Bruce Elliott is an inventor. And when he sold the technology he developed to build utility poles better, he made enough money to stop working forever and take it easy. But that’s not Bruce Elliott. Instead, he devoted that windfall toward a 24-metre-long, 10-metre-wide catamaran with four washrooms, a laundry room, a galley kitchen with dishwasher, a dining room, a lounge and an indoor and outdoor bar.
As we climb up the port-side pontoon, I point out that his catamaran is a bit bigger than my apartment. Actually, it’s much bigger than my apartment. “Probably a bit more expensive, too,” he laughs. Elliott estimates it’s cost him $4 million so far, including labour. That labour has been largely his own, along with two workers at his yard in Yellowknife’s industrial Kam Lake area. It’s from here that Elliott runs his business, Fibreglass North.
Out the back window of his office sits his first passion project: a 2.7-metre-long speedboat that can get up to 80 kilometres per hour and tow two skiers. He designed it when he was 18 years old. “Everyone told me I was nuts and I told them then it would be the biggest thing to hit the marine industry.”
But it didn’t quite work out that way. He learned quickly that the major boat builders tinkering with early jet-ski prototypes didn’t take kindly to competition. Instead, they quietly blocked his orders for motors to run the little ski boats, he says.
Elliott had been building boats for years in New Zealand and Australia when he followed his wife to Canada. And he planned to continue. But in Yellowknife, built on the Precambrian shield, where part of the city is without sewer or water lines, he found another niche that put his years of working with fibreglass to use: holding tanks.
Still, his first love is boat-building. And he has certainly followed his heart. It’s been more than a decade since he started working on the catamaran, with many stops and starts along the way caused by illness and business. But this year, he says, is the year he’ll finally finish the project. “I’m 70—nearly 71— I think it’s about time.”
The massive boat is sheltered by a tarp over a wooden frame, which he keeps heated so he can work through the winter. When the catamaran is finished, a truck with an expandable bed will tow it out of the yard, down the road to the highway and then out to Back Bay on Great Slave Lake. He will make the move in the middle of the night, with a police escort, since the catamaran easily stretches across both lanes of any road in or around Yellowknife.
He plans to tour Great Slave Lake and then motor down the Mackenzie River. Elliott, his wife, and a paid crew will follow the Alaskan coast and head south to his second home in Nanaimo, B.C. He will affix the double sails currently being fabricated there and a longer keel that would never make it through the shallows of the Mackenzie.
From there, they’ll follow the sun.
The Catamaran Count
Beds: Six (one captain’s cabin, two for crew, three staterooms)
Living space: 111 sq. meters (1,200 sq.ft)
Fuel capacity: 3,785L
Estimated weight (loaded): 30,000 kg
Money spent on fibreglass used: +$100,000
The print version of this story states that Bruce Elliott will be putting his catamaran in the water this summer. This plan has since been put on hold, but we'll follow-up with Bruce next summer.