Never Looking Back

Over 25 years of living aboard

January 2022 Feature By Heather Magda Serrano

It’s difficult not to fall in love with houseboating once you’ve experienced it—the relaxing lifestyle, the enchanting setting on the water, and the wonderful community keep people coming back for more and more until eventually, they give in to the siren calls and graduate to bona fide houseboat liveaboards. It happens more often than you’d think.

Just ask Christine and Tom Pulkrabek. This couple moved onto a houseboat back in 1993, thinking that they’d just give it a try for a short time. Now over 25 years later, they laugh at the notion of living on land, as they sit comfortably on their houseboat porch on the Mississippi River in Inver Grover Heights, Minn.

“We were only going to do this for three years, but we fell in love with the river and didn’t want to give it up,” shares Chris.

After 12 years aboard their 47-foot Boatel Bluewater, the Pulkrabeks once again entertained the idea of buying a condo but couldn’t bring themselves to leave the houseboat lifestyle on the river. Instead, they decided to upgrade to their 86- by 18-foot Sumerset houseboat in 2005, and they’ve been comfortably settled ever since.

Getting Home

However, getting the houseboat home to Minnesota from Tennessee wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. It was more like a 900-mile slog that took about 17 days after they had it shipped from Tennessee to Lake Barkley, Ky., via two trucks.

Once the boat splashed in the water at Lake Barkley, the Pulkrabeks proceeded to make the long trek back home, driving their new boat the whole way.

“We traveled through Lake Barkley, down the Cumberland, down the Ohio, hit the Mississippi at mile marker zero, then we went 830 miles up to here,” explains Tom.

The Pukrabeks took it easy on their long journey since the river was so high. At times they were only moving at about 4 1/2 miles per hour upriver due to the fast-flowing current.

“Oh, I was cranking it,” admits Tom. “We were going through rapids and we’d hit maybe five miles per hour, but we’d be under that a lot of the time.”

The previous owner of the boat hadn’t really run the boat much, so even though the houseboat was only 2 years old when they bought it, the Pulkrabeks had to work out some kinks when they first got going. On top of that, there was quite a bit of duck weed and saw grass in the water, which would lock up the drives and making it so they’d overheat because they couldn’t get water.

“It wasn’t the most pleasurable trip,” concludes Chris.

However, they got through it and made it home safely to their slip in Castaways Marina. Now, the Pulkrabeks still enjoy taking their houseboat out of its slip when the river isn’t too high. Since their long voyage home in 2005, the furthest they’ve taken it was about 130 miles to La Cross, Wis., for Chris’s cousin’s wedding.

They gave Chris’s uncle a ride to the wedding and then afterwards, they brought the wedding—including the bride and the groom—back up.

“So that was like the start of their honeymoon,” laughs Chris. “It’s my cousin and her husband and their best friends.”

Boat Life

As it turns out, people used to be a little skeptical when Chris and Tom told them that they lived on a boat. It was like people couldn’t quite picture what it was like to live on a houseboat.

“Our family and everybody else used to think we were crazy for living on a boat,” admits Chris. “At work I would tell people that I live on a houseboat and they’d think I was in a little matchbook or a little shack.”

Chris and Tom love to share their lifestyle with their friends and family so they know what they’re talking about when they say they live on a boat. In the end, most people end up quite jealous of the calming life on the river.

“Everybody loves to come over now and go for boat rides and have barbeques,” winks Chris.

The Pulkrabeks have another slip next to their houseboat where they keep their jet skis, a 10-foot foldaboat, and a 23-foot Stingray boat.

Winter Wonderland

When you think of living aboard year-round in Minnesota, one of the first questions you might ask is how the winters are. According to Chris and Tom they’re not that bad and they’re actually quite enjoyable.

“I love the winters,” shares Tom. “I love it because as you’re sitting inside looking outside, it’s usually all frozen over here in the front. You just look out and it’s peaceful and quiet.”

They also stay nice and warm because their houseboat is very well insulated and equipped with two house furnaces. The only thing they have to do is push the snow off the docks into the water.

“Last winter was a little tough but most winters are not too bad at all,” adds Chris.

The Pulkrabeks cover the top of their houseboat in clear shrink wrap to keep out the cold, and they keep their porch enclosed, giving them four-season porches. They make regular use of the top deck as well. With a hot tub up top, they’re able to use it year-round along with the bar.

“It’s like a green house in the winter,” describes Chris. “If it’s 30 to 40 degrees outside it’s probably 60 to 70 degrees up top, so you can just go sit up there and hang out.”

This makes the winters a very relaxing experience for Chris and Tom. To top it off, they’ve also got a park close to Castaways Marina where they like to go cross country skiing, making the winters even more enjoyable for them.

Great Community

Living year-round on their houseboat is also ideal for the Pulkrabeks because of the friendly community they’ve found at Castaways Marina. As a self-proclaimed extrovert, Chris couldn’t be happier since there’s always a friendly neighbor to have a glass of wine with.

“I thrive off the energy of the marina,” describes Chris. “It’s a very good community feel. It’s like how old communities used to be—neighborhoods where you knew everybody. I know all of my neighbors.”

There are 16 year-round liveaboards at the marina, and in the winter they regularly enjoy what they’ve termed “boat hops.” This is where every houseboat cooks a different food and they hop from boat to boat making their way through different courses of food. The boat hops are super fun and the Pulkrabeks always have a great time hanging out with everybody.

A Relaxing Lifestyle

Living on the Mississippi River in their houseboat couldn’t have worked out more perfectly for Chris and Tom. As avid water enthusiasts, they can’t imagine being landlocked. Plus, nothing beats living on the water when it comes to ease of access to all your favorite water sports.

“The nice thing is that if I want to take out my little boat, I walk over 100 feet, there it is,” smiles Tom. “I start it up and it’s already in the water ready to go. I don’t have to hook up to the trailer, drag it somewhere, and put it in.”

Aside from the unparalleled convenience, they also couldn’t think of a more relaxing way to live. Apart from the bustle of towns and cities, whenever the Pulkrabeks head home to their houseboat, they know they’ll find peace and tranquility on the water.

“It’s just a very relaxing lifestyle,” shares Chris. “All I have to do is look out at the water and I’m calm.”

For more information, check out Castaways Marina and Sumerset Houseboats.

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