procedure is used to eliminate the show-through effect of using thicker 24 or 36 oz. glass and trying to fill in the pockets with more resin. The goal of Aspen is to provide a higher ratio of glass to resin giving you a stronger more resilient boat.
The hull thickness is 3/8″ above the waterline, 1/2″ near the waterline and it is 5/8″ thick near the keel. Both catamaran hulls have a Divinycell inner hull composite 1 1/2″ thick adding more strength and giving a double bottom effect. Additionally the bows have a layer of Kevlar making them impact resistant and proud to carry a 10 year warranty.
Five bulkheads in each hull provide three watertight compartments, each with bilge pumps. The hull and deck fitting is known as a “shoebox” fit meaning the cap or deck fits over the hull just like a box top would. An aluminum backer plate is bonded into the hulls’ top inside edge and the fiberglass deck cap is joined and sealed with aircraft grade urethane adhesive. Then everything is screwed down every 3 inches with stainless steel screws. The final fitting includes knitted biaxial material glassed in to this joint everywhere accessible. Whew! This attention to high quality craftsmanship is evident in the smooth and quiet ride.
Facts not Feelings
Our sea trial consisted of four persons aboard with 60 gallons of fuel, a full water tank at 50 gallons, fair weather with sea conditions varying from flat calm just outside the marina to a good chop with swells from the tugboats operating in the area around Guemes Island. Our decibel meter was on the fritz but noise was never a concern while underway even at top speeds. The four of us tossed Q&A topics around like we were sitting back at the dock. The fiberglass hull interior is soundproofed with foam insulation and the engine compartment is outside the rear cabin bulkhead eliminating engine noise.
During the sea trial we experimented with different angles of approach to tug wakes to see how the boat would right itself after crashing across tall seas. Hmmm…no crashing. As Larry promised the two hulls pierced the wakes. We felt buoyant upward forces but did not pound like a planing boat would do. We ran at WOT (wide open throttle) for a few minutes to steer hard over port and then starboard and the boat rode steady. It did not throw us around the saloon cabin nor make us feel uncomfortable. Relax your grip Alyse. It’s a smooth ride at any RPM.
Today’s trawler market included “trailerable trawlers” and the Aspen fits well into that concept. You can purchase the Aspen near the factory in Snohomish, WA and cruise the San Juan Islands and Pacific Northwest. As fall approaches and a chill grips the waterway simply hitch up your trailer or hire a trucking company to haul your boat to anywhere in North America for your next adventure. Think of cruising the Chesapeake or maybe winter in the Florida Keys and Bahamas before heading back to the west coast next spring. This seaworthy 32 foot Catamaran is fit for any waterway and her low profile is perfect for navigating under the low bridges of the Great Loop.
In this traditionally monohull world of trawlers, this Aspen C-100 proa cat can certainly run with the big dogs. Nice kitty.
These fuel consumption rates and speeds were viewed on the dash mounted Garmin GPS 5208 and Volvo Penta engine panel.
|What we like about the Aspen C-100|
|– It is great in the oceanVisibility is terrificDocking with a single engine in the starboard hull is a breeze|
– Interior cabin space is open and high enough for tall people
– How many Kings do you see in today’s boats?
– 12 Volt DC air conditioner eliminates need for a generator
– Storage for two kayaks and a dinghyGet home feature
– Large diameter handrails everywhere
|What we don’t like|
|– We don’t own a truck to pull the boat so we’d have to hire professionals.|
– Admitting we could be cat people.
|– Bridge clearance, mast down in water, 8 feet|
– Bridge clearance, mast down on trailer, 12 feet8 inches
– Draft 31 inches with half full tanksEstimated dry weight 8,400 lbs
– Fuel capacity 80 gallons with optional 120 gallons
– Cruising range at 18 knots estimated 248 to 372 miles
– Water tank 50 gallons
– Waste holding tank 30 gallons
– Head 1 forward in starboard hull
– LOA 32ft 4 inches (10M)
– Beam 10 feet
– Volvo D3 220 HP Common Rail Electronic Control Diesel