At a certain point in the restoration of his 1973, 43-foot Nautaline, owner Scott Hickey says that when he was reviewing the work that still needed to be done, he half-jokingly adopted the attitude that, “If it’s going to cost more, we should do it.”
“I closed my eyes and quit counting money,” he says. By doing that, he and his wife Lisa now spend the maximum amount of time they can in comfort and style on Texas Lady. They also have the security of knowing exactly what they have. And they feel comfortable they have the best boat they could own for their $65,000. Hickey says the boat originally cost $21,400.
The Hickeys live a few minutes away from the Yacht Club of St. Louis Marina in St. Charles, Ill., about 45 miles north of St. Louis, Mo. They had worked their way through a couple of runabouts but then decided to just skip the cruiser stage and jump right to a houseboat.
Finding The Boat
They found a Nautaline that was advertised as being lightly used for 10 years with “replaced stringers,” being “water ready” and alleged to be “dialed in,” so they bought it.
A survey didn’t reveal any significant problems, but after they began using it, they noticed it was taking on water from a location they couldn’t pinpoint. It also started to change shape as the floor began to buckle upward. Later, they learned only the engine stringers had been replaced in addition to some transom repairs.
Old-timers told them the bulging floor meant stringer problems and what they eventually discovered was not only did all the hull framing need to be replaced, but so did the full-length, center line keel which was split and leaking.
When John Bloch of Bloch Marine Service in St. Charles looked at it, his first comment was, “This is going to cost a lot.”
The Hickeys decided they needed to either go forward or to scrap it, so they established a budget for the project then had the boat pulled. But shortly after, an ice storm coated the outside, broke out the windows and ended up ruining much of the interior. It also ruined the budget.
Bowed but not broken, they began to gut the interior, partly to get rid of the ruined components and partly to strip it down so Bloch could do his work easier.
But before that could happen, the boat had to be re-shaped. Hickey put 16 jacks under it and by leaving about one-half to three-quarters of an inch between the jacks and the keel, allowed the boat to ‘hang’ a little. He re-adjusted the jacks every few days and eventually it dropped about four inches. It was so misshapen it took more than three months before a three-foot level confirmed the chines were level and even. During that time, all the windows were removed, cleaned and re-bedded.
Bloch moved the boat inside in mid-March and the boat was put back in the water for the Fourth of July weekend. While it was being worked on, Hickey asked for an invoice and update every two weeks to verify he was not breaking his bank and to keep track of progress. It was during that time he jokingly adopted the ‘let’s spend more’ attitude.
Part of the job was a new keel. Two, three-quarter-inch pieces of plywood were cut to size, individually fiberglassed, then glassed together and finally glassed in place. By the time all the hull work was done, Bloch says they put in about 316 hours and 40 gallons of resin.
Once the boat was floating again, Hickey found it important to formulate a clear order of progression for the work to be done. He has experience running large jobs so has a background in this area, but found he also got good and helpful advice from other houseboaters who had gone through similar projects.
With help from lots of friends and especially Don Henderson, who was responsible for the mechanical and electrical work, and Jim Lyons, who served as the head carpenter, the work began with a focus on high quality. Hickey says that although he and Lisa put in about 10 months of 40 hour weeks of work, he mainly served as the general contractor.
For wiring, they put in 1,500 feet of SJO, 12 gauge, 3 wire, rubber coated cable to duplicate the original wiring runs. All the plumbing was replaced with new PEX-c. Fortunately, the 351 Waukesha engines, the Volvo Penta Duoprop outdrives and the generator did not need work.
A Challenging Angle
Because, as Hickey notes, “there is no level or square on a boat,” installing the wall paneling to the high degree of craftsmanship they wanted was “brutal.” He says he carefully measured, then estimated and purchased materials, only to have to do the same thing several times as the waste was much greater than expected. He also reached a panic point when his supplier sold out almost the entire stock of paneling Hickey was using, forcing him to scramble to get material that matched what he had already installed.
The end result is exceptional as joints are very tight, multiple angles fit snugly and almost no trim had to be used to cover errors and mistakes.
Part of their planning as they proceeded with the work was to incorporate changes that would increase accessibility to certain areas if that became necessary down the line. The interior decking was originally stapled on so after those were removed, it was re-laid using stainless steel screws on 10-inch centers. Another example is using large, removable carpet squares in the aft lounge/guest bedroom to provide easier access to the tanks below that are newly fabricated custom aluminum ones that were installed during the hull re-build.
New galley cabinets were custom built and installed with an emphasis on light weight. A large, extra deep sink went in, along with a three-burner counter top stove and an apartment-sized refrigerator. Hickey says it will keep its cool all weekend away from the dock without needing to run the generator if the door opening is kept to a minimum.
In the head, they kept the molded-in shower unit but everything else is new. Hickey used two toilet flanges and some FRP to create a riser that he slipped under the low-boy toilet to raise it up several inches.
All the carpeting in the cuddy had to go, especially the ceiling shag, and that project turned out to be an uncomfortable and unpleasant job. The glue had to be scraped until it was smooth and that was particularly tough while working on the ceiling. They used FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Polyester) on the ceiling and it had to be perfectly lined up and applied because there is no “wiggle room” when using the contact cement. The odor from the cement in the closed space was also an issue.
Flooring in the boat is now strip vinyl, which is durable, waterproof and doesn’t ‘pop’ like some laminate floors do. They were on the verge of ordering a custom, $1,700 sleeper sofa for the lounge when they stumbled into a much cheaper one that fit perfectly.
One very distinctive touch is a finely-crafted stainless steel railing at the top of the steps leading down to the galley. John Bicknese, owner of Little John’s, a well known fabricator of stainless steel railings, says Hickey “wanted something nobody else had.” So Little John’s, who fabricates the stainless steel railings on Gibson boats and numerous other national customers, created a one-of-a-kind railing.
To improve the air flow from the two roof air conditioners, which are original but were removed, upgraded with new starting systems and re-bedded, a blower system was installed. It was designed to work with a marine AC/heat system that could be installed in the future. By using cold air returns and vents, air flow was greatly increased to the cuddy, the pilot house and into a cabinet that houses two amplifiers used in an extensive sound system
The Hickeys tried to keep some of the original feel and components, so the ceiling in the helm area is original and so are some 110/12 volt lights in the cabin. They stripped and refinished the original folding door to the aft lounge so it matches the new kitchen cabinets. There are also two original removable spotlights on the bow.
The upper helm station is also original but the top back deck had to be redone. The Astroturf was removed and then the glue was scraped and ground off. They re-coated the roof with five coats of Interlux Interprotect, which is primarily used to seal hulls. By applying this with coloring, Hickey says the project turned out perfect.
The paint was completely ‘chalked’ but by patiently buffing multiple times a year for several years with 3M Restorer and Wax, the exterior now looks fresh and new.
They kept the name that was on the boat, Texas Lady, partly because it is prominently displayed on the front of the flybridge and has been there for many years.
The Big Picture
The Hickeys admit this was not a project they planned on from the beginning. But as they got into it, they decided to commit to it fully and not cut corners and scrimp.
Now they are glad they did it the way they did, although they had to learn some lessons along the way. One of the biggest ones, according to Scott, is that “You can buy a $25,000 houseboat but you can’t have one for that.”