The Upside Of Up­Sizing

Liveaboards upgrade to an 80-footer

February 2017 Feature Janet Groene, with Gordon Groene

When wedding bells rang in the firehouse where Forrest Packebush is a firefighter/paramedic, he put into action a four-alarm plan to replace his 43­-foot 1978 Drifter houseboat with an 80-­foot 2000 Sumerset dream boat that is now home to him and his bride, Kayleigh.

Appropriately they named it Tide the Knot.

Also a firefighter/paramedic, Kayleigh bought wholeheartedly into his goals that include staying debt-free, living on the water, gradually furnishing the new boat as the budget allows and someday turning at least one of the three bedrooms into a nursery. Packebush's first houseboat was a sunken derelict that he thoroughly refurbished into a comfortable bachelor pad on Lake Pleasant in Arizona. Out went the shag carpeting and avocado bathroom; in went $25,000 in upgrades and repairs. He lived onboard for five years before putting up a “For Sale” sign and moving into the new houseboat on the same lake.

Boating has long been an important part of his life. In his 25­-foot trailerable Sea Ray he’s cruised 37 lakes, sometimes living onboard for as long as a week at a time. He also holds a 100­-ton master’s license and moonlights for Lake Pleasant Cruises as lead captain/boat operator.

Change Of Plans

When he was diagnosed with a brain tumor years ago, Packebush put his priorities in order. He sold everything but his speedboat and truck, got out of debt for good, began saving for a bright future on the water and followed doctor’s orders. He’s now cancer-free.

Liveaboard Needs

The Sumerset was already a showpiece, built for a boat show and purchased at the show by the original owner for use on Lake Pleasant. As stylish and complete as it was, Kayleigh and Forrest are making changes to suit their own needs as liveaboards. Renovated closets will provide better usage and space. The upgraded galley will be stainless steel with granite countertops. Flooring will be changed. A portable AC unit in the bedroom will allow a cooler zone at night, while the rest of the boat is cooled by its central air system. An inverter is on the couple’s list of pay­as­you­go additions and the living room will have a convertible sofa to sleep additional guests.

Space Saving

“Living on a smaller boat, I learned the value of space saving and multi-purpose items,” says Packebush.

In refurbishing his former boat he also learned about creature comforts. His improvements there included a full-size shower, generous water heater, custom canvas, upgraded galley, durable wood-looking flooring, blackout blinds and flat screen TVs. He also restored the Drifter’s Mercury 305 to a like-new condition. Moving up to an 80­footer involved some practice with twin engine power and he added bow and stern thrusters for easier maneuvering. (It’s the largest boat in the marina, which has a length limit of 80 feet.) He also was introduced to new technologies that have come on the scene, such as tank and battery level read­outs, central HVAC and the onboard generator.

In The Budget

Knowing new costs would go with the larger boat, the couple did their homework. Higher dockage, insurance, utilities and other expenses were expected and allowed for. While the Sumerset will make the perfect homestead for the couple, and they enjoy cruising their home lake, the Sea Ray will continue to be their getaway machine for exploring other waters.

Dreams have continued to come true for this liveaboard, so he has no doubt that he and Kayleigh will be living on a catamaran in the Philippines after they retire. If anyone can make that happen, it’s Forrest Packebush.

About the Authors

“Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years and they hold the NMMA Directors Award for boating journalism. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at


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