From CarlCraft to Sumerset

Evolution of a houseboater

July 2017 Feature Story and photos by Dave Judd

love houseboating. Everyone I know who owns a houseboat loves it. My first boat wasn’t a houseboat, though. Like so many others, I began motorized boating with a ski boat. But having the space that a houseboat offers to roam around, cook, and sleep on the water held a certain fascination for me. Once I decided to change boating styles, I opted to skip past buying a cabin cruiser and jump to a houseboat. My ski boat buddies kind of pushed me into it, because it meant that they could still go fast, while visiting me to get out of the sun and to use my bathroom or kitchen. That was some years ago. I’m now piloting my fourth houseboat, having traded up a few times over my 20-something-year history of enjoying the lifestyle. 

It’s interesting how you learn about your vessel and its handling. During my first two years of houseboating, I was slipped in a lake marina with only two other houseboats and a bunch of go-fast, long, expensive day runners. My understanding of systems, operations, docking, and all other necessities of operating a houseboat was limited to what I stumbled onto or could figure out on my own. YouTube didn’t exist then, and Google wasn’t a part of the English language for anyone I knew. I had virtually no dock mates to learn from.

Boat 1: Carlcraft

That first boat was a 37-foot Carlcraft, a boat similar to a Gibson. It was propelled by V-drives. My first foray away from the dock got me about 300 feet from the slip before I crashed into the bank. It’s scary when you’re staring at the four levers controlling the throttles and transmissions, and your brain shuts down in panic mode. But after I was advised to drive it like it was a skid loader, a decent captain and pilot emerged from the confusion in no time. I loved that boat, but after a while I wanted a few more feet to stretch out.

Boat 2: Gibson

That brings me to boat number two. It was a 52-foot Gibson powered by twin 454s, with V-drives again. This boat would get up on plane and could tow water-skiers. And suck gas like a 60s Cadillac! (I remember my Dad fueling his Caddy back in the day when the gas station owner told him, “Shut it off, Dick, you’re gaining on me!”) Still, it was a nice boat, and I loved it for slow cruising. But the Gibsons of those days were all split-level models, a feature that bothered me a bit when the all-aluminum single-level boats became popular. I had changed marinas to one full of houseboats, and now I’d begun learning a lot from my new dock mates.

Boat 3: Three Buoys

As time went by, a gorgeous Three Buoys boat came up for sale in my marina. It was 12 years old, in immaculate condition, and built all on one level, with an upper deck to match. It was about four feet longer but felt much bigger than my Gibson. This boat had two outdrives—a departure from my experience piloting V-drives. I could put my 37-foot Carlcraft in any spot, having an inch of clearance on each side. 

Those days were over, but not for reasons I originally thought. The new boat’s outdrives spun the props BOTH in the same direction. To get into my slip I needed to not only watch the wind, but use the steering wheel, much more so than I ever did with my V-drive boats. I kept this boat for 15 years, until my wife decided that as part of our new marriage, we should have a newer boat that was ‘ours,’ with some more amenities and youth than what my now aging third boat had.

Boat 4: Sumerset

So we moved up. Boat number four is longer and wider. Show me a houseboater who goes down in size when he trades, and I’ll show you a boater standing in a very small crowd. But this one, a Sumerset, has counter-rotating props. Man, what a difference!  I thought that outdrives just didn’t have the control that V-drives did, but I was wrong. For more than a decade I hadn’t realized that by reversing my starboard engine on the Three Buoys, it pulled the bow to the right (most of us know that), but reversing the port engine simply pulled me backwards. Having no rudder indicator on the Three Buoys added to my lack of understanding, until the day when I was idling in the water by a buoy, playing around, and discovered by accident that I hadn’t learned as much as I thought.  

Given my years as captain, once I took the first cruise with my Sumerset I was able to put it exactly where I wanted without touching the wheel. Eureka! I later had stern thrusters installed on the 71-foot Sumerset, but I don’t use them often unless I’m in a serious bind. My feeling is that using thrusters tends to make you forget how to drive your boat. There are times when the wind says otherwise, though, and I respect my neighbors’ right to my not crashing into them when I’m returning to the slip.  

I’m pretty happy with this boat. I’m not saying I’d never go bigger, but I’m not lacking for anything. Oh, we didn’t just change marinas this time. We changed lakes, from Iowa to Lake Cumberland, Ky., with 130 feet of water below us versus five feet in Iowa. This is the life for us!

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