Photos by Chris Hannant
Building a 110-foot Catamaran
One man’s quest to build his dream boat meant hiring a team, purchasing commodities and finding a shed to handle the 110-foot vessel.
Brian Schmitt is the quintessential cat person. He’s had professional photos and videos taken of his cats, and he spoils them with all kinds of toys. He’s had cats most of his life and he loves talking about them. His next cat, however, is going to be a true beast with very long legs.
The love affair started as a kid, zipping around the Florida Keys on a Hobie 16 sailing catamaran. He liked the performance of a multihull, with it’s wide, stable platform and efficiency.
“As I grew older and had more resources, I wanted a bigger cat,” he said. Schmitt owned a trawler for a period, which he mostly used to cruise the Bahamas, but as his list of water toys grew ever larger, he longed for a bigger, faster boat that he could live aboard comfortably while carrying his other vessels. It seems only fitting that his next boat came to be when he met a builder named Felix Herrin, long known as Felix the Catman, who specialized in, you guessed it, catamarans.
Herrin and Schmitt reached out to designer John Marples, who drew up the plans for the Hippocampus 1 (or H-1), named after the Greek word for sea horse, not the portion of the human brain that forms memories—although the boat certainly did plenty of that. Using cold-molded construction techniques, Herrin and his team built the 57-foot catamaran with a 25-foot beam and splashed the boat in 2003. Schmitt and his wife, DD, ran it and maintained it themselves, often leaving H-1 in the Bahamas and flying back and forth. The couple loved H-1 and used it to dive and explore the Caribbean.
But while a 57-foot cat is no slouch, it could never act as a support vessel for all the toys. Schmitt’s toy list includes a 26-foot Calcutta catamaran, a 17-foot Twin Vee, a Robinson R44 helicopter, a two-man Nemo submarine and a mini four-wheel drive, four-door vehicle that weighs 2,000 pounds. Schmitt, now 67, longed for a bigger boat that could take him, his family and all his possessions further afield. He didn’t have to look far. Once again, he reached out to Herrin and Marples to lay plans for his “bucket boat,” the H-2.
“We started with a mission statement from Brian to describe the intended uses and expected performance,” says Marples. “The most important items to address are range, speed and payload. Once those are nailed down, the size of the boat emerges by calculation. In the case of H-2, we started at 85 feet and quickly saw we could not carry enough fuel for a range of 4,000 miles, so the boat got longer. We lengthened it to 100 feet, but more toys were added which drove it up to the current 110 feet.”
The design process took the better part of two years. The 110-foot boat forges a large footprint with a 35-foot beam. It will weigh 330,000 pounds fully loaded, carrying 12,000 gallons fuel. Powered by twin 1,600-hp MTU diesels, the HydroComp analysis predicts the boat will run over 20 knots with a fast cruise of 17 and an economical sweet spot of 13 knots for a range of 5,000 miles. The interior is beyond roomy with a giant salon and galley, four en suite staterooms, including a full-beam master, and an office that converts to offer more sleeping quarters. There’s also crew’s quarters and a second galley. The 600-square-foot aft deck offers an outdoor galley and entertainment space which is covered by a helipad. There are cranes and dive lockers and a level of redundancy you don’t often see on a recreational vessel. While the boat is entering that superyacht echelon, it looks utilitarian yet strong and beautiful. The Portuguese bridge opens to the foredeck; the rake of the windshields harkens to a work boat. But this vessel is not just a toy box; it’s being built to cruise to the poles and anchor out in the Galapagos—it’s totally self-sufficient.
“With Brian I’ve seen the level of detail he drills down on,” Herrin says. “I knew it was not going to be a quick project, but I knew it was going to be a fun, challenging project which is what is really intriguing.”
Once the plans were finalized, Herrin located a 300-foot-long, 80-foot-wide shop in Wanchese, North Carolina, a town steeped in custom boatbuilding. The shop was once used by famed builder Buddy Davis. Schmitt and Herrin outfitted the facility with all of the tools, computers and machinery needed to start construction. To build H-2, only one material was considered: aluminum—for its strength and the design flexibility it offers. But you can’t just go to the local hardware store and pick up giant sheets of aluminum. The team purchased raw ingots in 10,000-pound increments at commodity prices. The ingots then had to go to a smelter to make the 8-foot-wide, 35-foot-long sheets used for the transverse bulkheads. More than 12,000 parts were cut from aluminum sheets of various thicknesses. Each part received a serial number so they could trace it back to the original ingot should they need to hunt down any irregularities. All told, the project will require more than 140,000 pounds of aluminum to construct.
“When I build a boat, I try to figure out the last thing I have to do and work backwards in my mind to get to the first thing that has to happen to reach that goal,” Herrin says. “By taking that approach you design the build rather than have the build evolve.”
To begin the project, they started by laying the keel, which H-2 has two of, and they’re 3 inches thick, 8 inches tall and 110 feet long pieces of aluminum. The keels were laid in 2017, and then the crew began installing the frames and decks like an erector set.
“It’s amazing what shapes you can get out of this stuff,” Schmitt says. “They use come-alongs and jacks and things like that. They torture this stuff around whatever the frame is and weld it up.”
While aluminum can be tortured, the work on the interior is much more refined. To achieve the look Schmitt wanted, they purchased 10,000 square feet of mahogany and brought in expert craftsman John Lombardi to run the wood shop. He and his crew have created panels and moldings to give the boat’s interior a classic nautical look. One particular hallway on centerline that connects the staterooms is referred to as the “gallery.” Yes, the walls will be lined with a collection of artwork, but the oval doors, styled panels and crown molding are nearly as exquisite. The mahogany banister is carved to resemble a three-strand rope, and it’s supported by the open mouths of cast-bronze turtle heads. “Everything in this boat is a work of art,” Herrin says. “It’s jacked up to the max.”
Nearly five years into the project, the hull is now in primer, and the engines, gensets, solar panels and most of the other systems are in place with a finish date scheduled for later this year, though no one wanted to be pinned down to an exact day or month. And through it all, Schmitt maintained control, but he also floated the shop and the men putting his dream together. Hiring a shipyard overseas may sound like an easier route, but he didn’t want to be bound by a contract, or anything else. He knew what he wanted and he knew whom he wanted to work with.
“It hasn’t been difficult; it’s been a very rewarding process for me,” Schmitt says. “Everything you do is a compromise in a boat. In a catamaran everything is very weight dependent. If you overload them, they will be dogs and not perform. It’s always a constant struggle between what you want and the associated weight. You have to manage that. This process has allowed me to build it for less, and I know that I am going to get what I want. I specified every little piece of equipment, you name it.”
When asked about the total cost of the project, including materials and labor, Schmitt said he had to go back to the records. He wasn’t 100 percent sure of his costs to date, or maybe he chose to forget, but then again, can you really put a price on bringing a dream to life? Yes, you definitely can, but he says this will be his forever boat. He won’t charter, and he won’t ever sell, unless of course someone makes him a ridiculous offer—then he’d think about it.
But as the finish line begins to near, the question is, what’s next? What happens to the team that came together on this project? “They’re a great crew,” Schmitt says. “I don’t want to be in the boatbuilding business. I’d be happy to hand over the keys to the next guy and say ‘Here’s a talented group of people, here are a couple of designers—go build your boat.’ You don’t have to go to China. It would be wonderful for the buyer and great for all my guys.”