Capt. Dan Salas is proud of his new boat — and rightly so.

I took a ride yesterday on the La Espada (“The Sword” in Spanish), hopping on board one of its two daily whale-watch tours around Long Beach (Calif.) harbor, to confirm that we made a good choice in naming the cutting-edge catamaran as one of WorkBoat’s Significant Boats of 2016. We did.

The La Espada, an 83’x29’6 multipurpose passenger vessel that offers harbor tours, whale-watch and dinner cruises, was delivered in time to join the Harbor Breeze Cruises fleet before Memorial Day last year. The 250-passenger vessel was built by All American Marine and designed by Teknicraft. It is the second vessel Salas has had the Washington boatyard build for him in the last five years. The first, the 149-passenger Triumphant, a similar 83’ catamaran, was delivered in 2013.

“The hulls are exactly the same,” said Salas. “I said if we could have the same power, the same hulls, we would just push the inside out so we can get 250 passengers. So I have an extra 100 people on this boat compared to the other boat.” Salas said it is one of the first Subchapter K boats of its size for whale watching.

The Kristina, built in 1979, joined the fleet in 2001. David Krapf photo.

The Kristina, built in 1979, joined the fleet in 2001. David Krapf photo.

Salas began as a tug captain. After 10 years, he was ready to set out on his own and purchased his first boat in 1994. He added his first true harbor cruise vessel, the steel 149-passenger, 78’x20’6” Kristina, in 2001. Built in 1979 by Crowley, it took the “first tourists ever to Alcatraz Island,” Salas said.

His fleet has now grown to nine vessels, and his company offers more whale watching tours than any other operator in the area. One of those vessels is the Christopher, a 64’ 149-passenger catamaran built for Salas by Kvichak Marine in 2005.

When he was first building the boat, Keith Whittemore, one of Kvichak’s owners before the Seattle boatyard was sold to Vigor, had to settle him down, Salas said. “He made me lay down on a couch in his office because I was getting so worked up. We built that boat on a handshake. I gave him a $100,000 down payment, we shook hands, and I got back on the plane and had to figure out how to get the rest as I built it.”

The Christopher, built in 2005 by Kvichak Marine. David Krapf photo.

The Christopher, built in 2005 by Kvichak Marine. David Krapf photo.

He mortgaged his house to make one progress payment on the $1.2 million boat. About halfway through building and paying for the boat, Salas finally went to the bank for financing. Salas recalled that the bank told him, “You know, you are supposed to come to us before you start building the boat. Well, I did it backwards. They said, ‘well, you have some skin in the game,’ so we did the deal.”

The La Espada “only” cost about $4 million. But Salas and the crews that operate it, including Capt. Stan Jackson who handled yesterday’s cruise, said it’s already proven to be well worth the money. “I haven’t been on a better riding boat for the speed,” Jackson said. That’s because of Teknicraft’s signature hull shape with a symmetrical bow and asymmetrical tunnel. Also, high performance bottom paint enhances speed and fuel efficiency.

“It’s probably one of the best riding boats I’ve ever been on,” Jackson said. “We’re doing 20 knots right now and you don’t even know it. It just doesn’t feel like it.”

Indeed. It was one smooth ride.

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.