Great Ambition, the beginning

In February of 2006 we decided how we would spend the rest of our lives, it would be aboard a houseboat, named Great Ambition. After raising kids and me spending a quarter of my life on the road, it was time to escape all that, get out of debt and live a full time version of the life we learned to love at Darkwater Keep and in Arecales at Caterpillar Island.

We had been looking for a better version of the venerable Northwest floating home concept, and at the 2005 Seattle Boat Show we thought we had found it in a houseboat built by Catamaran Cruisers of (coincidentally) Columbia, Tennessee.

We did a year of research, going to every boat show and studying every option. In January 2006 we flew to Tennessee to visit the factory (they encourage this) to see how the Aquacruiser and Vagabond houseboats are built. Well, we were stunned, there was such attention to detail, such sound engineering, such care and craftsmanship put into these boats that we came to the conclusion that this would be our new home.

After a month of planning we started to downsize and "check out" of the civilized world. I had finally had my fill of travel and decided I had to find a way out of the rat race, but I couldn't afford to just quit my job. Like most people I was mired in debt, "livin' on money that I ain't made yet" as they say in Five-O-Clock World. The only way out was to radically downsize and in the process, find a better, calmer life. We knew it could be done, we just had to muster the courage to just do it.

We started by selling Darkwater Keep. This was a tough decision because I needed the "Keep" to help bolster my sanity, but we could not pull ourselves away from the Keep long enough to work on the big house, which we also needed to sell.

Then we put Arecales up for sale, but it languished on the market for 9 months. We buckled down and fixed up the big house to put up for sale. By September 2006 it was on the market, but the local market had pretty much crashed, so we sat and waited, with no escape to the river, only old photos of our Darkwater Keep days to keep us sane. To make room for our new life we gave away 80% of our possessions including April's hand refinished antique piano, cars, trailers, bicycles, computers, tools, furniture, clothes, etc. You name it, we gave it away, 30 car loads to Goodwill. What we couldn't give away we threw away, 4 full dumpsters and 5 dump loads. We literally went from having 3 complete households (the Aloha house, the Keep and Arecales) to less than one.

In the meantime I got an offer for a job that didn't require travel. I took a huge pay cut, but I was buying freedom with it, and the price was more than worth it.

Finally the big house sold and we contacted the factory in Columbia and ordered our dream, which April named Great Ambition. The name comes from a misquote of a line in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, "A Stop At Willoughby". Our great ambition in life is to be river rats, nothing more, nothing less. Choosing this life allowed me to retire at age 52, so from now on I am going to slow down and live my life full measure.

Great Ambition is now here. I will keep posting pictures here, so please come visit once in a while. I will update this page often with photos of our new life on the Columbia, on a dream built in Columbia.

New! Click here to see a map of our travels!

Two of the three hulls of Great Ambition. By the way, just to get a sense of scale, take a look at the bright rectangle near the center of the picture, that's a door.

You can see the optional nose caps that allow you to beach the boat without damaging the pontoons.

April worked on a rug for the boat while waiting for it to be built.

Onboard Internet

Since we can't live without internet, we needed to find a solution that was mobile and would work at Caterpillar Island. While waiting for the boat to be built I bought a Linksys WRT54G3G-ST EVDO router and a Sprint S720 Merlin EVDO card. This combination gives us a broadband connection using Sprint's EVDO service and gives us a full network including 4 ethernet ports and a WiFi connection (for April's iBook). By the way, I composed, uploaded and tested this web page with this solution, it's even faster than our old DSL at the Aloha house.

We chose Sprint because it covered all the areas we would ever take the boat, and we could get the Nextel phones with the walkie talkie feature. April and I had used FRS walkie talkies for years to communicate between boats and the Keep. Besides, Verizon apparently has a limit on how much you can download with their EVDO service, and we don't want to be limited arbitrarily.

So now on warm summer evenings, we can sit on the upper deck of Great Ambition, fire up Jtrack 3D on April's iBook and watch the satellites pass overhead.

Two weeks after they started, the crew at Catamaran Cruisers had made really good progress as seen in these pictures.

In this stern view shot you can see the third pontoon in the center. This is an option that helps lift the stern when you choose the twin 115HP outboard option. With twin engines docking becomes much easier because you can use differential thrust settings to yaw the boat into its slip.

We hosted a lunch for the crew at Catamaran Cruisers when they started our boat (this is not an uncommon practice) and they thanked us with a Thank-You note. Really good folks there in Columbia Tennessee.

Less than a month after the hulls were rolled onto the factory floor, we got word that Great Ambition was on the truck and ready to be delivered.

After a week of travel through tornados, snow, rain, hail and dust, she made it to Portland. Carl (the driver) and Pete (the flag car driver) got her safely to the Marine Drive Ramp.

Here we go!

On the ramp, another boater is a little awestruck at the size of Great Ambition.

Launching went perfectly, just like launching a regular boat.

Finally, here she is at Rodgers Marine to get the electronics installed. I can't believe I was able to pilot this huge monstrosity myself. After leaving the Marine drive ramp I was terrified of having to go into Rodgers Marine's docks, I had been there before with a friend. The dock is at 90 degrees to the current with a relatively narrow entrance from the river. After two failed attempts heading straight into the opening, I turned to point upstream, got even with the opening and then applied maximum power with the port engine, she spun a 90 degree turn to the right and there we were, cruising parallel with the dock. What a relief!

And here she is at Rodgers Marine with all the electronics installed. We got a marine VHF radio with antenna, Raymarine E series Radar and chartplotter with 2 video cameras to help me drive this beheamouth, and a KVH TracVision C3 DirecTV autotracking satellite dish and receiver. Can't live without cable, and this gives us a 22,500 mile cable that never gets tangled.

This is the first update posted directly from Great Ambition as we moved in on Memorial Day weekend, 2007.

On May 29th we left Rodgers and headed for Caterpillar Island. Here is a shot from our journey.

Finally we are home, here is the view from my computer room.

In the month before she arrived we kept our sanity by reminding each other that on the next full moon we would be on the water. Here it is. This was a Blue Moon by the way.

And here is another shot on the same night.

Here is a nice shot from the levee above the moorage.

We had to try out our autonomous capabilities, we tied up to our old poles at Carolyn Dickey's old marina, the place where we first fell in love with the Columbia.

And here is a shot from the roof of the Great Ambition looking out to the Columbia.

We spent an evening cruising up to Hayden Island to pump-out. Here is a good shot of April driving (she's a pro) while wearing her favorite T-shirt.

And here is another shot of the same trip.

To be continued...