One of the largest boats ever launched at the Port of Hood River is safely in the water, but the catamaran Mariana remains in an uncertain position: what will be its home port?

After nearly eight years constructing the double-huller, builder Allen Smith is looking forward to short and long trips with his wife, Jenny, and their sons Zachariah, 15, and Everett-Ocean, 6.

Smith, 51, saw his dream come true Wednesday as the 44-foot Mariana successfully made the trip from Smith’s Country Club Road shop to the Hood River marina spit.

The shakedown cruise was Wednesday night out of the marina and for a spin under motor power around the Columbia off Hood River.

Builder — Allen Smith

Timeline — 2008-14

Weight — 12,500 pounds

Length — 44 feet

Width — 23 feet

Freeboard — 13 feet

Mast — 44 feet

Permanent home port — unknown

Power — sail, and two diesel engines

Shakedown cruise — Hood River marina to Hood River bridge, Sept. 18

Designer — Ian Farrier, Christchurch New Zealand

Material — epoxy resin, carbon fiber and glass fiber, and a structural foam. The core of the hull is made of foam and composites.

Supplier — Fiberglass Supply, formerly of Hood River, now in Anacortes, Wash.

The name — “I just liked the name — the Marianas trench is the deepest part of the ocean.” — Allen Smith

Best quote about the Mariana — “It’s the flying boat of the future.”

— Everett-Ocean Clark Smith, 6

“It was kind of scary, and I got thinking, ‘the wind is blowing to east.’ I have a lot of confidence in the boat but it was my first time driving it.”

First Smith had to get it down the hill from his Country Club shop and to the marina. It all happened Wednesday morning without a hitch.

“It was like a little parade, four pilot cars and three flaggers,” Smith said. It took from 4 a.m. to 7:30 when the double hulls — looking like twin orca whales — dipped into the water. The boat hauling firm Norgaard Kirkpatrick of Scappoose pulled the Mariana and Honald Crane of The Dalles cradled it and lowered it into the water.

“This is one of the biggest boats ever handled at the Port,” said John Mann, facility supervisor for the port.

“It went beautifully. I was really nervous,” Smith said. “We loaded it up Tuesday, and left at 4 a.m. Wednesday, and we got down the (Country Club) grade no problem. The thing that was surprising is they got up to 45 miles an hour on the freeway. All in all it was uneventful.”

He said plenty of uncertainties exist, including not knowing until the trailer arrived if it would be large enough for the Mariana. It was, but then they realized they needed more six-foot timbers for shimming; how handy was it that Krieg Millworks is a half-mile away?

Now that the boat is in the water, the Smiths face one more significant uncertainty.

“The downside is there’s no slip for it,” Jenny said. “It’s gigantic. Hopefully something will open up across the river (Bingen), or we can anchor it for awhile, but that’s the nerve-wracking part. Allen suggested waiting a year, but I said, “No, we’re not waiting a year, the boat is finished, let’s do it before the snow flies.” Smith said he is working with port officials to work out a solution — the boat is too large for standard slips, and there’s a waiting list anyway. “The port has been as accommodating as they can be,” he said.

Joking about the Mariana’s size, Allen’s friend John Mayo said, “The hardest part is finding two animals of every species.”

Smith said he built the boat on his own “a little bit at a time, just moving the big pieces around.

“I was able to use the chain hoist and move them around the shop. You can move things in a clever way or do it with a lot of people, and I just used the chain.” However, the 44-foot mast did take 10 people to load it atop the full-sized white family bus (which bears the name “Today”).

“We put it aboard the bus — it was about the only way I could see to get it there.”

Smith kept a blog of his work:

“When you read it you can see he’s got a sense of humor, even about the mistakes he made along the way,” Jenny said.

Allen said the only serious mistake was once applying too much epoxy to a portion of the boat, and having to start all over again.

“I did a lot of experimenting on my own without having to worry too much. I’m kind of my own client.”

Smith, an Alabama-born mechanical engineer, came to the Gorge 12 years ago. He was a founding partner in Insitu before the original group sold to Boeing.

“There’s been so much composite work going on in the gorge, and so many planes we worked on were carbon fiber, it uses some of the same principles but on a larger scale,” Smith said.

“It was a lot of work,” Jenny said. “I’ve been kind of the cook and cheerleader for seven and a half years. I’m so proud of him. A lot of people say, ‘build your own boat? You’re never going to finish,’ but I said, ‘he’ll finish it’ and he did.”

Said Everett-Ocean, “I think it’s awesome. My Dad is an amazing builder.” Zachariah got to see the boat delivered to the marina, then headed to school. Also on hand was Smith’s brother, Grinell, a professor at San Jose State University.

Asked why he built a catamaran instead of a standard sailboat, Smith said, “You can have a lot of comfort, just a better living platform, because we’re going to spend some time aboard it.”

“The design is right in line with where I wanted it to be; catamarans had gotten a bad rap, a lot of them are really heavy, but this one is really light weight,” Smith said.

Asked his feelings about completing the boat and getting it into the water, Smith was philosophical: “In some respects, it’s nice, but now I feel a little vulnerable and exposed. For almost eight years it’s been next to my house in the shop and I could just go outside whenever I want, and work on the boat. Now this part of my life that’s been so close is somewhere else and I’ve got to get used to it. I didn’t have any idea of how it would feel when it hit the water. But it was kind of strange, I got used to looking at it in the shop where it was always under cover, and then when it got out into the sunshine it made it look completely different.”

After getting the bugs out on the Columbia, the family will make their way to Mexico and then through Panama Canal and up to Alabama to visit Allen’s mother and father, who first taught him boat-building, on the small catamaran he built at age 13.

“I’d like to go as a gesture and spend some time, let them know we’re having a good life. We’ll head down the west coast, Central America, planning it one trip at a time. We’ll sail one trip and decide what you want to do next.”

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