Owner of Burlington boat builder departs for Arctic adventure

Monday, July 01, 2019

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BURLINGTON – Larry Graf, owner of Aspen Power Catamarans at the Port of Skagit, is going on an Arctic adventure from June 28 through July 19 to showcase the capabilities of the boat builder’s vessels.

Graf, accompanied by Canadian journalist Peter Robson, plans to cruise his company’s 34-foot model boat 1,120 miles down the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada to the Arctic Ocean.

The journey presents unique challenges, the biggest of which might be the lack of an accurate electronic navigation map of the remote river.

“Some of the charts of the river are over 40 years old,” Graf said. “I was talking to the coast guard and they said the chart can be two miles off at some points.”

With much of the course literally uncharted, Graf spent many hours preparing.

“You have to know the weather, points of safety, where you can get help if needed,” Graf said. “Not to mention we need a tremendous amount of spare parts, tools and safety gear.”

Aspen Power Catamarans opened its facility at the Port of Skagit in Burlington four years ago. The company sells several models of boats, boasting slippery hull designs enabling the vessels to be more energy efficient. The company currently builds boats ranging from 28 to 40 feet.

Graf said Skagit County is the perfect place for manufacturing and maritime companies like his.

“Burlington has everything you need as a manufacturer,” Graf said. “There’s welding and steel supply, electrical components and a tremendous amount of marine and manufacturing support facilities and companies throughout Skagit County.”

He said being close to Interstate 5 and salt water are huge bonuses for his company too.

For his trip, Graf towed his boat three days to the Northwest Territories to Great Slave Lake, the 10th largest lake in the world. Launching at the southwest end of the lake near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, Graf and Robson will make several stops at remote villages along the way. Robson is accompanying Graf to take photos and write articles for several interested outdoors publications.

Graff said he’ll navigate the river cautiously on his way north, saving his route so he can retrace his steps safely back to Great Slave Lake.

“It’ll be a lot faster going upriver because I’ll actually know where the river is,” he said.

Graf has made similar trips with Aspen Power Catamarans and other boating businesses he’s been a part of over the years. Two years ago, he boated from Seattle to Alaska. He’s also traveled to Hawaii.

This trip, he said, could be the most difficult without the benefit of current electronic navigation charts. One of his employees, though, helped him out by fabricating a device that enables Graf to easily scroll through a lengthy paper navigation chart to aide in his route planning.

Employees also installed unique rails near the boat’s transom. Their purpose? To prevent bears from boarding.

“It’s going to be an adventure,” Graf said.

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