Story by Troy A Buzalsky
Photos by Ashbreez/BRIX
How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? The Wise Owl lost count at three, and every child in the ‘70s attempted to answer this question to no avail. In the custom aluminum boat-building arena I am guessing nobody has ever asked or answered the question, “How many steps are involved from napkin drawings to the day of the ceremonial christening when building one’s dream boat?” We’re not talking cookie-cutter boat manufacturing, we’re talking truly one-off masterpieces; something only a handful of boat builders are willing to offer. It’s rare to find such a builder, and collaborative partnerships, like the one forged between Ashbreez Boatworks and BRIX Marine are even more of an industry unicorn.
It all started in 2015 when Chad and Joel Morse, father and son, owners and operators of Ashbreez Boatworks, were contacted about a potential 32-foot aluminum catamaran boat build. They were uniquely interested, but their shop wasn’t geared up for such a complete undertaking. Prior networking had kindled a relationship that led them to then Armstrong Marine (now BRIX Marine) starting a collaboration that is still prospering today. Chad explains, “They have built cats for three decades and are the most experienced in building aluminum cats. Why settle for anything less in experience? They build the bare hull to their design, and we bring it north for the rest of the entire build. You [the customer] get a custom boat!”
Originally commissioned in 2015, the 32-foot Resurrection catamaran launched the relationship between Ashbreez Boatworks and BRIX Marine.
Since the initial commissioned build, Ashbreez has completed three branded boats and are knee deep on their fourth partnered build. The relationship has strengthened with every build, and one of the only changes since this unique partnership started is that Armstrong Marine is now BRIX Marine. “The relationship with [then] Armstrong Marine and now BRIX Marine blossomed in part because Ashbreez was searching for the most experienced and reputable builder of aluminum catamarans, and Armstrong/BRIX was a known and proven entity, and a perfect launch pad for a promising collaboration,” shares Chad. “We couldn’t be happier!”
Since 1991, Armstrong Marine has crafted rugged aluminum catamarans and workboats, initially in Canada, and then from its current location in Port Angeles, Washington. On November 18, 2020, Armstrong Marine USA rebranded its name to become BRIX Marine as the company sought to broaden and diversify its portfolio of welded-aluminum boats while still building exceptional custom boats. BRIX Marine is a part of Bryton Marine Group, the largest builder of welded-aluminum boats in North America.
BRIX literally means the scientific measure of sweetness in liquid, so metaphorically speaking, this should translate to a sweet-riding boat! Currently BRIX Marine designs and builds welded-aluminum catamarans, monohulls, and Naiad Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats that are recognized in the industry for quality craftsmanship and innovative design. They have over 500 boats under their boat-building umbrella. They have also been recognized by Workboat and Forbes magazines.
Ashbreez Boatworks hails from Anchorage, Alaska, and has a penchant for the salty waters that surround the region including Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Homer’s Kachemak Bay, and beyond. Ashbreez has carved its niche and reputation maintaining, modifying, retrofitting, and repairing the Southcentral fleet for eighteen years, working from their current Anchorage location since 2011. No job too small, and almost no job too big. The shop specializes in major and minor repairs, fabrication, top-side painting, bottom painting, electrical work, system installations including the Optimus 360 system, inboard and outboard repowering, and new aluminum construction.
Doing what any good boat should be doing in Prince William Sound, the 28-foot St. Elias is anchored up enjoying the great outdoors.
Family owned and operated, Chad Morse’s title includes owner, founder, gopher, laborer, accountant, and chief janitor. He will quickly proclaim his son, Joel, is not only the co-founder, but shop boatsman and artisan, who excels at fiberglass, wood, and aluminum boat building and renovations. Chad’s certainly a proud father, and shares, “Joel’s the type of person that can take your ideas, your concepts, your dreams…and turn them into reality.” Ashbreez is a true father-and-son, two-person shop, and the day I spoke with Chad he was sanding a boat, getting it ready for top-paint.
The first build under Ashbreez’s wing was a 32-foot-long, 11-foot-wide commissioned catamaran dubbed the Resurrection Series, not coincidently named for the fertile and picturesque waters outside of Seward. The custom catamaran was built as a utilitarian fishing machine, with a full-width cabin, full berth, no galley, and twin Yamaha 300s. On the day of sea trials, the ocean was kicking hard with six- to eight-foot swells, and the Resurrection performed amazingly. “We had great sea trials,” proclaimed Joel. The boat has been well used over the years and has only required routine maintenance.
The 28-foot St. Elias sits stately in the marina waiting for its next journey. This one-off custom boat was commissioned by clients from Jacksonville, Florida, the boat’s forever home. It says a lot when a boat that is commissioned for east coast waters is built on the west coast, but they could not find what they were after anywhere else.
With one highly successful build under their belts, the second collaborative build was the Ashbreez St. Elias 28-foot monohull that was built as a “spec boat” with the idea of having it on display at a local boat show. It was also featured in the October/November 2017 Fish Alaska magazine Boats column.
The initial St. Elias build was quickly followed by a commissioned St. Elias 28 XL named the Sylvia Rene, which started as a St. Elias hull and was heavily modified including a transom extension (hence the XL designation). The extended transom was a new design for Armstrong/BRIX, but they accommodated the transom changes that were designed to offer more elbow room and put the 300 HP Suzuki a bit more aft. The customer also requested a Rhodan HD GPS Anchor+ Trolling Motor, a first for Ashbreez. The custom Sylvia Rene was featured in the October/November 2019 Fish Alaska Boats column and makes its home out of Jacksonville, Florida.
Originally a “spec built” boat made to display at a local boat show, the original St. Elias is right at home in Prince William Sound.
Ashbreez believes in being very customer centered. “Most of our clients want to be involved,” shares Joel. “In fact, ALL my clients have become friends.” Joel recently returned from Jacksonville, visiting his friends/clients while servicing their 28-foot St. Elias XL. You don’t get that kind of boat service from just any boat builder.
Currently Ashbreez has been commissioned to build their biggest catamaran yet, a 35-foot-long, 13-foot-wide Resurrection full-width cuddy catamaran. This boat build literally maxes out the shop, not so much in length, but when it comes to width, it’s a tight fit, and the boat is clearly not meant for travel through the Whittier tunnel. Upon completion, Joel will deliver the boat over water from Seward to Cliffside Marina in Whittier.
The newest custom Resurrection is built as a cruiser that will do some fishing and shrimping. She will feature triple Shockwave Suspension Corbin seats, an L-shaped galley, full kitchen, oversized marine head, twin forward births, full Garmin electronics with dual 12-inch screens installed in a custom console, and an Optimus 360 Joystick Control System. The dance floor features an extended T-transom and will be able to easily fish eight anglers. Loading and unloading is made easy with dual, port and starboard, boarding doors that are large enough to land an Alaskan barn door.
The CNC cutting phase is both time consuming and crucial, as these exact tolerances help assure a quality build.
When asked how many steps are involved in the boat-building process, Joel laughs, “I’ve never counted,” but explains it can be broken down into several big steps, with thousands of micro-steps. The 35-foot by 13-foot Resurrection boat build started in July 2021 at BRIX Marine with a planned hull delivery to Ashbreez in November. During the hull construction Joel will visit BRIX no less than three times, assuring the project is coming along as planned.
The first step of the building process starts with the client; their needs, wants, and budget. These ideas turn to sketches, and then to working drawings. In this case it involves the customer, BRIX Marine, and Ashbreez working together. One can argue that this is the most important step to a custom, customer-centered boat.
When you count the steps to make a quality, custom aluminum catamaran, all it takes is looking at the superstructure of the 35-foot Resurrection’s floor to appreciate the boat-building complexities.
The next big step is the completion of the fully welded hull. This starts with cutting all the aluminum structural and sheeting components utilizing a computer numerical control (CNC) machine which provides precision accuracy and tight quality control. The build commences in two different work areas, one working on the hull, the other on the cabin, and BRIX only utilizes certified welders throughout the build process. Then the hull and cabin are joined together, and the balance of the aluminum fabrication is completed. From there the boat is shipped to the Port of Alaska in Anchorage via TOTE Maritime Alaska.
After all parts are cut via CNC, the 35-foot catamaran bottom is pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle, creating a structurally strong, and water-efficient hull. The structural components are made from 5052 marine aluminum, and the boat’s bottom is made from ¼-inch 5086 marine-grade aluminum.
Once on site at Ashbreez, the interior fabrication and paint commences. Joel explains, “I work from bottom to top, top to bottom, from front to back, and from back to front.” In this phase of the process there are many micro-steps, all being very carefully coordinated.
Power, propulsion, and electronics are the next big steps, quickly followed by upholstery, systems, plumbing, galley build-out, and general rigging. The final steps include final rigging, quality control, bottom painting, and sea trial. The boat is scheduled to be completed in February and sea trials and christening for the newest Resurrection are scheduled for March 2022, weather permitting.
The full-width catamaran cabin and the boat’s hull are built in separate areas until they are married together.
Ashbreez is a member of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and completes their work in accordance with ABYC standards. They are also members of the American Boat Builders and Repair Association (ABBRA) whose members are committed to high ethical practices, professionalism, quality products and workmanship, and the betterment of all through the sharing of knowledge. Chad Morse has served as board President of ABBRA since 2019.
Upon completion, each Ashbreez Boatworks boat receives hull branding and VIN as an Ashbreez Boatworks product and receives a full marine survey of condition and value. The marine survey is in compliance with the United States Survey Association, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, and the American Boat and Yacht Council. This assessment document validates the hull, arrangement, propulsion, machinery, steering gear, electrical systems, tanks, alarm systems, fire and life safety compliance, dock and ground tackle, riggings, underwater equipment, galley, navigation, and includes a list of recommendations. It also establishes value, and on the Ashbreez survey I reviewed, the listed value exceeded the sale price by 8.5%. I need to tell my wife we will be money ahead if she allows me to commission Ashbreez for a boat build.
As Boats columnist for Fish Alaska magazine, I always enjoy the boat-building process. It’s like following a journey…watching someone’s dreams being realized. And, to answer the question of how many steps does it take to build a truly custom aluminum boat from napkin to baptism…“The world may never know.” For more information go to: ashbreezboatworks.com, and you can watch the build process on the 35-foot by13-foot Resurrection @facebook.com/Ashbreez-Boatworks-LLC.
Troy Buzalsky is the Boats columnist for Fish Alaska magazine, and when not writing about boats he can likely be found chasing fish in the Pacific Northwest and the 49th state and writing about those adventures. Troy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.