[box]“Boat Notes” is a collaboration between Three Sheets Northwest and Swiftsure Yachts to bring you an inside look at interesting new and used boats.[/box]
I’ve long been intrigued by power cats. Sleek, efficient, roomy and fast, their appearance has always given me the sense that they’d make an ideal cruising boat to gunkhole through island chains or explore coastlines.
My curiosity was piqued when I captained and instructed on a couple new 47-foot Moorings power-cruisers in the Caribbean a few years ago. As cruising boats, I found them to be easy to use, spacious to liveaboard and relatively economical to run. The one problem with those boats, though, was that they were just too big to be practical everyday vessels for the common cruiser or cruising couple.
Fast-forward a number of years and a few thousands miles to the Northwest and my interest in the boats was ignited once again. While in Desolation Sound this summer I watched a couple 30-odd-foot power cats motor along at top speed across flat, shimmering water and then found them stern tied in a remote, rock-strewn cove a few days later.
Seeing them skim along at top speed brought me back to the bigger cruising cats I’d been on and then finding them at anchor got me thinking once again about how they’d work as a cruising platform — especially here in the Northwest. Of course life, as it so often does, got in the way and I once again stashed my interest in the boats back down into my mental bilge. That is, until I was invited along for a joyride around Elliott Bay aboard the 32-foot Aspen C100 Vaka Ama on one of the last perfect days of fall.
Innovation in Design
When walking down to the boat at Elliott Bay Marina to join Vaka Ama’s owner, I have to admit that I knew little about Aspen Power Catamarans. From dockside, the shape of her hulls looked identical and I figured the boat would have twin engines in twin hulls like many other power cats. Oh, how wrong I was.
When Glacier Bay Catamaran founder Larry Graf left the company in 2007 to start a new venture, the goal was to create a power cat using his innovative new hull design and power system. This new company, Aspen Power Catamarans (built near Anacortes), creates a line of power cats based on their patented and award-winning Power Proa hull, which aims to generate a smooth ride and spacious accommodations with unmatched fuel economy in a boat of this size.
Though the hulls appear to be identical, the starboard side is actually a beamier full displacement hull that houses the boat’s single 220-hp Volvo diesel engine, shaft, prop, keel and rudder. The port hull is 35 percent thinner and has 50 percent less drag than its starboard counterpart. Each hull has an asymmetrical shape, which compensates for the torque of the engine being in one hull only. And due to this, the hull tracks exceptionally well.
Going with a proa designed hull has a few other distinct bonuses, starting with the single engine. Having just one engine eliminates weight and drag from all of its components including the engine itself, battery, prop shaft, prop, rudder, keel and fuel tank. It also eliminates the need to take care of yet another power plant, which was one of my knocks on the larger cats I’d cruised aboard.
Another advantage of the larger starboard hull is that it allows for an improved layout for the living and storage spaces. The engine room is commodious, storage space on deck and inside is exceptional and the forward stateroom has a large king-sized bunk that can be slept in facing forward or aft, or while laying athwartship.
Find out more about Aspen’s innovative hull design here.
We wasted little time in getting Vaka Ama away from the dock and as I climbed into the starboard captain’s chair near the helm I was immediately curious as to how we’d leave our starboard tie slip with one engine and an unfavorable wind. Why, bow and stern thrusters, of course!
With the precision of a surgeon, Vaka Ama’s owner nosed her out of the slip and with a combination of thruster and rudder, spun the boat in her 32-foot length. One of the pluses of having two engines on a cat is that they are painless to maneuver in tight spaces, so it was nice to see Aspen figure this out in a manner that might actually render it easier to handle than her dual-engined counterparts.
While making our way out into Elliott Bay I was schooled on the philosophy behind Aspen’s proa design and was eager to feel how the boat handled when we throttled up. We started by going through a range of RPMs to get a feel for each and then stopped at what the owner considered his fastest cruising speed — 18-knots while burning around 6-gallons per hour.
A quick mental calculation had us at Blake Island in about 20 minutes, Gig Harbor in about an hour and a half and in the San Juan Islands in just over three hours in good conditions. Sounds good to me. When thinking through fuel consumption and speed in comparison to the cruising speed of a sailboat or trawler, though, we figured that to run Vaka Ama at 1500 RPMs and 7-knots you’d burn about a gallon per hour — which is quite good. The sweet spot would probably be somewhere in the 2000 to 2500 RPM range, which would put you at 10- to 12-knots while burning just 2.5- to 4-gallons per hour.
Besides fuel economy, another big claim to fame of any power cat is that the ride of the boat and feel of the helm is supposed to be unparalleled in comfort and smoothness. This was somewhat the case on the bigger cats I’d been on, but was certainly how I found Vaka Ama to be off the shores of downtown Seattle.
When it was my turn to take a trick at the helm, I made big sweeping turns, quick short turns and even though there wasn’t a large swell or chop to deal with, managed to find a few large wakes to tackle. Though I can’t attest to the boats seakeeping ability in a big sea, it certainly was smooth as we ran around Elliott Bay and most times very little touch was needed at the helm to keep her on course.
Both at the dock and while underway, I took some time to poke around Vaka Ama to see how the boat might be while out for a quick weekend trip or extended summer voyage. I was instantly struck by the immense size of the aft deck. Perfect for fishing, hanging out or enjoying a meal, this is a treasured space that can also be another room on a rainy day with the full enclosure up. There is also a small sink with a faucet that can double as a shower and a small fridge is perfect for drinks. A removable table can be mounted in the center of the cockpit and a large cooler with a cushion fits into an alcove at the transom. Storage and engine access throughout this space are superb.
Stepping into the cabin through a weather tight door, the first thing that caught my eye was a bunk located down and to port. This is an ingenious use of space for a guest, or can be used as extra storage. Forward of the entry to this bunk is an inline galley with fridge, stainless steel sink set in Corian countertops and a stove and oven that has a Corian insert to add more counter space.
To starboard is a raised table and settees that can be turned into a bunk. Four people can fit around here comfortably and its height relative to the deck makes it a fine place to sit and watch the world go by out of the large windows that encircle the cabin.
Forward of the galley and dinette is the captain’s chair at the helm to port and crew chair to starboard. These are both comfortable seats and the dash and nav station at the helm is an impressive place to run the boat from. A full compliment of Garmin electronics makes navigating and piloting a straightforward process, and access to the backside of this dash is easily reached from the forward cabin.
Being that the starboard hull is beamier than the port, when you drop down into it via a few steps, it seems as though you’re in a boat that is larger than 32 feet. Forward of the steps is a roomy master cabin with a huge bunk, conveniently located storage spaces and hooks, and large overhead hatches to let in light. The joinery and hull linings are of a light color as well, which doesn’t make the space seem like a cave. Aft of the stateroom is a small head with storage space and amenities appropriate for a day trip or few months aboard.
An all-inclusive cruiser
Though I’m a sailor at heart, I’m actually a lover of all boats, and when it comes to powerboats I’m a big fan of these multihull designs. The simple reason is for their mix of efficiency and comfort. And Aspen seems to have struck a perfect balance with their unique designs, which range from 28 to 50 feet.
I see this 32-footer being a perfect cruiser for a couple that is looking to have a boat they can come to and use quickly and without fuss. Getting it ready to go and off the dock is a big part of this, but so too is being able to cruise comfortable and reliably. Many features make this a boat that is well suited for a long weekend in the Puget Sound or an extended cruising journey up the Inside Passage, but the fuel economy and accommodations afforded by the Power Proa hull design might make it the perfect power cat.
To find out more about the Aspen C100 Vaka Ama, visit swiftsureyachts.com.