Would you take your dinghy on a 150-mile Puget Sound cruise in late September? Family-owned local boat builders, Aspen Power Catamarans, recently launched a new line of carbon fiber tenders and took them on an autumn adventure.

Aspen Power Catamarans owner and founder, Larry Graf, says “I try to invent something every year.” Last year, his inventive inspiration led him to a new dinghy design after he got tired of leaky inflatable tender’s fragility around barnacles, oysters, and sharp rocks in Desolation Sound. Only about a year after he began dreaming it up, more than 30 of Aspen’s new Carbon Cat dinghies are on the water. Like Aspen’s other designs, there’s ingenuity aplenty and deep detail in every aspect of the build (more details about the dinghies themselves later...). When something this unique and this local comes on the market, it deserves a closer look, and their autumn excursion provided such an opportunity.

In September 2023, revealing his fun-loving personality and affinity for on-the-water adventures, Graf and his dog Daisy took a 10-foot Carbon Cat dinghy with a 9.9 horsepower outboard on a multi-day cruise around Puget Sound, accompanied by a friend on an 11-foot version of the tender and another pal driving a larger Aspen catamaran to take photos and give the crew a place to sleep. They left from Anacortes, crossed the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and passed Port Townsend in a building wind-against-tide washing machine that Pacific Northwest mariners will surely be familiar with. They stayed in Port Ludlow, then continued on for a night at Blake Island. The little flotilla made a long run all the way from Blake Island back to Anacortes via the Swinomish Channel on their third and final day of the cruise. In total, their mileage topped 150 miles — not bad in 10- and 11-foot craft of any sort.

Along the way, the dinghies showed themselves to be fast, comfortable, fun, and capable in a real-life application. In addition to the Port Townsend tidal rodeo, the tenders were also safely driven in 4-foot following seas near Meadow Point north of Shilshole Bay Marina, and stayed impressively dry as they worked into the 10-12 knot breeze and 2-foot wind waves when heading north from Blake Island. Graf said more than halfway into the cruise, reflecting on the dinghy’s design and performance, “It’s not your average tender.”

Of course, as the designer and the owner of the company selling them, Graf isn’t without incentive to offer a glowing review. Still, to hear him describe their performance in challenging conditions and discuss all that went into the design and build, it’s not hard to find oneself nodding in agreement.

The Carbon Cat Dinghies

The Carbon Cat dinghies come in 9-, 10-, and 11-foot versions, and are primarily built of hand-laid carbon fiber over computer-cut divinycell foam. They look like a monohull in front, but the underbody separates into catamaran hulls aft, adding stability underway and alongside a boat or dock — a 200-pound adult can stand on the gunwale when stepping aboard without risking capsize. The dinghies have a deep forefoot and a plumb bow, design decisions to improve performance.

And their performance is, indeed, impressive. On the autumn cruise, the top speed for the 10-footer (9.9hp outboard) with one person and a dog was 18.25 knots; for the 11-footer (15hp outboard) with one person, it was 20.85 knots. Throughout the cruise, influenced by heavier-than-expected conditions, they mainly traveled at 10-13 knots. Making these speeds, the 10-foot dinghy’s motor had consumed 6.6 gallons of fuel in 75 miles when they stopped at Shilshole Bay Marina on their way home; the 11-footer’s outboard had consumed 7.2 gallons in the same distance. More important to the two cruising the tenders than the measurables, however, was the way the dinghies felt comfortable, capable, and dry in those conditions. One of the clever decisions in the layout is to provide a foam-block stool for the driver to sit on. This seat can be moved to different locations around the flat sole of the tender to adjust the trim of the boat for maximum efficiency and comfort.

Safety is hardly an afterthought, either. There are three water-tight compartments in each dinghy design, which may be opened and sponged out if necessary. Even with all compartments full of water, a floatation test with 320 pounds of concrete on the boat showed that the hull is inherently buoyant even without the addition of those watertight zones.

With their carbon fiber construction, the boats have extraordinary strength-to-weight. The 10-footer weighs 173 pounds all-in without the motor, which isn’t featherweight compared to some competitors, but it is very lightweight for how stoutly built it is. Pound-for-pound, the Carbon Cat dinghies offer something intended to last much longer and perform much better than other options on the market. To be sure, the price-tag reflects the sophistication of the design and build, as well as those intents ($13,800 for the 9-footer, $14,200 for the 10-footer, and $14,900 for the 11-footer).

As a cruising boat’s tender, a Carbon Cat will most likely be used on davits — as such it is reinforced with 1-inch Coosa board at the lifting points. It may also be of interest to offshore cruisers that the dinghies ship upside down on a pallet, indicating their strength and stability in the orientation they’ll likely be stowed and secured in on the bow during a bluewater passage.

In the end, is it fair to call this fall dinghy cruise a marketing stunt? Sure, but what a fun and impressive one it was, and a great way to show off a remarkable local product.

Check out more information about Aspen’s Carbon Cat Dinghies.