Our New England Houseboat

Restoring A 1983 C Yacht Houseboat

March 2011 Feature Susan Andrews Goldthwait

Living in New England, winters are snowy, cold and wicked long. Anytime my husband Wade and I can scrape together a few vacation days, we always head south. We love to explore and tend to spend the bulk of our money renting boats. We think our best adventures are on the waterways away from the noise and gridlock.

Wade is a native from Maine and grew up in a small fishing village. He lobstered with his dad; he built and painted boats at Rumery's Boatyard, so it's not much of a stretch for Wade to want to build a boat.

We planned to build a houseboat, but realized we'd be in wheelchairs by the time we completed the task. When Wade asked me to look at a houseboat he found on eBay, I started rolling my eyes and giving him the "another one of your hare-brained ideas" look.  The boat was located on a beautiful lake in New Hampshire so I agreed to the ride if lunch was included.

First Impressions

The boat was tucked in a corner of a boatyard. I was pleasantly surprised with the lines and stature of the boat-a 1983 C Yacht houseboat. Upon inspection inside, we found moldy carpet, rotted wood and several mouse condos. I lasted about two minutes and ran for fresh air. Wade followed soon thereafter.  I looked him straight in the eye and said, "I love it."  Once Wade regained consciousness, he croaked "REALLY?" We brokered a deal and had the boat hauled to its new home-our backyard.

Out thoughts were as follows: We wanted the boat for the hull. It was a total gut job. And unless we won the lottery, we would work on it in stages when time and money allowed, making it a long-term project.

Getting Started

The first stage was to remove the engines. Thanks to the www.houseboatmagazine.com Forum, Wade received valuable information and support from other boat enthusiasts. The next step was to gut the boat.

Wade, armed with tools, mask and determination, started the tear-out. The frame and plywood of the boat had many areas of water damage. Wade could actually poke holes with his finger through the plywood. In his words, "The only thing holding this boat together is habit." 

Once the inside was gutted, Wade worked on repairing the rear bulkhead, deck and support for the cabin. Next were exterior side walkways. The seam between house and deck had never been sealed with fiberglass cloth and resin, thus causing leaking. Replacement of plywood and framing was his next project.

It was no surprise that the front of the boat framing showed extensive rot so the entire salon floor needed to be removed. Wade, glass always half full said, "It will make it easier to replace all the plumbing."

New Years 2008

Frigid weather did not slow Wade down. With a portable heater, he started the rebuilding of the main salon and floor. I knew we were on the upswing when Wade commented, "It's really starting to look like something." (A true sign he thinks things are getting accomplished.)

My only job was to keep the decks shoveled off. There were a lot of slipping, sliding, and near death experiences, but it is all part of living in Maine.

Late that winter Wade started on the roof of the main salon. It had deteriorated and the fiberglass had started to crack and leak. After much research, Wade "Do-It-Myself" found a product called Sani-Tred to use in place of fiberglass. It can be used as a marine deck coating.

We are planning to put a fly bridge on the top deck. The existing plywood was a half-inch and very spongy.  Wade placed an additional half-inch of plywood on top so it will be, "wicked sturdy for dancing."

Spring 2008

Wade developed heart issues and his dad Goldy was diagnosed with cancer.  Because of Wade's health issues and wanting to spend our time with his father, we hired a fiberglass company to get the boat water tight.

Wade had a hard time staying away form his "Mistress." That's my name for the boat, but living by the water, I don't get as much as a raised eyebrow.  It is a given in these parts that men just love their boats. 

We were very fortunate to spend a great deal of time with Goldy until his passing in November of 2009. Wade then had his ticker repaired in December and we slowly got back up and running. With the structure of the boat now intact, we were ready to tackle the interior.

Going Inside

A New England tradition is to put bead board on the walls. Wanting to have a "homey" feel, this is what we chose. The ceiling Wade installed was a natural wood that I loved, but I could tell Wade was not convinced.  After chewing on it awhile, we opted to try a white wash. We went through a lot of paint techniques and a lot of eye-rolling on my part. After seeing our friend's lobster yacht high gloss ceiling (thank you Fez and Reg!), Wade decided that was the ticket. He applied a white high gloss enamel and it really "opened up" the boat giving it a bigger, brighter feel. We knew it was a home run because visitors would comment on the ceiling before even entering the boat!

Designing an integrated electrical system for a boat is not a job for a carpenter, so Wade hoped he could find someone affordable with the skills to design and then direct the installation of the systems. He made inquiries to a number of boat yards and designers he found online, but couldn't seem to find someone who would take on the project.

He wanted to do as much of the work as he could himself, so he would have a complete understanding of the systems. We were lucky to find Zach Verhey from Atlantic Marine Systems in West Kennebunk, Maine when we made an inquiry to Dometic Sanitation about its Vacuflush sanitation systems. Verhey is a dealer and he came out to the boat to give us an estimate for the system. It turns out that he is a graduate of the Kennebunkport-based Landing Boat School Marine Systems curriculum and he could design and install electrical, sanitation, freshwater, and air conditioning systems. Since Verhey offered a reduced rate for off-season work and we had flexibility with our schedules, it was a match made in heaven.

System Control

Verhey's design includes four 200-amp per hour 4D Lifeline batteries for the house bank. The distribution panels are by Blue Sea Systems and the Inverter/Charger is a Mastervolt Mass Combi 12/2000-100 (120-volt).

This is Pure Sine Wave inverter with three-step Plus battery charging. Mastervolts' description says, "Power can be drawn from a shore connection, generator or charged batteries. The three-step Plus charging method guarantees more battery power and a longer life span. Batteries are always fully charged and fast, even when a generator is used."

We also like that the units are stackable so if we find later on we need more AC power we can add another unit.

Verhey's plumbing system design is elegantly simple and functional. The pump for the freshwater system is a Jabsco Ultra-Max. It is a fully assembled water pressure set with pump, pressure switch, accumulator tank and strainer. Once you have the unit connected to the water tank, you turn on the power and as the flow of water becomes steady at your faucets, you close them. Shortly after the faucet is closed, the pump automatically switches off until you open the faucet again. The water pipe and fittings are from Whale and all slip together making the job of installation a pleasure.

Needs To Be Hot

Wade wanted to use a tankless propane water heater so we would have unlimited hot water on demand, but Verhey wasn't crazy about the idea mainly because of the difficulty in venting the exhaust, so we took his advice and went with an 11-gallon Isotemp marine electric hot water heater. We are both hoping that it will give us the hot water we need and not be too much of an energy hog. It won't be a problem when we are connected to shore power or have the generator running, but I'll be interested to see how it will do on batteries. Only time will tell.

It has been a pleasure working with Verhey and we both feel we are fortunate to have such a talented professional nearby. This is when the realization came that this boat was not only starting to "look like something," but was becoming a reality. All the systems are so intricate, impressive and so new and clean!

One night after dark Wade took me out to the boat and he turned on the courtesy lights. Who knew such small objects could bring such great joy! By the time he turned on the overhead lights, I practically needed smelling salts. The lights are high efficiency LED lights. I was amazed at the "warm" color they provide.  All 10 of the interior lights draw a total amp load of 4.4, which is less than one 60 watt light bulb!

Seeing these lights, I knew our future was in this boat and that Wade's dad was looking down so proud of his son and I was just starting my greatest adventure-decorating! Check out our blog at http://www.musbenice.com/ for updates.


For More Information


Atlantic Marine Systems

Zach Verhey



Blue Sea Systems



Dometic Sanitation






Landing Boat School Marine Systems



Lifeline batteries








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