The idea to buy and restore a houseboat was an idea my wife
Judy and I had for many years. In the fall of 2009 we started looking for a
36-foot to 40-foot houseboat. “No bigger,” we said. The only thing we needed
was a solid start as stringer; rot repair would be too much to handle. Our day
trip to Minnesota
to look at nine boats did not find one that both the transom and stringers were
not rotted and needing major work.
A month later we decided to look at boats in the $30K or
less range as the under $20K just did not fit the project. Back to the Internet
starting with eBay I searched the “House Boat” listings and found a 1974 Boatel
47-foot Islander listed. I quickly recognize this boat as I knew the owner back
in 2003. It was a beautiful boat and it was the houseboat that started us thinking
we wanted one in the future.
The size was an issue as this is 25 percent bigger than our
plan, but such a beautiful boat, it never hurts to look so I called Spring Brook
Marina in Illinois
as they now owned the boat. Inspection proved that the boat needs major work.
100 percent of the windows leaked and all the paneling was ruined. One engine
and transmission was out. All the wood needed refinishing. The price was right:
listed on eBay at $10K this comes to 40 cents per pound and we could not think
of anything else that cheap. We sealed the deal and rented a slip for the 2010
season at Starved Rock Marina in Illinois.
Now the work started. We stayed till dark on the day we
bought it measuring and making lists of a thousand things to do.
Sunday morning off to Home Depot to buy the Ryobi cordless
tools as the power is far from the boat. Then Menards for supplies and about
$1,000 is spent.
Week one: remove all windows and reseal them, While Judy
cleans the window lip I cut the new paneling and fit it. The windows are
reinstalled, but the paneling is not, as the weather is too cold for the
adhesive. The pieces are stored in the living room.
The head was a manual pump style which used river water in
the bowl that could not stay. Off to eBay to collect the parts for a Vacuflush
system. The cabinet and floor were removed and the wall required total
replacement. The teak cleaned up and was refinished, the cabinets got new
hardware and cleats for handles. The cabinet top got 20 coats of varnish with
sanding every three coats. New sink and faucet, all trim and walls redone, new
lights and a room was complete!
Spring Brook Marina rebuilt the transmission and put the
engine/transmission back in and tested the system in mid-December as the winter
was working for us as the day time temperature was in the 40’s. They
re-winterized and place the boat next to a power pole to allow us to plug it in
when we worked.
The stained glass windows and frames were removed and brought
home for repair. The plastic sheet was old and too thin as 1/4-inch of sealer
was used to make them fit. Adding 3/8-inch Lexan fixed this and refinishing the
wood sealed that nicely. All we needed was weather in the 60’s—just not going
to happen in January. Next we removed the rear door and took that home. The
basement is getting very full as much of the boat has come home one piece at a
We removed the old name and tried to buff the transom. That failed
quickly as we buffed through before we removed the shadow of the old name. We
removed the swim platform and worked to get the transom ready for paint, we
replaced all the fittings and added Samson posts for that big boat look and to
aide docking the boat. During this process we discovered the one Gimbal ring
was cracked and we were back to eBay. The part was found and the other engine
pulled for install. Since we did not have the equipment to do this Spring Brook
did the work.
Finally it was March and the weather started to allow
assembly. The living room was completed quickly. The kitchen was the next day
as Judy had refinished all the doors and drawers. She painted the one wall and
the cabinet frames.
The transom was painted over two weekends with two coats of Bright
side and the name was applied on the third weekend along with the swim platform.
It was put back on and the rear door was
remounted. We named the boat Thirsty
Turtle since the speed will be at eight miles per hour at maybe one mile
per gallon if we are lucky.
New canvas was ordered from Cantu in town—a full enclosure
for the upper helm. All the refinished wood and carpet was installed on the
upper helm and Cantu went to work as we launched the boat.
The sea trial was an all-day process as one oil cooler
leaked and needed to be repaired and the port motor would not start unless we
jumped it. New batteries did not fix this problem but the correct wiring and
new starting leads did. We added fuel and started out quickly. The port motor
would run hot and the starboard would stall at idle speed. During the next two
weeks Spring brook would track this problem down and correct the issues. We
continue to work on the boat, fixing all the odds and ends: lights, horn, plumbing,
and custom light panel with color changing lights under the rear arch.
Sea trial number two, port motor will not start, just a
loose connection. We went out and all worked well. Kevin was very helpful
teaching us how to dock the boat as our last boat was a 34-foot sport fisher
quick to respond to any change at the helm. At 30,000 pounds nothing happens quickly.
The boat stays moving forward after both props are in reverse and it does not
turn well, Kevin explains that we need to point and shoot with this boat and
that process works best. He lets me dock several times and I think we can do
The trip to our home port, canvas half finished and the look
of rain in the air, we start out early. Call the lock to time our arrival with
the cycle to avoid a wait. We pull up to the lock and stop on the wall—looks
like we know what we are doing. Down we go to the Starved Rock pool. The
weather quickly changes and Judy closes the canvas and the rain starts. The
radio alert says to take shelter as 70-80 mile per hour winds are coming. I am
more comfortable running from the upper helm so we stay up top and think about
docking at a marina to wait it out, but it hits hard before we are there so we
drive though the storm. The cross winds make staying on course a challenge. The
weather clears and the wind dies down as we get to Starved Rock Marina and we drive
into the slip without incident.
We ordered new rear windows from Motion Glass to replace the
small octagon windows. This turned out to be the biggest part of the project. These
new windows arrived in late July, allowing us to finish the back room before
the end of August. Cutting and finishing the walls turned out to be a big
project, but the results are excellent. We built a new countertop for the desk
and then trimmed it in teak. We removed the upper bunk bed to make room for the
windows and open the room up.
There are still more details to do, but are we ever done
working on our boats?
Happily we sit at anchor enjoying the days we have left in
2010 before the winter hits. The 2011 year is sure to be more relaxing on our
one-of-a-kind Boatel Islander 47 with arches.