It’s all about family. That’s the driving force behind the restoration project Derek McCrea undertook last February. He wanted a place where he could spend quality time with his wife and kids without the interruptions of the modern world. Derek says, “When we go down in the boat, it’s family time. The first boat we had was named Family Time, so this one we named Family Time Too. The rule is that the kids can’t have any electronics when we go down there. We disappear and we just spend time with the family.”
Derek has spent a good portion of his life on the water, and he wanted to continue that tradition with this kids. He says, “I’ve been around water skiing my whole life. I competed for about 20 years, and after breaking my neck twice, I had to get out of skiing, but I always still wanted to be around the water. I have small kids—a nine-year-old and a six-year-old—and we used to go camping a bunch.”
Derek decided what he needed to do was find an inexpensive boat he could make his own: a fixer-upper, as they say. He found a 1965 Waterhouse that needed a little work, but was overall in good shape and got that done up how he liked it. After a couple years, though, he decided to put it up on Craigslist in the hopes of moving on to something bigger and better. Since he had bought it for cheap, he knew he could sell it for a decent amount.
What happened is a little out of the ordinary. As Derek tells it, “I had a guy call me last winter and say, ‘Hey, I’m looking to get a smaller boat, are you interested in doing a trade for a bigger boat? I have a 1976 52-foot Seamaster, but…it needs a friend.’ And anytime you say that, I know that that means it’s trashed!”
Derek drove from his home in Springfield, Mo., to where the boat was dry-docked in Kimberling City, about an hour’s drive, to inspect the damage (figuratively and literally). “Trashed” might just be the understatement of the year. The boat had sat on the water, uncovered, for two years. There were holes in the roof that had allowed rain water to get in and rot out most of the interior walls, which in turn had gotten into the floorboards and rotted them out as well. The front overhang over the fore deck had rotted out about two and a half feet back from the front. There were two holes in the hull and the engine bay had been sitting underwater for some length of time. Finally, there was about an inch of mold covering half of the deck.
“I just about decided to pass on it,” Derek recalls. “But I sat and thought about it for a couple weeks and decided that there’s nothing on that boat I haven’t done before. So I kind of talked myself back into it, saying you know, this could be the size I was looking for, and it wasn’t going to be anything that was really difficult.”
Derek must define “difficult” differently than most people because it was quite the undertaking.
Nevertheless, he contacted the seller and made a proposal. Derek told him, “Here’s the deal. I’ll trade you straight-up boats. You get a ‘65 that’s been completely redone. I’ll take on the rebuild project of your boat, if you’ll agree to pay for having the engines redone and having the welding done on the hull.”
If that sounds like it was a little too easy to come to an accord, there’s actually a little bit more to the story. The seller, Bill, had had the boat for about 15 years and used it extensively with his wife. She fell ill and eventually passed away. At that point, Bill couldn’t stand to be on the boat anymore; the memories were just too fresh. However, he still wanted a boat, just not that boat, and not one as large. When the opportunity came to make the trade with Derek, all the pieces fell into place.
“We typed up a contract, but it was literally done on a handshake, from a guy that I met on Craigslist,” Derek says. “But we had a fantastic relationship through the whole thing. We looked out for each other. What could have been a bad deal turned out to be a really fantastic deal.”
Down to Business
So Derek and his buddies Dennis, Matt and Charlie rolled up their sleeves and got to work, with the permission of his wife, of course. Had she not been so willing to give him the time to do it he’d have been “up a creek without a paddle from the get-go.”
The first thing they did was rip the walls out of the aft stateroom down to the metal shell, along with the floorboards. They put in new plywood and paneling for the walls and new floorboards and carpet for the floor. After a coat of paint, the back bedroom was good to go.
The interior of the boat turned out to be the biggest project. After repainting the entire interior cabin, they converted the storage berth into another sleeping berth so both of his kids would have their own bedroom. They recarpeted the main cabin, then gutted the bathroom.
Derek recalls, “It had this nasty, 70s burnt orange Formica countertop, which we pulled out. I had acquired a piece of inch-think plastic, which was actually an office wall divider that had bamboo inlaid into it. I cut that down and made a countertop with it, then put an above-mounted basin sink on it.”
To finish it all off, they added a 36-inch flat screen TV in the back with a Blu-Ray player for the kids, but in keeping with their “Family Time” mantra, it’s just for when they’re going to bed.
“We didn’t outfit it with all the latest electronics, because we just didn’t need that,” Derek says.
That said, they did add a stereo, speakers, and a subwoofer, because you gotta have tunes out on the water!
Paint Your Wagon
From there they moved to the front overhang. They gutted the whole deck back to the main cabin, then reframed and rebuilt the roof, and even extended it another six feet farther than it had been. Next they fixed up the exterior cabin. You may notice from the pictures that the colors are a little unusual for a houseboat; that’s because Derek got the idea from an unusual place: Smithsonian magazine. He saw an article with a color scheme he liked, so he ripped the page out, took it to Home Depot and told them to match the colors: tan, maroon and black. They power washed the whole exterior of the boat and laid down a base of tan 35-year house paint. At that point, Derek got online to find some graphics to spruce up the boat’s look. His penchant for breaking the mold continued with his choice of graphics.
“The more I was looking at houseboat graphics, they were all pretty bland, so I turned to RV graphics,” he says.
Once he found what he was looking for, he used some painter’s tape to lay down the lines and did the painting himself. His first attempt didn’t go so well, due to the surface texture of the boat being “like an orange peel,” so he got some pin striping and laid down opposite colors along the edges.
Once the painting was finished, they attacked the main deck. The inch of mold had to be power washed away first. They applied naval jelly to neutralize any lingering rust, then applied a few more layers of paint. They carpeted the deck with an assortment of 2-by-2 carpet squares he’d procured from a dental office he was helping to demolish at the time. After two coats of anti-fouling paint and five coats of waterproofing paint on top of that, the exterior was in fine shape.
Get Your Motor Running
He hired another friend, Charlie, to go through and check the motors, replacing anything that needed replacing, to get the boat to its final stages. They fired them up and “they just purred like kittens. They just ran awesome.”
Unfortunately, he hit one last snag before he could actually launch. Once the welding on the hull was complete, he had the transmissions checked and found that the lower unit and the transmission were filled with mud. Everything had to be pulled out, taken apart, cleaned, and put back together. While the engine was being rebuilt, they realized that the fuel tanks were about rusted through, so he had two new 40-gallon aluminum gas tanks built.
On September 21, seven months to the day from when he first acquired the boat, they set out on its maiden voyage. Derek assumed that the six-hour journey to the marina where he planned to store the boat would burn the entirety of both tanks, so they brought 10 5-gallon gas cans just in case. About a half hour out from their destination, they stopped to fill the tanks and discovered they had only used 12 gallons total. “I about croaked!” Derek says. “I fully anticipated burning 40 gallons. Those things are awesome on gas.”
Some small quality-of-life additions still remain for the boat (like adding a canopy, some awnings and even a diving board that they pulled from the old boat), but beyond that, she’s seaworthy and ready for a full summer out on the water.
Derek says, “In a nutshell, I went from a ’65 28-foot houseboat to a ’76 52-foot houseboat, and the only thing my wife was worried about was that she could now take a hot shower and we had a toilet that worked; everything else was gravy.”