From Cover Girl To Poster Child

1978 SkipperLiner is a one-of-a-kind

Published in the March 2011 Issue Published online: Mar 03, 2011 Ask The Expert Gary Kramer
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She was once a ground breaking cover girl and is now a poster child for how a thorough updating can keep an old girl still turning heads. After more than 30 years since she made her debut, she still has her distinctive looks and her updated accommodations continue to provide great houseboating experiences for her owners.

It was the custom at SkipperLiner back when she was built, according to then-owner and President Dave Pretasky, who is now CEO of American Marine in La Crosse, Wis., to add something extra to a boat each year and then feature it on the cover of that year's company brochure.

In fact, there were a couple of things added to this 45-foot boat, now called Happy Our's, that made her stand out enough to earn the right to grace the cover. One was a fiberglass flybridge cowling. Flybridges were rare on boats like this and those with a wrap-around cowling were even rarer. If a boat did have a flybridge, it frequently looked like a tacked-on afterthought.

The other significant change was a substantially deeper hull and the placement of three operable portholes on each side. The combination provided more space, light and ventilation for the midships cuddy cabin.

Now fast forward from her days as a cover girl to 2008 when she had been sitting on the hard for about five years. She was uncovered and part of her roof was caving in.

Ron and Peg Cook, of Clinton, Iowa on the Upper Mississippi River had recently re-worked an old steel 38-foot River Queen and had been looking at another used boat when a friend pointed out this SkipperLiner to them.

What they saw was a boat with aluminum trailer siding on the outside. Inside, most of the interior was covered with the dark original paneling and the painted surfaces were either black or gray. Ron says the best way to describe it is that "it looked Gothy."

But the inside of the hull looked pretty good so the Cooks decided to take a chance on it and tackle a new project. The first thing they did was have her hauled to the Lateke Sports Center in Clinton where they could work on it in the yard with guidance and help from the owner's son, Larry Kahler.

They set about sandblasting the hull then prepping, priming and applying a new finish and bottom paint. After carefully crawling through the inside of the hull, they were delighted to find that it really didn't need any work.

Then the 24-inch wide, rolled aluminum siding strips came off. The walls were in pretty good shape so they only needed to replace about a fourth of the framing and sheathing. Once that was done, they put a new skin of Filon on the walls before making the cutouts and installing all new windows.

It was apparent there had been repeated problems with the roof areas, especially the roof over the aft stateroom. When they stripped off the interior ceiling, they found it had been repaired with two-by-twos with plywood gussets. The repairs were far from adequate and needed to be redone.

To give the new roof a solid foundation, they installed steel L-brackets on the outside walls then rested two-by-sixes on them that they sistered to the two-by-twos. New wiring was installed, insulation was added and quarter-inch underlayment was applied as the finish ceiling. Peg trimmed it out using rope as molding.

The forward wall of the stateroom originally had an opening for the cuddy and when they fabricated an oak entertainment center/storage unit for that area, they created a three-foot high sliding door to the cuddy. It still allows access to the cuddy, but when slid shut, is not noticeable as it appears to be just a wall panel. Besides the electronics in the entertainment center, they added an electric fireplace. In the bathroom, they were able to keep the original fixtures but did put in a new floor and Peg dressed it up with fresh wallpaper.

Space Savers

There was an interior ladder to the bridge in the galley that took up a lot of room so they removed that to create more counter and sitting space. To deal with the old paneling in the boat, they used painter's caulk to fill in the cracks and that created a smooth wall surface. Then Peg painted the refinished walls before installing new wainscoting and a chair rail in the salon, galley and stateroom. She also gave the galley cabinets a new coat of paint. They installed some new oak doors and some new wallpaper, but kept all of the original light fixtures as a nod to history by adding character to the boat.

Doing all the interior work in the winter was not a big problem because the boat had a ducted, propane mobile home furnace. When spring rolled around, they tackled the exterior roof. They decided to use a roofing system called Duro-Last, which is a highly reflective, white vinyl rolled membrane. It is a one-piece system that is rolled on over an adhesive. They added water-tight boots over anything that was bolted to the deck.


Band Tested

They also reworked the railings on the upper deck to provide more security and safety. A testament to the strength and durability of the roof is that bands play on it from time to time and entertain while the Cooks are in their slip or out on the water.

There is a large front deck and that is one of the features of the boat people love. Instead of just an eyebrow covering, it has a full length front deck cover that extends from the cabin all the way to the front rails. That makes the space party central when the sun is hot or the rain is falling.

Sitting almost unnoticed there is a 3,000 watt Honda generator in a cabinet that Peg made that has a ceramic tile top. She also wrapped the legs of the table with rope to add to the nautical look.

On Second Thought

Mechanically, they kept the original engines, but after some problems during their first year of operation, replaced them with remanufactured 305-cubic-inch MerCruiser engines. Similarly, the outdrives are scheduled to be rebuilt during the winter.

The Cooks spend every weekend and as many weeknights as they can on the boat during the season. It is their summer home and they frequently take it out to anchor in a sand pit or tie up on an island.

They are very pleased with their boat that is a combination of their renovations and the fact Happy Ours was and still is a one-of-a-kind boat that originally was a trend setter.

It is a special boat they say. Their constant reminder of that, Ron says, is that "everyone who comes by wants to buy it."

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