Great Ambition, Trimaran Cruiser

After 6 years of living aboard, giving tours, carrying up to 14 people on board the floor of the living room of Great Ambition has started to flex some. It was driving me crazy so I started trying to think of solutions but the best one I could come up with was to add a third hull down the center. You may remember that we had a mini-pontoon running partway up the center from the stern to float the stern higher with the two Yamaha 115HP engines. Noting that the computer room and the bedroom floors were still solid as a rock I decided to add a third full pontoon. A third full pontoon would give us several new features.

  • It would strengthen the floor from stern to bow and eliminate the flexing in the center of the floor between the two outer hulls.
  • It would add 50% more strength to the whole boat structure.
  • It would decrease the maximum unsupported hull-to-hull span from 9 feet to about 3 feet.
  • It would lift us 4 to 6 inches out of the water at the stern giving us a draft of about one foot.
  • It would raise the bow nearly a foot to help us clear some of the big rollers on the Columbia River without coming over the front deck.
  • It will increase our speed. This one might be hard to "fathom" but let me explain. The hull speed of a boat is determined by its length at the waterline. Short hulls go slow, longer hulls can be pushed faster before they need to climb out of their own wave and go on plane. The short mini pontoon in the stern is only about 20 feet long which gives it (and us) and maximum hull speed of about 5 knots, which is coincidentally the speed we normally travel at 2300 RPM on the two Yamahas. By removing the short mini-pontoon and replacing it with a nearly full length pontoon our hull speed at the same throttle setting should be closer to 7 knots. That means a trip to Vancouver Lake will only take 4 hours instead of 5 hours. That is a big difference, that means two gallons less fuel each way and it means that we can move faster if we are faced with a storm coming in or other emergency.

So once we had the money in the bank (now you know why I went back to work) we called Catamaran Cruisers and asked for prices. New pontoons price out at under $300 per foot (in 2013). We decided on a 45 foot long pontoon so that we could retain the swim ladder at the bow and put in our order. A month and a half later the pontoon was ready and even though I had priced trucking of the pontoon when I ordered it (around $4300 TN to OR), it was difficult to find someone to do it in the middle of summer. After trying three trucking brokers I went with a guy I found on UShip.com. I won't give you the link because frankly I was not very happy with the guy I got from there as you will see by the photos below. I finally got the pontoon delivered after a week of nailbiting and it was delivered to Schooner Creek Boat Works. Those guys at Schooner Creek are fantastic, which was a nice counterpoint to the guy who trucked it out here.

So, here we go, the pontoon loaded up on the trailer at Catamaran Cruisers manufacturing facility in Columbia Tennessee (it still tickles me that a boat on the Columbia River in Oregon/Washington was built in Columbia Tennessee).

Yes folks, that's a pickup with a 38 foot trailer to carry a 45 foot long pontoon.

After a week of phone calls about blowouts, new tires, bad wheel bearings and constant moans about bidding the job too low (his bid was only $250 less than a "real truck") our new pontoon arrived in pretty good shape.

Here is one thing that gave us pause, this is one of the three straps holding our $12,000 pontoon onto this trailer. Thank goodness I took out insurance on this job!

We took off for Schooner Creek Boat Works on Hayden Island early in the morning. We haven't left the slip for nearly a year so we were a little nervous. Here we are underway just off Frenchman's Bar.

Nearly there, we just have to get under the railroad bridge about a mile ahead and then into Grandma's Cove.

We made it! Perfect landing too!

However we weren't the first, this yacht beat us by just a few minutes. They are here for a survey prior to purchase. Oh well, we just have to wait till after lunch.

I took video of the lift. Since this was our second lift we were not as nervous as we were the first time.

Now that we are out of the water the real work begins. The small pontoon is removed and set aside. We will try to use this at the marina for something.

No center pontoon anymore! They do sell Catamaran Cruisers like this.

And the new big pontoon is nearly ready for installation.

We also went back to the marina to see our home slip. Sure seems lonely without the Great Ambition there!

Major progress on our upgrade! Schooner Creek has the new pontoon in place and has all the bolts in place. Next step is tightening the bolts and zipping up the performance shield then painting the hulls.

She's nearly done! The new pontoon is installed, the performance shield is zipped up, the motors are serviced, the foam is sprayed in the subfloor cavity, only the bottom painting remains. We should be in the water mid-week!

And here is our old mini-pontoon at Kadow's. I'm sure Lloyd can find something to do with it at the marina, a party deck float, an extra dock float, or maybe a paddle board for a really fat person!

The boat is done. She's in the slings so the hull paint can dry overnight then back in the drink she goes tomorrow. And we go home, back to our amazing life on the Columbia with a stronger, tougher and more competent boat to take on this mighty river.

Before the haulout I left a glass of water on the pantry shelf. Little did I know that the whole job would be done with that glass of water not moving one centimeter!

I was right. Of course that is a redundant statement, but we noticed that running at our normal revs of 2300 RPM we were making 6.4 knots. Before the refit we made 5.0 knots at 2300 RPM. That short pontoon was slowing us down, but the longer one, even though it's wider and deeper is most importantly (for speed) longer. You'll notice I took my helm station decorating tips from Wash from the TV show FireFly.

Labor Day weekend so I came home from work and we headed to Southend for the weekend, or longer.

Now for a comparison. Here is Great Ambition at Southend before the transformation...

And here she is afterwards. Notice that before she looked a bit burdened and sallow, but now she stands tall, the front deck is now 2 feet 6 inches above the water at the bow. The bow draws 9 inches, the stern draws 14 inches with motors tilted up. And she even has a bit of tilt bow to stern which is just fine by me!

Notice how little hull is actually in the water! This helps make it easier to make low speed turns because there is very little resistance to yaw forces from the motors for getting into the slip or doing tight maneuvering.

Here is a short video that shows how the new third pontoon helps us handle a ship wake. No water on the front deck, I love that!

I took this video to see how we do while underway since getting the third pontoon added. A very revealing video!

The upgrade cost us around $30,000 including the money we spent on hotels and meals during the time she was "on the hard". It was well worth the money spent though, she's more stable in rough water, the floor is rock solid stem to stern, it does not bow, sag or flex as we walk through her. She sits higher overall and the bow is higher, a full 2.5 feet above the water so that there is less chance a wave or wake will breach the front deck. Both engines now clear the water fully when raised, even with full water and fuel tanks. She is a much more competent boat and ready for many more years on the mighty Columbia, which is a challenging environment for any boat, especially one as big as this!

Long live Great Ambition!