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One Cool Little Cat

The Aspen Carbon Cat was designed to outlast the average rigid-bottom tender
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There’s nothing like going out and playing with a new toy—in this case, the 11-foot long Aspen Carbon Cat. From the dock of the Annapolis Powerboat Show, I step down onto the tender’s side deck and immediately appreciate the steady support. Footing is slip-free too, thanks to the SeaDek that covers the coaming and the main deck. I step into the craft and shake hands with Larry Graf, the designer and builder of the Aspen Carbon Cat and the founder of Aspen Power Catamarans.

The Carbon Cat solves a couple of the problems cruisers have with inflatable dinghies and RIBs. “Traditional inflatables leak, they are heavy, they are wet when run hard and they don’t last very long before needing replacement,” says Graf (pictured at left). “I wanted to build a dinghy that would last 20 or more years.”

He also wanted to build a small boat that could run dry and soft in a chop while offering a nice turn of speed. This he accomplished, I realize, as we zip out into Annapolis Harbor, where a breeze turned up 1-footers. The Yamaha 9.9-hp four-stroke outboard pushes us along at 18 mph. We have a comfortable and shock-free ride, with no cavitation in the turns and not a drop of water coming aboard.

“What I wanted was weight comparable to a RIB but with more strength, so building the boat using traditional fiberglass technologies and materials was ruled out,” Graf says. “I settled on carbon fiber and S-glass with a Divinycell core to achieve higher strength-to-weight ratios. This makes a dramatic difference in the strength and stiffness of the structure.”

So does the running bottom.

The hull shape is unique for a tender. It includes a plumb bow to part waves. This monohull section forward has molded spray rails, which transition to catamaran twin hulls aft. Aerated water from the bow floods between and under the twin hulls to minimize drag and soften the ride, says Graf. And the twin hulls add a lot of side-to-side stability when the Carbon Cat is at rest or underway.

Weighing in at 150 pounds without options, the 11-footer ($10,800 base) is spacious and comfortable. The Carbon Cat line also includes a 10-footer ($10,200) at 130 pounds, and a 9-footer ($9,800) that’s about 117 pounds. These are the preliminary weights on the models the company has built so far, and Graf thinks he may be able to build them lighter.

In construction, Aspen doesn’t use foam in the void between the hull and the deck because it can absorb and store water over time, says Graf, making the boat heavier to load or unload, and changing its handling characteristics. On the Carbon Cat the void is airtight, with round deck plates that can be removed for inspection.

In addition, the transom is strengthened with a 1-inch-thick Coosa Composite board that won’t absorb water. It adds stiffness to support mounting outboards, and is also a base for optional beach launching wheels. Think of it: The boat is so light that once you reach shore, you drop the beach wheels and one person can pull it above the tide line. —John Wooldridge

This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue.

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