Great Ambition, first year

This is the continuing story of our new life as River Rats on the Columbia River aboard our Catamaran Cruisers houseboat we named Great Ambition.

If you want to see how we got here (and hints on how you can do it too) see Great Ambition, the beginning.


Finally summer is here, our first aboard Great Ambition. We took over Caterpillar Island's South End for the weekend. Here are some shots of that.

This was our second full moon aboard, I got up super early to take these shots of the Moon and Sammi Herald.

On the 3rd of July we did a practice anchoring in front of Caterpillar Island to see how much we would swing on two bow anchors. When the wind came up we held tight, but we swung a full 300 feet on our two 150 foot rodes. This was too much for us to anchor off Hayden Island for the Fort Vancouver fireworks. The next day we anchored in the same place, but used our four anchor system.

That worked fine, Great Ambition took everything the Columbia could throw at us. Remember, this was the 4th of July, there were boats everywhere, huge yachts making wakes, even ships and tugs creating huge wakes, we did just fine. We even overnighted in 30MPH+ winds and the resulting 2 foot rollers, but it was hard on our nerves, so we pulled up and headed up the Willamette to Multnomah Channel.

The amazing thing was that you could hardly feel the waves, they just glided beneath the hulls. The only problem was that we worried about the huge stresses from wind and waves on the structure and the anchor lines. We shouldn't have worried, the anchors (Fortress FX-23's) and rodes can handle 4 tons each, and we had 4 anchors deployed, but still, we are trying to take good care of our new baby here and placing 16 tons of force on our home is not one of our goals.

Being tied to the dock at Hadley's Landing in Multnomah Channel was a lot easier on our nerves. The only downside is that we couldn't swim, but it is a beautiful place.

Speaking of swimming, we got in the habit of going out to the beach after I got off work for a sunset swim and bonfire. I could stay out there all night in the summertime.

And, speaking of swimming, we found a nice hole at Caterpillar Island's Southend where we could swim from the front deck. The boat has a bow mounted swim ladder and gate right in the center of the front deck. Are you jealous yet?

Here is another very nice shot of Southend. We find it hard to get enough of this spot. Imagine waking up in the morning and looking out to see that gorgeous green island just outside your window.

We finally got around to ordering solar panels to power Great Ambition. I ordered them from MrSolar.com. The price was right, the shipping was done right, and I got my panels a week after ordering them. They were a snap to install. They start charging the batteries early in the morning, even on cloudy days. Right after installing them we spent a 4 day weekend at SouthEnd, never had to run the generator once! I'm ordering 2 more to make sure I have enough power in winter.

And here they are! Too easy, and pretty cheap too!

We also got into the habit of sitting on the upper deck and watching the sunset from Southend. Realize that watching a sunset is a process that takes place over several hours, just when you think you've seen the prettiest sky, it morphs again into something even more spectacular. Here is a series.

We decided to try going up to Tri-Club and Lemon Island to spend the night and do a pump-out at Donaldson's. We did the pump-out then found a super nice hole of 10 feet of water and parked ourselves just 20 feet from a shelf of only 1 foot of water. This shot is looking North towards the Washington shore across the long trailing spit of Tri-Club island. The water's so shallow you can see one of the anchors, just follow the rope.

Here I'm flooling around, I'm squatted down in a foot of water, but you could be fooled by looking at all the water behind me, which is a foot deep or less. What's great about that is that water is moving towards me getting warmed by the sun in the shallows so it ends up about 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the river water. Not quite a hot tub, but pretty nice!

Here is a shot looking East toward the I-205 bridge and Government Island. We have been here many times tent-camping with the Stingray but this is the first time Great Ambition has been this far East.

After spending all day getting the anchors right, and settling down to have a nice night the wind piped up, getting into the teens and building. After our experiences on the Columbia both in Arecales we decided to pick up all four anchors and go home. Here April is driving us back to Kadows with the Washington shoreline in the background. Also, on the TV you can see we are watching "What Women Want" with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. That's thanks to our autosteering KVH SatTV dish up top. We just turn on the tracker (the black switch next to the VHF microphone) and the dish stays glued to the satellite in space so we can watch TV while underway.

We finally got the name decals made and put the first one on the port side. It's April's design, the two stars signify the two of us. She got the decals made at Sign World in Tigard.

With our four point anchor system (built by Sexton's Marine on Hayden Island) we can anchor anywhere and we hardly move. When we anchor at Southend we put ourselves about 10 to 15 feet from the shore so we don't use up a lot of the channel. In this picture you can see we are pretty tight in. This picture was taken near high tide, at low tide we are much closer to the shore. In this shot you can see three of the four "crab floats" we had Sextons put on the anchor rodes. These let people know where our anchor lines go, and in the event we have to "bug out" and leave the anchors behind, they will still be easy to retrieve. The crab float's center hole is only slightly larger than the rope diameter letting the float slide easily on the rode. The float can't come off because each rode is terminated by a spliced-in loop that was custom spliced to fit over our cleats.

Here we are getting ready for our first Christmas Ships with Great Ambition. We did Christmas Ships in 2005 with Arecales, and we were going to do it in 2006 as well, but we ended up selling the boat as the ships started sailing.

April did a good job writing out Merry Christmas in ropelight, especially when you consider she had to do it backwards from the top deck (instead of using a ladder on a moving dock).

Here we are at Salpare Bay, our launching point for Christmas Ships. Nice place!

Here is another shot at Salpare Bay, April is cooking dinner in the kitchen.

Here's a shot out the helm window during a Christmas Ships run. You can see "Gambler" directly ahead. We were near Beaches in Vancouver, WA when this shot was taken.

We got a decent amount of snow on January 28th, enough to make some pretty pictures anyway. Despite the snow it's comfy and cozy inside Great Ambition, especially since I added a second 30 Amp 125V service to her. The insulation is so good it only takes three space heaters to maintain 70 degrees inside, all the way down to 24 degrees outside temperature. Below that we just let the propane furnace kick in when it needs to.

We decided to run out to Southend for the day for our first cruise of 2008. We hadn't been away from the dock since we got back from Christmas Ships. The solar panels never let the voltage drop below 13.5 volts all day, and this is February!

Here is a shot from the opposite side, we pulled right up to the beach, and the starboard pontoon is only 10 feet from the beach, yet we are held firmly in place by our four point anchor system. In this shot you can see all four of the crab floats on our anchor rodes.

Here at Southend April is working on embroidering a handtowel with a new monogram for Great Ambition. You can see the new tapestry behind her, it's a sea battle and out the windows, the Washington shore at Southend.

The next weekend we overnighted at Southend. Nightime temps still went down to freezing and yes, we used a lot of propane to stay warm (18 pounds in 2 days) but it was worth it. Here are a few shots from that weekend.

A rare shot off the back deck, you can see our starboard stern anchor set on the shore.

This is why we are here, this shot was taken out the starboard living room window.

Here's a shot of the next day's sunset. You can see our camp chairs next to our firepit on the beach in the foreground.

At the end of March 2008 we took a mini-vacation and headed for Lake River. This is a channel that drains Vancouver Lake into the Columbia. It's hard for most yachts to get here because the average depth is about 6 feet, but Great Ambition only draws 3 feet with the motors down and only 18 inches with the motors up, so we don't worry too much about shallow places.

Here is a shot from the front deck...

and from the back deck...

and from the upper deck!

To get to Lake River you have to go under the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge access bridge. April took this on our way back home. We estimate the clearance at high tide was about 24 feet. That gives us about 6 feet to spare. I sure am glad we don't have three stories, we could never get back here! You have to feel bad for the poor sailboaters too.

Some people wonder if a Catamaran Cruiser houseboat like Great Ambition is up to the challenge of the Columbia, with it's fleets of ships, car carriers, tugs, and what not. On our way home we encountered 3 ships and a tug and barge. One ship was able to make a wake big enough to wash up onto the front deck (cleaned it up real nice!). Other than that the boat held up fine, no creaking, no scary noises, no danger of rolling over.

We had a few guests on board, 12 to be specific. A literal "ton" of people, 14 including us. In this shot you can count 11 folks on the front deck for this photo op, the rest are in the living room. Great Ambition is riding right at the paint line, with plenty of freeboard available. That's a solid deck, with over 1500 pounds on it.

Another weekend at Southend. The weather was great, the trees are unmistakably in Spring mode. This weekend we didn't even have to run the generator, and the weather was nice enough that we just stayed on the front deck with the outdoor propane heater going and had our evening ice cream (God I love this fridge!) while we watched the stars pop out.

Yet another weekend at Southend. I awoke Saturday morning to April snapping pictures out the bedroom window. A few geese were taking their newly hatched goslings out for breakfast. You can also see a mallard male (his female is just off camera to the right).

For Mother's Day April got a deck swing. This fits nicely on our section of the dock for slip 108 (the spot for our new arrival from Denver).

This is the 1st anniversary of Great Ambition's arrival. We survived a year and are ready for as many as we have coming to us. Just as a reminder, here is where we were a year ago on this day. We spent the night aboard to spare Carl and Pete so they could get a hotel and rest up after their long drive from Columbia Tennessee.

So after a year, it's good to reflect on what we have done, and whether it lived up to our expectations. The only thing I can say is, thank God we didn't wait! Tonight I took two putts out in the dinghy, and that's on a work day. It feels like I had a full day off! Our bills are much, much less than what they were. We are out of debt, and I am free of travel, I have not seen the inside of a plane for two years. We can go where we want, live where we want, and forget about the annoyances of suburban life with noisy neighbors, barking dogs and endless yardwork and home repairs. Instead of walking down the sidewalk in the evening, we walk our beach, most often alone, the only people for miles around. If the power goes out, we are set with our solar panels and generator, propane heat, refrigeration and hot water. If the water goes out, we flip a switch and we have all the water we can use for nearly a week. Our phone and internet are wireless, our radio and TV are delivered by satellite. Our systems turn sunshine into entertainment. We can do laundry anywhere we happen to be, we want for nothing, our home provides it all. We have 3 outdoor decks to choose from, and our living room feels like an outdoor space with 270 degrees of glass. We get to pick our vistas, like this one last summer, a sunrise view to go with our morning coffee and french toast breakfast.

So was it worth it? No doubt about it!

Continued...